Lizzie Deignan wins the first-ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes
Lizzie Deignan became the first woman to win Paris-Roubaix on Saturday. Men have written 125 years worth of pages in the story of the iconic one-day race. Finally the women, led by Deignan, have made their mark.
Deignan was at a loss of words after crossing the velodrome finish line with her arms in the air.
“I feel very emotional,” Deignan said. “I don’t know, I am just really proud. Sorry, not the best quote, but I am just so happy. I cannot believe it happened.”
Deignan’s brave winning move, made on the first cobbled section of the day, was made possible by the strength of the team behind her. Knowing that strong riders like Elisa Longo Borghini, Audrey Cordon-Ragot and Ellen van Dijk were behind her, ready to pounce if Deignan got caught, gave Deignan the confidence she needed to go all out.
“At the start of the day we said, ‘You know the rulebook: anything can happen,’” Deignan said. “And I thought well if at least I am there I can cover something. And when I looked behind no one was there, and I thought, ‘Well at least then they have to chase.’”
Deignan had a lead as large as two and a half minutes and had more than a minute as she entered the velodrome. It was a dominant performance by a legendary rider who has won many of the biggest races in women’s cycling, from World Championships, to La Course, to Liège-Bastogne-Liège, to the Tour of Flanders.
We didn’t have a chance to dream for so long; it’s always been a men’s race. and I am just so proud that this is where we are, that women’s cycling is on the world stage now.
Still, she didn’t trust that she had the victory in hand until the final meters.
“Honestly, I couldn’t hear anything, my legs were cramping, and I knew that even on the last section you could lose two minutes if you cramp and blow up,” Deignan said. “I really just tried to keep a regular pace. At this point in the season, I am tired, and I knew the best thing for me was to keep this steady pace and keep in front as long as I could.”
With an incredible physical effort, Deignan made a statement. She proved that women have always belonged on the sport’s biggest stages.
“We didn’t have a chance to dream for so long; it’s always been a men’s race. and I am just so proud that this is where we are, that women’s cycling is on the world stage now,” Deignan said. “I am proud that my daughter can look at the [cobblestone trophy]. She doesn’t just have to watch men on the TV anymore, we’re here and we’re representing and it’s thanks to support from people like those in Trek-Segafredo that we’re here.”
Deignan’s day was made even sweeter by the fact that her teammates Longo Borghini and Cordon-Ragot finished third and eighth, respectively. A tight-knit Trek-Segafredo squad gave one of its best-ever efforts on one of the biggest days in women’s cycling history.
“It was a really incredible Paris-Roubaix and I don’t think there is anyone who deserved it more to be on the top step of this podium,” Longo Borghini said. “[Lizzie] made history, we made history. It’s hard to acknowledge this, but it’s just an amazing feeling. There’s no better person who could be on the top step today.”
Trek-Segafredo was well-prepared for the big day, having done multiple recons for the repeatedly delayed debut of Paris-Roubaix Femmes. This may have been the team’s first race on the fearsome cobbles, but they nonetheless knew them well.
“We did many recons this year, we were prepared, but of course when you go onto the cobbles with a full peloton it’s different,” Longo Borghini said. “It was a big fight.
“The cobbles today were really slippery, and I crashed 3 or 4 times, but I always made it back. We were told to never give up if we had something because Paris-Roubaix is always like this, you always have the chance to get back and get a result.”
Longo Borghini had the unenviable task of chasing down Marianne Vos as the Dutch legend, who finished second, tried to catch Deignan late in the race. Cordon-Ragot spurred on Longo Borghini.
“Audrey Cordon-Ragot was incredible today. She was riding smooth all the time, really strong, always there and covering attacks,” Longo Borghini said. “She told me to stay on Vos’s wheel. So I tried, but when Vos went, I felt like a seal.”
Longo Borghini was rewarded for her effort with a podium place right next to her friend and teammate. The weather was slate gray, and the mud on the cobbles made the racing treacherous. But in the end, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect day.