Preview: Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift 2024

One of the newest races on the women’s World Tour calendar, the recent introduction of the Hell of the North for women does not detract from the race’s mythical status. A gruelling day in the saddle awaits those brave enough to tackle the 17 cobbled sectors along the route from Denain to the velodrome in Roubaix, but the rider who arrives first and raises the lauded cobble will etch their name into cycling history.

This is just the fourth edition of the race, yet already it feels like a mainstay of the schedule, and forms one half of the cobbled classic duo (the other half being the Tour of Flanders) around which many riders plan their spring. A flat race for the most part, the difficulty does not arise through altitude metres, but instead comes from the impact of the relentless, demanding cobbled sectors. For the rider who can stay upright, dig deep on the pavé, and hold their nerve in the velodrome, a place in history awaits.

 

The Route – Denain – Roubaix (148.5km)

Beginning in Denain, some distance south of Roubaix, the women’s race route takes in a loop to the south of the town before it heads back north to join up with the corresponding route to that which the men will tackle the following day. With 17 cobbled sectors to tackle, the total distance that the women will ride on pavé is 29.2km, a proportion significant enough to make or break many riders’ days and ultimately to decide the race. This year, the race increases slightly in distance from 145km to to 148.5km – the increase is due to a slight detour to avoid a section of road deemed too dangerous by the race organisers ASO – it is interesting to note that it was on this omitted section of road that the breakaway escaped from the bunch last season and ultimately rode to victory, suggesting that riders hoping to repeat Alison Jackon’s incredible 2023 victory may have their work cut out for them.

The first cobbled sector of the day is also the longest: the four-star rated Hornaing à Wandignies is 3.7km long and comes just 42km into the race, offering the opportunity for early splits. After that the cobbles increase in frequency though they vary in difficulty, with two five-star sectors posing the greatest risk, or opportunity, depending on how you view it – the Mons-en-Pévèle is tackled with 48.6km to go and Le Carrefour de l’Arbre with 17.1km left in the race. After that, three more sectors remain, before the traditional lap around the velodrome in Roubaix will decide who will claim the cobble in the fourth edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes.

 

Riders to Watch

Though it has been running for just three years, Paris-Roubaix Femmes has been won in three different ways so far – from a long-range solo, a small bunch sprint, and from the breakaway – and is one of the most unpredictable races of the season. As such it’s difficult to predict how the race will unfold and who will be on a good day, but it’s certainly true that teams with powerful riders and strength in depth will have the advantage.

While Team SD Worx-ProTime may enter the race with the overall favourite in Lotte Kopecky, Paris-Roubaix is a race that Lidl-Trek know how to win. Having taken the first two editions, the American outfit will be keen to do so once again following last year’s breakaway success. While their two former winners in Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini are absent from the side, they bring off-road specialist Lucinda Brand alongside the time trialling powerhouse rouleur Ellen van Dijk, who herself could be in with a real chance of winning the race. Elisa Balsamo is strong on the flat and would be a favourite should the race not break up.

Team SD Worx-ProTime’s World Champion Lotte Kopecky has clearly stated her intention to win Paris-Roubaix Femmes and with the support of a strong team around her, she will look to find opportunities to overturn Lidl-Trek’s dominance and make the race her own.

Marianne Vos has proven she is still at her best, winning both Omloop het Nieuwsblad and Dwars Door Vlaanderen so far this season – the Visma-Lease A Bike rider has fared well at the race in the past – she came 2nd in the first edition and fought back from a crash to round out the top 10 last year – and she has made no secret of the fact that she would dearly love to add the cobble to her impressive palmares.

Reigning champion Alison Jackson (EF Cannondale) is one of only three former winners of the race, and she will hope to find a way to retain her title – she has the power and now the belief to go with it, and if she can engineer another breakaway situation to her advantage, she could do the unthinkable. She will have a determined peloton against her though, and they will likely not make the same mistakes as they did in 2023.

Canyon//SRAM bring a well-balanced side which includes attacking riders Elise Chabbey and Soraya Paladin, as well as British youngsters Alice Towers and Zoe Backstedt. The latter is U23 cyclocross champion and has the pedigree and power to succeed at the race – her father Magnus and the team’s DS won the men’s race in 2004.

Another Brit in with a shot is current national champion Pfeiffer Georgi. Her Team dsm-firmenich PostNL teammates include Charlotte Kool but Georgi is a powerful force on the flat and should not be overlooked by the race favourites.

Other strong riders who might be in with a shot include long-range breakaway specialist Grace Brown (FDJ-SUEZ), powerful Dane Emma Norsgaard (Movistar) and Letizia Paternoster (Liv-Alula-Jayco), who has been riding really well this Classics season.

Riders to Watch

5-stars Lotte Kopecky, Marianne Vos

4-stars Pfeiffer Georgi, Ellen van Dijk

3-stars Lucinda Brand, Lorena Wiebes, Elisa Balsamo

2-stars Alison Jackson, Zoe Backstedt, Emma Norsgaard

1-star Grace Brown, Sanne Cant, Letizia Paternoster

 

Summary

When – Saturday 6 April 2024

Where – Belgium

What – One-day race

TV Coverage: Discovery+, Eurosport

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