Paris-Roubaix returned after an absence of 900 days, and this weekend left no doubt as to why the Monument classic is one of cycling's most beloved races. On Saturday, Lizzie Deignan (GBR - Trek-Segafredo) launched an epic weekend with an 82km solo ride in wet conditions to become the first-ever winner of Paris-Roubaix Femmes.
The roads and cobbles were even nastier on Sunday for the men's race. Sonny Colbrelli (ITA - Bahrain Victorious) survived the many traps of the day to win in the velodrome at his first attempt (an unprecedented feat since Jean Forestier in 1955) ahead of two other rookies of the Hell of the North, Florian Vermeersch (BEL - Lotto Soudal) and Mathieu Van der Poel (NED - Alpecin-Fenix).
“To be the first winner in such a race definitely has to be up there [among my greatest wins]”, Deignan celebrated as she added Paris-Roubaix to her stellar winning record (UCI World Champion, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Strade Bianche...) “It was completely surreal [when I entered the velodrome]. This morning, I was here as a teammate, I never dreamed of winning myself, so to find myself alone after such an effort was an incredible moment. I really savored that final lap. We are part of history now, there’s no going back.”
“I’m very happy because it was a legendary Paris-Roubaix with the rain”, said a very emotional Colbrelli. “After Arenberg, I followed Van der Poel. It was super difficult. After the crash in the first sector, I stayed at the head of the group I was in. In the finale, I did a super sprint. The Lotto Soudal rider [Florian Vermeersch] surprised me but I jumped in the last 25 metres. That was close! In my dream races, the Tour of Flanders is first and Paris-Roubaix is second. This is my year. I’m very happy.”
Deignan’s historical one-woman-show
The 129 riders starting from Denain on Saturday afternoon already made history as the first women to take on the infamous challenges of Paris-Roubaix. Emotions that ran high in the peloton were only to rise throughout the day, with exhilarating action on the wet way to Roubaix.
Attacks flew from the start, with many baroudeurs hoping to gain an advantage ahead of the first cobbled sector, at km 33.9. The difficult conditions and the tension in the bunch also led to early crashes, with Marlen Reusser (SUI - Ale’ BTC Ljubljana) and Kasia Niewiadoma (POL - Canyon//SRAM Racing) forced to abandon before they even hit the cobbles.
Most of Trek-Segafredo, including the likes of Ellen van Dijk (NED) and Elisa Longo Borghini (ITA), were chasing behind the bunch as they entered the first cobbled sector. But their British star Lizzie Deignan was still up there. “I sprinted to be in a good position and I carried that speed on the cobbles”, she explained. “When I looked behind, I was alone, so I figured as long as I’m up there, they need to chase me down.”
Jumbo-Visma, Movistar Team Women and Team SD Worx (with Lars Boom and Anna van der Breggen in the cars) were the most involved in the chase, as Deignan increased her lead to 2’ on the first challenges of the day. The race then exploded on the mighty cobbles of Mons-en-Pévèle, the day’s first 5-star sector.
With the wet and muddy conditions, UCI World Champion Elisa Balsamo (ITA - Valcar-Travel & Service) was among the riders to hit the deck. 13 riders remained in contention behind Deignan, with Lisa Brennauer (GER - Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling Team) and Emma Norsgaard (DEN - Movistar Team Women) taking long turns at the front.
After hitting a maximum of 2'35'', the gap was down to 2’15’’ when Marianne Vos (NED - Jumbo-Visma) set off in pursuit alone in one of the most demanding sequences of the day, with the sectors of Camphin-en-Pévèle (4 stars) and Carrefour de l’Arbre (5 stars) leading the riders into the last 15km.
The Dutch icon quickly cut Deignan’s lead to 1’15’’. But the Brit managed to ride to Roubaix on her own and triumph with a gap of 1’17’’ over Vos, after covering the 29.2km of cobbles alone at the front. Elisa Longo Borghini joined them on the podium (1’47’’) just ahead of Lisa Brennauer (+1’51’’).
Colbrelli survives an all-out battle
Heavy rain fell over the northern areas of France after Deignan's triumph, and the weather conditions were even more epic when the men's race started from Compiègne on Sunday morning. Many attackers were also willing to make the most of the early parts of the race, and an impressive group of 31 riders managed to break away at km 47. Among them, Stefan Küng (SUI - Groupama-FDJ) soon lost his options with an early crash.
The gap was up to 2' when they reached the first cobbles, covered with mud and marred with puddles. Florian Vermeersch and Nils Eekhoff (NED - Team DSM) powered away from the breakaway while the bunch already exploded before the infamous Trouée d'Arenberg. Mathieu Van der Poel accelerated again and again, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) escaped a crash and Sonny Colbrelli went on the move to bridge the gap with early attackers already dropped.
With 70km to go, Van der Poel dropped his rivals to join Colbrelli in pursuit of a new group of attackers led by Gianni Moscon (ITA - Ineos Grenadiers), alongside Tom Van Asbroeck (BEL - Israel Start-Up Nation) and Florian Vermeersch. Moscon went on his own with 52km to go and quickly opened up a significant gap.
But the Italian suffered a puncture inside the last 30km and then a crash on sector 7 before being caught and dropped by Van der Poel, Colbrelli and Vermeersch on the Carrefour de l'Arbre. The three men worked together in the final 15km until Colbrelli outsprinted them in the velodrome.
The Italian then crumbled on the grass. So did Van der Poel, Vermeersch and many others, emulating their female counterparts at the end of an epic weekend of racing.