Getting a women’s Paris-Roubaix right

by Sadhbh O'Shea

Since professional cycling ground to a halt in March due to fears around the spread of coronavirus, the powers that be in the sport have been revising and reworking the calendar.

Notably missing from almost all the early discussions was a plan to resume the women’s calendar. When one did eventually come at the start of May, it had a surprise addition with the first ever women’s Paris-Roubaix scheduled for 25 October.

While coronavirus is still very much an issue for most of the world, I’m still to be convinced it will go ahead but it’s nice to have something to look forward to, nevertheless.

With new women’s races popping up throughout the calendar, a women’s Hell of the North has been a glaring omission in recent years. There were rumours at the 2019 men’s race that it would not be long before event organiser ASO finally caved.

A women’s Paris-Roubaix was not in the original 2020 calendar, even as the spring season kicked off in March, so you can only presume that this was a late inclusion allowed by the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. I’ll take it however it came to be. 

There is plenty of debate to be had on whether the women’s peloton needs its own equivalent of a men’s event or if they should have their own races. I believe a balance needs to be struck between the two options.

Events such as Paris-Roubaix carry so much mythology and history with them that would be hard to recreate with a similar, yet new, event. Racing action is key but the mythology and history helps to draw fans in that may otherwise not watch.

Adding a women’s version of a men’s race shouldn’t be done just for the sake of it, however. It must be done properly. Strade Bianche and the Amstel Gold Race have got it right by treating the women’s peloton as an integral part of the event and giving them courses where they can showcase their talents. 

ASO has often struggled to find the right balance in the past, making their women’s races feel like a casual afterthought than a proper attempt at organising an event for the women’s peloton. La Course is a prime example with the early editions little more than a crit. That is not to sniff at criterium racing, which is challenging to ride and exciting to watch, but it didn’t feel like course that was suited the occasion.

Away from the racing, the lack of press conference for the winner, and the fact the race would be held before many Tour de France journalists could even reach Paris, gave the impression that the organisers didn’t view it with any importance. 

While there’s a discussion to be had on a multi-day Tour de France, the current La Course one-day race has a lot going for it and it has provided some thrilling action. If only it was reflected in the financial reward. Maybe that’s a topic for another day. Press conferences are still an ongoing battle but the way it is organised at least gives the media a chance to cover La Course and the Tour de France simultaneously.

With Paris-Roubaix, ASO has a chance to make a good first impression with a new women’s race. While I don’t expect the women’s race to depart from Compiegne, as that would be a logistical nightmare, there is a chance to hold the team presentations simultaneously – as they did ahead of the 2019 Liege-Bastogne-Liege. 

No course has been confirmed for the inaugural women’s Paris-Roubaix, it doesn’t even have a section on the event website yet.

Due to tighter restrictions on the length of women’s races, there will be far fewer cobbled sectors but a proper parcours is still possible. Indeed, part of the excitement in women’s racing is that the shorter courses allow for much more aggressive races. Many of the new races on the calendar cater for the climbers in the pack and Paris-Roubaix will be a chance for the more powerful riders to show what they can do. They deserve a parcours that allows them to demonstrate the best of their talents.

I’d like to see at least one, if not two, of the traditional five-star sectors. If I were a betting woman, which I’m not, I’d guess that the Trouee d’Arenberg will not be included in the route. Meanwhile, there is only one place the race can finish and that is in the Vélodrome André-Pétrieux in Roubaix. 

Coronavirus is still plaguing the world and the future of the 2020 calendar is still up in the air. Cycling is much harder to manage in the current climate and it remains to be seen if any racing happens at all this year. However, there is some serious classics talent within the women’s peloton and when the race does finally go ahead, whether it’s in October or in 2021, we can expect a good show.

Discover more of Sadhbh’s work >

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