Words by Matilda Price | Photo by SWpix.com
A different rider, a very different race, a different set of pressures than they faced in October, but six months on from the inaugural Paris Roubaix Femmes, Trek-Segafredo answered every question asked of them on the dusty cobbles northern France on Saturday.
Trek-Segafredo came into Paris Roubaix Femmes with heavy expectations on their shoulders: not only searching for the next win after an uncharacteristic quiet patch, but also carrying the mantle of a potential title defence, aiming to replicate the success of absent 2021 champion Lizzie Deignan. It was a big ask, a two-pronged challenge that required a combination of strength, tactical skill and a dose of good luck, but one that Trek-Segafredo were ready to answer.
To say Trek-Segafredo have had a bad spring would be wrong – winning three WorldTour races in a row with the world champion is nothing short of extraordinary – but it is also true that they’ve struggled to meet their own very high standards over the last few weeks. Until today, the team hadn’t won since Elisa Balsamo’s Gent-Wevelgem victory, nowhere to be seen in the finale of Flanders and missing the top ten in all but Scheldeprijs and Amstel Gold Race. Just this week, their performance earnt a ‘room for improvement’ in Amy Jones’ mid-term report card. But today, the Trek we’ve come to expect, the Trek who can make a race go exactly how they want it to go, was back.
Paris Roubaix may be the Queen of the Classics, but it can also be something of a redemption race, one final chance for riders to turn their cobbled Classics season around. In the men’s race, several recent examples come to mind: Philippe Gilbert took his maiden Roubaix victory at the end of a mediocre spring campaign, Mathew Hayman returned from a broken arm to seal his unforgettable win, and even Deignan’s October victory was her first of the season.
On Saturday, Elisa Longo Borghini became the latest rider to win the hell of the North with enough force to make us forget the difficult weeks that preceded it. The Italian national champion has been battling a lingering illness this spring, her best result 8th at Strade Bianche, off the mark for one of the best one-day racers in the peloton. But today, all that is forgotten, any disappointment replaced with a heavy cobblestone trophy and her name in the history books.
Just as today has turned around Longo Borghini’s spring, so too has it put to bed any doubts on Trek-Segafredo’s ability to assemble as a team and ride to success. Whilst Longo Borghini won the race solo after 30km on her own, it wasn’t just a solo effort that delivered Trek the victory. Arguably more so than Deignan’s win six months ago, the whole team contributed to Longo Borghini’s victory, both in the run-up and reaction to her attack.
The importance of having numbers not only in front but behind too cannot be understated. Whether they were feeling good or not, the mere presence of Ellen van Dijk and Lucinda Brand in the second group disrupted the chase. No matter how much SD Worx’s Kopecky and Van den Broek-Blaak wanted to catch Longo Borghini, they also didn’t want to bring Brand and Van Dijk along as passengers, risking still losing out on the win. Stalemates like that may not always make the most exciting racing, but they’re an example of great tactical execution, and how it’s not just placing a rider up the road that will win you the race.
Though they took the win, it certainly didn’t all go perfectly for Trek-Segafredo. Showing that commissaire leniency only goes so far – even at Roubaix, even for the world champion – a particularly long sticky bottle saw Elisa Balsamo disqualified going into the final 40km of racing. Earlier in the day, Ellen van Dijk suffered a puncture on the four-star Sars-et-Rosières, and had to work hard to get back to the front against a powering SD Worx.
Of course, a race like Roubaix is rarely perfect for any one rider let alone team, but unlike Flanders where Trek visibly faltered in the face of a setback, they took all of today’s mishaps in their stride.
Trek also won the battle we see play out in almost every race: they beat SD Worx. Trek and SD Worx are, in some ways, very similar. Where other teams go into races with just one leader or potential leader, Trek and SD Worx consistently have several options between them, and use their strength in numbers and flexibility to choose the best rider on the day to put in consistently impressive performances. The two teams both had numbers today, but on the tactical front, Trek came up trumps. In a rare show of rigidity, SD Worx seemed to pin all their hopes on Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, not allowing Kopecky to fully commit to a promising-looking move with Marta Bastianelli and Lucinda Brand, meaning the trio was caught. It was this catch that launched Longo Borghini’s move, and unlike the attempt that came before, the Italian put her head down, pushed a large amount of power, and never looked back. If the first two editions of Paris Roubaix Femmes have taught us anything, it’s that a committed rider is very hard to bring back – a lesson SD Worx will have certainly learned after today.
Trek had a point to prove and possibly a lot to lose coming into Paris Roubaix Femmes. Almost anything except a win would have been a setback: had their team efforts failed for yet another race, we would be asking big questions about their performance going into the next stage of the season. The difficult reality of being defending champions meant that on a team level, second or third place – an undeniably solid result – would be something of a downgrade. There was really only one outcome that would strike gold. For some teams this pressure would prove too much, but not for Trek. Two Roubaix titles in six months, any doubts swiftly dismissed, Trek-Segafredo could hardly ask for more.