Lorena Wiebes dreams of winning Paris-Roubaix

The Dutch rider on her 'Hell of the North' hopes, aiming for Tour de France yellow, and a growing rivalry with Elisa Balsamo.

Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

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Lorena Wiebes would like to win Paris-Roubaix one day.

The 23-year-old Team DSM rider has positioned herself as one of, if not the, best sprinters in the peloton at the moment. Since turning pro just over four years ago, Wiebes has been racking up an impressive palmarès.

Wiebes is far from done and she has some big targets to tick off, including the toughest cobbled race of them all. This year will see only the second edition of the women’s race after it was inaugurated last season, following multiple delays due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“It’s special to race there especially also the finish. I wish and I hope I can win one day there,” she told VeloNews at her team’s Belgian classics hotel in Ghent. “It’s the only race on the calendar like that and that makes it also special in that it’s just on the calendar for us. It gives a special feeling to ride on those cobbles and it is mostly the same as the men’s parcours. Of course, less distance but for the rest, it’s the same. So that makes it special.”

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Wiebes comes into this year’s Paris-Roubaix Femmes with plenty of form after taking her fourth win of the season at Scheldeprijs last week. It hasn’t been all good, though, with a late crash at Gent-Wevelgem ruling her out of a sprint and a broken spoke hampering her in the finale of the Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne.

The Dutch sprinter will be hoping that she’s on a lucky day this Saturday. Her first racing visit to the Paris-Roubaix pavé last October did not go at all like she might have imagined after she abandoned soon after the cobbles began.

It was not an honest indication of Wiebes’ talents on the cobbles but a sign that she had not raced for over a month after crashing out of the Simac Ladies Tour at the end of August.

“I hope I will finish it this year. That will be the first goal and then we can go towards the victory then,” Wiebes said. “For me, it was a really short experience last year. Yes. I came back from my injury from the Simac Tour. And it was my first race again. And I did almost no intensity training. So actually, I did the positioning for the first two cobble sectors for the team and the race was already over. I did two other cobbled sections and then I stopped. There was a soigneur next to the road and I was like, I go with you to the finish.

“Of course, it was crazy last year, but we did also the recon already two times before last year’s, and I liked it. I like the cobbles and, of course, it’s hard and it’s different than the race. Yeah, it’s a bit like playing on your bike or something.”

Winning yellow and rivalry with Elisa Balsamo

This weekend’s race will not be the only big visit to France this year for Wiebes as she is also destined to ride the Tour de France Femmes in July. As a sprinter, she will have the opportunity to win the first yellow jersey with the opening stage on the Champs Élysées.

Watching the first editions of the one-day La Course race, Wiebes had hoped she might one day get to ride the famous French boulevard. After the race moved away from Paris, Wiebes would have to wait a little longer to get her chance.

“I think it’s really good actually that we start on the last day of the men’s race because then I think the focus will be more on our race and yeah, I think that’s way better,” Wiebes told VeloNews. “I hope I can win it with the team. Actually, since I was a junior, I was always looking at the women racing on the Champs Élysées and thought ‘it’s so nice’ and then I make the step to the elite category, and it was gone. I’m really happy that it’s finally back. It gives me more motivation to get a yellow jersey there.”

Both this weekend and on that July summer day, Wiebes will likely be going up against the reigning world champion Elisa Balsamo. The duo has been gradually forging a competitive rivalry in the peloton, which has blossomed this year.

Balsamo has been one of the few riders able to match Wiebes’ pace in the sprints, though the Dutch rider has the edge on pure speed. This is no acrimonious rivalry and Wiebes enjoys having someone to push her to be better.

“It’s friendly. I actually never have trouble with Elisa in the peloton because we are focusing on our own things,” she said. “I think it’s nice to have someone who pushes you to the limit in the sprints and we have known each other a bit from the junior time so yeah, I think there was already a really strong sprinter. She is for sure better in the hilly races than me, it’s why she won the first days of Valencia.

“I think it pushes you to the really to the limit and makes you stronger where you can battle against each other. Also now in training with Charlotte [Kool], my teammate, we do head-to-head sprints together and we make each other only stronger.”

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