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Marianne Vos will go into the unknown this Saturday.
There are few races that Vos has not experienced, or even won, but Paris-Roubaix Femmes will be a step into the dark for the multi-talented Dutchwoman.
Hot off her silver medal at the world championships in Leuven last weekend, Vos will be among the five-star favorites for the historic first on the cobblestones. With few things to tick off on her career to-do list, Vos is excited about the prospect of the unknown that comes with a race as unique as Paris-Roubaix.
“The thing is that nobody really knows how it will feel and what to expect and that makes it all pretty excited. I think it’s a good vibe to go into this race with,” Vos told VeloNews in a call on Thursday.
Paris-Roubaix Femmes has been a long time coming for the women’s peloton and the riders have had to wait an extra 12 months for it after COVID-19 restrictions put paid to last year’s scheduled debut.
In women’s cycling, riders often have to be a “jack of all trades,” but Paris-Roubaix poses a different prospect for the peloton. It has led to a far more varied line-up for Saturday than we often see in the almost hyper-specialized men’s peloton with riders pigeonholed as climbers hoping to be in the mix when the race rolls into Roubaix.
Fans, riders, and journalists can all prognosticate how things will pan out Saturday and who might come up trumps, but the reality is that we don’t know who in the bunch will master the planet-sized pavé of northern France.
“Over the last years, we have had some great new addition to the calendar and Paris-Roubaix is obviously a very, very great addition,” Vos said.
“And it’s such a selective and special course. It is made for some riders, and some specialists will come up and you might not even know. It’s pretty exciting and I am pretty curious about the riders who will get who will end up with the final.”
Preparing for wind and rain
Vos and her teammates joined the many other squads to test the cobbles for one last time Wednesday. The delay to proceedings has meant most have done a recon at least once already this year, and even last year, but the majority — if not all — of those rides were done in dry conditions.
With the rain set to come in hard towards the denouement of the race, bringing with it some strong wind gust, getting a sense of the terrain and conditions within days of the race is more important than ever this year.
“It’s one of the races it’s very important to know what you’re what you’re up to,” Vos said. “It’s very good to feel it again and to see some of the entrances of the cobbles to test the tire pressure for one last time and to be fully ready for Saturday.
“My first recon was this spring, but actually, yesterday [Wednesday], the cobbles weren’t too bad. I expect it will change, I expect we will have different circumstances again but that’s what you have to deal with, and that’s bike racing. But of course, for Paris-Roubaix, that can make a big difference.”
The element of the unknown is just one factor that will impact Saturday’s race, in addition to the desire among many teams to claim that first cobble trophy.
How the race will unfold and where will prove the key moments is still to be determined. While the women can look to the men’s race to see how theirs might play out, it’s a different race with different actors playing the role of the pretender to the throne.
One thing is for sure, position in the bunch will be a priority.
“It is interesting because we do it for the first time, so nobody really knows what to expect of course. We know how the race normally with men develops but yeah, positioning is key that’s what they tell me,” Vos told VeloNews. “I think that’s quite obvious that positioning going into the first sector is important.
“I expect for all the teams want to do well. It’s not about the pressure but it’s the prestige. It’s the first Paris-Roubaix so all the teams are trying to prepare themselves as best as possible and it will be really hectic coming into the first cobble section that’s already one of the key moments and then now obviously every sector is important.
“[Wednesday] we could feel that the final few stretches are difficult, not only in ranking in stars, but you can feel that they are hard. They can be decisive and wind will play a role as well. We had already some side winds and headwinds in the final stretches and the weather says there will be wind gusts.”
For Vos, who has put so much into speaking up for women’s cycling and pushing organizers for more, the debut Paris-Roubaix Femmes is a moment to enjoy and savor. It is, in itself, a big moment for the women’s peloton but it also forms part of the larger momentum that is pushing the sport forward towards greater heights.
“It’s part of the whole movement. I think it’s great that we have this race now on the calendar, and you can feel this emotion in the bunch, but also from the fans that embrace the new races.”