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Warriors of the road and pavé.
That’s what all the finishers of the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femme will be in the eyes of Christine Majerus – one of the key contenders for the prestigious cobblestone trophy.
Majerus is part of a strong SD Worx squad that packs at least three pre-race favorites, and a couple more that could get in the mix if the cards fall their way. After the team did their final recon of the course Wednesday, the sense of anticipation about what they were soon to do was palpable.
“It’s a monument and it’s just historic. Everyone who finishes this race is going to be a warrior. I love that you don’t have to just beat your fellow cyclist, you also have to beat the elements and yourself. It’s a really romantic idea for cycling and that’s what makes this a really great race,” Majerus told VeloNews.
A strong road and cyclo-cross rider, Majerus fits neatly into the cycling Venn diagram that is Paris-Roubaix. She’s one of the many racers across the peloton that have been waiting for this debut women’s edition for some time.
After it was announced for last year’s calendar and then canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions and then postponed this year for the same reason, Majerus is delighted that it’s here at last.
“That’s the main feeling, finally. We have been waiting so long for this race and now it’s finally it’s going to happen,” Majerus said. “It’s a really important race for women’s cycling to have on the women’s calendar.
“I’m really excited. I also really want to have fun and it’s a course that you can have fun on. If you can do that then you automatically have a good race because you’re in the race and you act off it and that’s the most important thing here. You don’t want to react to things, you want to be one step ahead of it.”
Alongside Majerus will be former world champion Chantal van den Broek-Blaak and Jolien D’hoore, who will be riding her final race as she is due to retire at the end of this season. For D’hoore, riding the race is a chance to step into the cleats of past Belgian heroes and close her career in style.
“I wanted to ride this even more than Flanders,” D’hoore told VeloNews. “I think it’s my dream race. If there’s one race that suits me the most it’s Paris-Roubaix. It’s also a race with so much prestige. When I was a little girl, I would watch it on television, and I can remember Johan Museeuw or Tom Boonen winning this race. It has so many memories for me.
“It’s huge. To have Paris-Roubaix women is a big step for us so I hope we can prove we’re worth it and I hope more races can come.”
An important day
There is a big sense of occasion coming into the first-ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes, especially for those who the course suits them. It’s rare that a new race can garner so much prestige in just its first season but the history behind the “Hell of the North” means that it already has a prized place on the women’s calendar.
“It didn’t happen yet, but it’s already my favorite race,” Majerus said.
For van den Broek-Blaak, who has won the world title and a whole host of major one-day races, she’s developed the rare sensation of nerves in the build-up to the race.
“I start to get a bit nervous. It’s good to see that there is a lot of media attention for the race and everyone is looking forward to it. I really have the feeling we are standing in front of a big race,” van den Broek-Blaak told VeloNews.
While she is happy for herself that the race has finally come to be, after much handwringing from ASO over the years, it means something more for women’s cycling as a whole and it’s a chance to really show what the riders are capable of.
“It’s important to have this race because it’s a monument and it’s a special one. It’s a unique race, even for the men, so we deserve it,” she said. “It’s more important they show it on TV. If the race is there and they don’t do anything with it then it doesn’t make any sense. Now, we have a lot of media attention and it’s on TV and that’s good for the race.”
Saturday’s race will be something of a baptism of fire for the women’s peloton with rain and wind predicted in the latter part of the race. Whereas the men have not had a wet Paris-Roubaix for almost 20 years, the women will get a taste of it on their first try.
Nobody really knows just how it will impact the race.
“It’s hard to say because it’s the first race for us but I expect it to be a hard race and straight from the gun. It will be chaos and war,” D’hoore told VeloNews. “It will be a big fight up to the first cobbled sectors. It’s a matter of riding up in the front and hoping to be here in the final.
“I think it’s going to rain and normally I don’t mind if it rains but I guess it’s going to be something special here with the cobbles. I’m not going to think about it, I’m just going to go for it.”