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For over a century one race has inspired cyclists and race fans like no other: Paris–Roubaix, The Hell of the North. Over the previous 117 editions, the cobbled monument that criss-crosses the worst roads Northern France has to offer had been the exclusive domain of the men’s peloton. In 2021, two and a half years after the last edition, and 125 years since the first running, the women got their chance to race.
And what a chance it was. Fall showers made for muddy, slippery conditions, ripe for an instant classic edition for the women’s premiere. It would turn out to be one of the most challenging, hellish editions ever recorded for the men or women.
Team BikeExchange was there to take place in the inaugural edition, and each of the team’s five members who rode the parcours—Sarah Roy, Jessica Allen, Teniel Campbell, Janneke Ensing and Georgia Williams—made history just for rolling out from the start in Denain, France, and being part of the race.
An early move by Lizzie Deignan would prove to be decisive, as getting out front allowed her to choose her own lines and remove herself from some of the chaos unfolding behind her over 17 cobbled sectors. She would hold on to the lead and take the first Roubaix title.
What exactly unfolded in the peloton behind Deignan might most aptly be described as carnage, with riders slipping over the mud soaked roads barely wide enough for one car to pass through. Crashes took out riders left and right, and almost no one was immune, including BikeExchange’s Sarah Roy, whose Giordana Australia national champion kit would trade in its white front for mud stains by day’s end.
“Well, as they say, everyone who rides Roubaix has a story,” said Roy after the race. “I definitely have got a story at least. It just comes down to luck, doesn’t it? I was positioned pretty well into that sector, I think about maybe sixth wheel, and yeah, someone just crashed in front of me and I just came down. It was just so slippery. There was so much mud out there and you couldn’t react.”
“It was as expected, it was carnage,” said Team BikeExchange sport director Alejandro Gonzales-Tablas. “The luck was not on our side today. The legs were good for the riders but we had bad luck with crashes and problems, but with the weather we had today it was to be expected.”
But despite going down, Roy cracked a smile as she entered the famed Roubaix Velodrome en route to a 23rd place performance—how could you not when finishing the inaugural women’s edition of one of cycling’s longest running and most famed races?
And it would be a memorable day for all of the team, who all left with mud spattered Giordana team kits to remind them of their first shot at Roubaix. But it won’t be the last.
“I think it’s just one of those races you just want to nail,” said Roy on the infield of the Roubaix velodrome, not long after finishing. “Now that we’ve done it one time, we know a little bit better what to expect next time.”
Luckily, next time is only six months away.