Italian champion Elisa Longo Borghini won a coruscating second edition of Paris-Roubaix on Saturday. The Italian champion attacked solo with 38km of the race remaining, and though her lead was never secure her Trek-Segafredo team mates behind made the case difficult.
Behind her a group of seven women formed in pursuit, but with two team mates in attendance the chase was unable to gel and the Italian took a lead approaching 30 seconds into the Roubaix velodrome.
Her winning margin was eventually 23 seconds, Belgian champion Lotte Kopecky taking second place for SDWorx, the winner’s team mate Lucinda Brand third.
Trek-Segafredo entered the race as defending champions, Lizzie Deignan taking a remarkable victory in last year's debut edition. Though the Brit was absent on maternity leave, the American team bossed the race from the start, dealing with setbacks with aplomb, from mechanicals for Van Dijk, a crash for Chloe Hosking and disqualification for a sticky bottle for world champion Elisa Balsamo.
It could be said Trek-Segafredo's strength allowed them to play cycling as art, Longo Borghini’s performance as breathtaking as any Italian fresco, two Dutch masters a picture of control behind.
How it happened
For its second edition Paris-Roubaix Femmes has grown, though not much. At 125km Saturday’s race has added just under nine kilometres, though the only change to the course was one extra circuit around the start town of Denain.
With those local laps complete the race then meandered north, picking out 17 of the fabled sectors of pavé. The first of those, came at Hornaing after 42km, the peloton riding a total of 29.2km of cobbles. Though Saturday’s race was set to be the shortest of the WorldTour spring one dayers, those hellishly tough roads would make sure it would be nowhere near the easiest.
The race was on the moment the flag dropped with five women getting away in the opening kilometres. Leoni Bos (Parkhotel Valkenburg), Amalie Lutro (Uno-X), Katie Clouse (Human Powered Health), Gaia Masetti (AG Insurance NXTG) and Tanja Erath (EF Education-Tibco-SVB) eking out a lead which extended to 1-35 as they left the opening laps and headed north.
That expanded to approach two minutes but with last year’s winning team, Trek-Segafredo leading in the form of Ellen van Dijk, by the time they reached the first sector of cobbles at Hornaing that was down to one minute.
Pressure in the peloton continued, Trek-Segafredo continuing their work, and by the time the leaders exited sector 15, with 70km behind them only Erath remained off the front, with a minimal lead.
Trek-Segafredo’s assertiveness though had its price. Not only did Van Dijk suffer a puncture, but the loss of Chloe Hosking to a crash left them short handed, SDWorx coming to the front of the peloton and Erath’s lead increasing once again.
While Erath was soon caught, Van Dijk was on her way back as the leading group headed onto the four star graded cobbles at Auchy-les-Orchies. Here Tour of Flanders winner Lotte Kopecky (SDWorx) made a move off the front, taking former world champion Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ) off the front.
This move served to further reduce the size of the peloton ahead of the day’s first five star sector of pavé at Mons-en-Pévèle, less than 50km from the velodrome. All incredibly strong, the leading trio continued to establish their advantage but the bunch were not happy to let them go.
Even with Trek-Segafredo and SD-Worx interfering on sector at Pont-Thibaut the gap was much reduced, and as they exited the cobbles, the gap under 10 seconds, former British champion Alice Barnes (Canyon-SRAM) attacked, almost bridging to the front.
This move, though saw a number of others set off in pursuit and the three leaders were caught only for Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) to launch her winning move. Third last year, the Italian champion won the 2015 Tour of Flanders with a long range move, and while she is an excellent climber, she is a fabulous all-rounder and soon built a lead of 20 second on two chasers.
There was little in the way of conviction in that pair and both dropped back the help their respective teams chase the Italian, SD-Worx taking much of the burden as they entered the Bourghelles sector.
Onto sector six and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak was so successful in the chase she tore a group off the front where she lacked any team mates, allowing Longo Borghini more time in the lead.
The leader also had Brand lurking in the seven woman group, which also included two from FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope. However, when an attack from British champion Pfeiffer Georgi (DSM) was brought back the impetus went out of that group and they were consumed into a pack of around 25.
That didn’t last though, and a Kopecky led the chase at he head of nine women not the fearsome Carrefour de l’Arbre, 26 seconds behind the leader. On that sector the gap remained static, Kopecky emerging with Amstel Gold winner Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) and two of the Italians team mates, Van Dijk and Brand.
When cooperation in that chase waned the group swelled to seven and Longo Borghini’s lead did the same, topping 30 seconds for the first time with 10km to go and increasing as she raced towards the famous velodrome.
In Van Dijk and Brand in the chasing group Longo Borghini could not have hoped for two better team mates, and their tactical astuteness and positioning ensured one would catch the Italian.
Result Paris-Roubaix Femmes: Denain - Roubaix (125km)
1. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo in 3-10-54
2. Lotte Kopecky (Bel) SDWorx at 23 sec
3. Lucinda Brand (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
4. Elise Chabbey (Sui) Canyon-SRAM
5. Marta Cavalli (Ita) FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope
6. Floortje Mackaij (Ned) DSM
7. Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Trek-Seagfredo all at same time
8. Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (Ned) SDWorx at 32 sec
9. Pfeiffer Georgi (Gbr) DSM at 2-22
10 Sandra Alonso (Esp) Movistar at same time
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