"Ask me again at the end of the race" Grace Brown says when asked at the start in Denain on Saturday if she will have a chance to enjoy her first Paris-Roubaix.
125km later in a baking hot Roubaix Velodrome, the FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope rider tells Cycling Weekly: "I love this race."
After missing out the end of last season due to a shoulder injury, Saturday's race was the first chance the Australian had to ride over the cobbles.
"I've ridden the course four times, so I know that really well, but racing it is completely different," Brown said before the start. "Fighting with a bunch of 140 other riders makes it a bit more challenging. I don't really know what to expect, it's going to be a surprise. I know it will be really hard, and I know the cobbles are good."
It was really hard, with 13 riders not finishing, and 27 riders coming in outside the time limit. Brown, however, battled her way to 12th, despite only recovering from Covid in the last fortnight.
"I'm feeling good. I had Covid after Flanders, so I was a little bit sick but thankfully I recovered quite quickly," she said ahead of the race. "I'm feeling pretty normal. If I didn't know that I'd had Covid, I'd say I feel as normally good as I do ahead of a race, but you never know when you get to that three hour point in a really hard race what effect it would have on your body, but we'll see."
Post race, Brown said that she had never had such a feeling of satisfaction post a race, even just by finishing 12th.
"It was bloody hard, but I don't think I've ever been so satisfied after a race," she said. "Knowing that you've really really dug deep, and given everything. It's a super honest race, and you can't fake your way to the end. You have to be really strong, and take up the fight the whole time. I love this race."
Roubaix might be one of 25 Women's WorldTour races the peloton will be tackling this year, but it still means something different, especially in the early stages of its existence as a women's race.
"I'll look forward to doing it again next year," Brown said. "I think we do so many races, that something like this is really going to stand out at the end of your career. There aren't many races like this.
"I think given my preparation this is a good result, but I want more."
The FDJ rider had a VIP ticket to see the winning move of the race, as she was in the bunch that Elisa Longo Borghini attacked from and sealed the race.
"There was a group with [Lotte] Kopecky and [Christine] Majerus off the front, then we caught them, and another small group went with Longo Borghini," she said. "Then she dropped the two others I suppose, and then was solid from there.
"By then, the bunch had really split, and it was hard to get enough cooperation from everyone there to catch her. I think it was a smart move."
A top-12 finish might just be the start for Brown at Roubaix, and she will certainly be back again to enjoy The Hell of the North.
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