This is an extract from The Road Book Cycling Almanack 2021. To read the full contribution from Daniel Friebe, purchase your first edition in our shop. Velogames members are welcomed to enjoy a 10% discount + complimentary Exercise Book (RRP £10.00) with every purchase of The Road Book 2021. To claim, use the code: VGRB21at checkout.
The first-ever edition of the women’s Paris–Roubaix had been anticipated with growing excitement by the cycling public, who were aware they would be witnessing a historic event. What comes as something of a surprise is that the emphatic winner of the race, Lizzie Deignan, was equally aware of the wider context of her achievement as she crossed the line and raised one bloodied hand skywards in a timeless victory salute.
I started cycling when I was 15, and I didn’t grow up in a cycling family. I grew up watching the London marathon and that kind of thing. That was the sort of sporting event we would watch. But when I moved to Belgium and tried to become a professional on the road, that’s when I became aware of the iconic races. Obviously Flanders is huge, but the special thing about Roubaix was that we didn’t have a women’s one. So I was always available to watch it! I wasn’t racing and always had a day off, so that meant it was a day on the sofa watching the race. It’s one of those races that you watch from start to finish – and there’s not that many that you do. You might watch a Tour de France stage and have a power nap in the middle. But, in Roubaix, you don’t.
I think it’s just a culmination of everything that a cyclist needs: they need to be skilful, they need to be strong, they need to have mental toughness and tactical awareness. That’s why I love it: because it’s more than just being the strongest bike rider. There are winners who puncture or crash, but you need it to go more right for you than anyone else, I suppose. It’s just never over until it’s over.
I was delighted and surprised when ASO announced in 2020 that they were going to hold a women’s Paris–Roubaix. The news arrived in the middle of a pandemic. It was a huge motivator because we just didn’t know what was going to happen: how the pandemic might affect women’s cycling, and whether all the progress that had been made would be damaged by the financial insecurity of sponsors.
I had such an anti-climactic feeling after the Olympic Games because I’d put myself in the best possible physical shape and yet I couldn’t control the race. And I knew going into the World Championships that actually my focus and my objective was Paris–Roubaix. In Trek-Segafredo, I knew we had a chance to win it, and I didn’t know how strong a GB Team would be at the Worlds. They really surprised me and rode phenomenally but, in terms of being able to dictate the way a race can go, I didn’t want to leave myself feeling like I had done after the Olympics again.