Writing a new history on the cobbles

Advancing the women’s peloton at Paris-Roubaix

April 14, 2022

The Arenberg. Carrefour de l’Arbre. Mons-en-Pévèle. The cobbled sectors found in Paris-Roubaix evoke epic images of bike racing in grit and dust, in mud and agony. For over a century, women were told no. No, you cannot race here. No, you cannot participate. No, this is not for you.

For only the second time in history, the women’s peloton will line up Saturday morning to race Paris-Roubaix. The six riders representing EF Education-TIBCO-SVB are proud to play their role in continuing to advance women’s cycling.

Tanja Erath remembers how she felt when the race was first announced in 2020. “I was crazy excited. I was afraid not to be selected. It was my main thing. I wanted to be selected for the race. The first thing I said to our general manager Rachel Hedderman on the phone when I got to the team was, ‘The only thing I care about is racing Roubaix. I really want to race Roubaix.’” The race was postponed multiple times due to the pandemic but that did not deter Tanja. “Finally standing there on the start line was a really big deal for me. People who are not into cycling have heard about Paris-Roubaix because it’s action packed. All the drama. It’s a milestone for women’s cycling.”

Though only 20-years-old, Abi Smith appreciates the strides that have been made in women’s cycling over the course of her life. “The last 20 years or so it’s just been going in the right direction,” Abi says. “When the race was announced a few years ago, I was just a domestic rider doing British races and now I’m here doing Paris-Roubaix. I wouldn’t have believed you a few years ago. It’s the same with Strade Bianche. It’s not been going very long as well. Things like that, I’d have never dreamed of as a kid. Now we’re here.”

Among our riders there’s a sense of gratitude that Paris-Roubix now exists for women after 118 editions of the men’s race. “I feel kind of surprised that this is only the second year,” says Clara Honsinger. “This is both extraordinary that we have the opportunity to race and that it took until 2021 for that to happen. It’s kind of like, at last. I’m grateful for the opportunity.”

Abi is quick to point out that Paris-Roubaix didn’t just appear overnight. It took years of pushing back against the status quo for this race to come to fruition. “Thank you to the women who are 30, 40-years-old and have been fighting, saying, ‘Give us this race. Give us coverage. Distance. Everything,’” she says. “Thank you to them for working so hard. We need to carry it on and to keep pushing. We can’t let it plateau now. We’ve got to keep pushing until it’s equal.”

"People who are not into cycling have heard about Paris-Roubaix because it’s action packed. All the drama. It’s a milestone for women’s cycling.”

-Tanja Erath

After the success of Paris-Roubaix in 2021, race organizer A.S.O. is making additional changes to further improve this year’s edition. It has significantly increased the prize money. Last year’s winner took home 1,535€ out of a total purse of 7,005€ whereas this year the total prize money is 50,000€, including 20,000€ going to the winner. There will also be more TV coverage this year with all 17 cobbled sectors being broadcasted.

While our riders look to the past to recognize and honor the struggle, they also look ahead and see reasons for optimism. “As we were riding in, we were riding over the final strip of cobbles that has a cobble for each of the previous winners,” Clara says. “Knowing there’s only one so far for the women and thinking how many more are going to be laid with women’s names is really inspirational.”

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How to watch: GCN+ and Eurosport begin broadcasting at 13:15 CET. North American audiences can tune into FloBikes starting at 7:20 EST.

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