There has been increasing discussion about why Trouée d’Arenberg has not been introduced to Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift, but Grace Brown says that the pavé sectors, as a collective, are more important to the route than just one – even one as iconic as the Arenberg.
Organisers ASO have indicated that it is still “too dangerous” to include the Arenberg Forest in the women’s route due to its proximity to the start in Denain. However, with careful route changes and additional pavè sectors added earlier in the race, the women’s event could cross the five-star sector in future editions.
“The cobbles sectors have been the same for each of the three editions, but I agree we shouldn’t start the race on Arenberg, it’s a little bit dangerous for the full peloton to come racing into full speed at that sector,” Brown said in an interview with Cyclingnews on the eve of the third edition of the race.
“If the race becomes longer and we can fit a few more cobble sectors before that, so a small bunch arrives [to the Arenberg], there is potential for it to be included.
“At the same time, one cobble sector doesn’t make Paris-Roubaix, it’s all of them together, so I don’t think we 100% need Arenberg in the race to make it significant.”
Paris-Roubaix Femmes route once again begins in Denain, but the total distance has increased from 124.7km to 145.4km, with the start of the race extended ahead of the first pavé sector – Hornaing to Wandignies.
Although the route does not include the Trouée d’Arenberg, it does offer 29.2km of pavé spread across 17 cobblestone sectors, including five-star sectors Mons-en-Pévèle and the Carrefour de l’Arbre.
FDJ-SUEZ previewed the pavé earlier in the week, wearing their special edition orange jerseys used for training, to raise awareness for cyclists’ safety. She said that while it was somewhat dry on Wednesday, she believes that the rain on Thursday and Friday mean that the cobbles could be slippery and muddy come Saturday’s event.
“It’s hard to know what state the cobbles will be in, a little bit dry and a little bit of mud, probably,” said Brown, who missed the muddy inaugural edition won by Lizzie Deignan in 2021 but finished 12th in a dry and fast edition in 2022, won by Elisa Longo Borghini.
“I didn’t do the first edition, so last year it was dusty cobbles and no mud. We rode with a bit of mud during recon, though, and it was slippery but something that you have to deal with when you get there.”
FDJ-SUEZ will also line up with Clara Copponi, Eugenie Duval, Maëlle Grossetête, Marie Le Net and Jade Wiel, but will be without Vittoria Guazzini, who fractured her pelvis during a crash while previewing the route on Wednesday.
“We are disappointed that Vittoria can’t be there because this is a race she is super strong at, so we will miss her. Her crash was an unfortunate accident. It doesn’t, in my mind, make the course any more dangerous than I already knew it was, or change my perception of the race,” Brown said.
“Without Vittoria, I’ll be the leader on the team, so a little bit of pressure on the shoulders but you can’t expect too much from Roubaix, you just have to ride it.”
The team will also be without Marta Cavalli, who finished ninth in 2021 and fifth in 2022, as she focuses on the Ardennes Classics.
“Marta is focused on the Ardennes this year, after her success last year, and she decided with the team that it was better not to race Roubaix this year to focus on those other races. There are riders who can be good on every type of course, but they can’t do every single race, so at some point, you need to decide and make tough decisions between multiple races that you could potentially do well in.”
Brown said that it will be tough to beat the favourites SD Worx, which has dominated the Classics this year with nine wins, and Trek-Segafredo which has won Paris-Roubaix twice, but that the tactics at Hell of the North are different from all other races.
“You have to race it as it comes and take opportunities as you see them and know that the cobbles are wearing everyone down. You have to be braver than in other races and do something unexpected. I don’t think Deignan or Longo Borghini expected to win in the way that they won.”
Brown believes that Paris-Roubaix suits her opportunistic racing style but also her time trial ability. “It’s a race that can suit me, being able to take opportunities and be a bit strategic, as a time triallist, it is also a course that suits me because it’s long constant efforts with not a lot of recover.”