April 12 th 2022 - 14:35

In October 2021, the inaugural edition of the women's version of the Hell of the North was a watershed moment for women's cycling. Their first foray on the cobblestones was a challenge in the truest sense of the word. The cold, rain and mud conspired to cause a succession of slips and punctures and set the tone for the first running of the race, which had a large audience share and remains etched in the memories of these pioneers —chief among them Lizzie Deignan, who rode her way into the cycling pantheon as the first winner of the event with a solo attack from 80 kilometres out. Here is a photo recap of that extraordinary day.


It all starts in Denain, a town that lives and breathes cycling. Since 1959, it has hosted the Grand Prix de Denain, which sees the classics specialists of the men's peloton go toe to toe the day after Milan–San Remo.



The atmosphere on the Ceratizit bus in the run-up to the start is a mix of focus and relaxation. The leader of the team, German champion Lisa Brennauer, is tipped as one of the favourites to win the race.


129 riders take the start of this epic premiere. How many will there be left by the time we get to Roubaix Velodrome?


Conditions are tough from the beginning and the mood in the peloton darkens. Leading contenders Katarzyna Niewiadoma and Marlen Reusser crash out of the race in the first laps of the initial circuit.


As soon as the race hits the first cobbled sector, 34 km into the course, Brit Lizzie Deignan rolls the dice with an ultra-long-range attack. It is a high-risk solo gamble.


The bunch has shrunk to about 50 riders with 54 kilometres to go as the woman in front clings on to her two-minute advantage.


The first Paris–Roubaix Femmes is literally dishing out the pain. Riders are coming down like skittles but continue to soldier on… at lease those who can.



Italian champion Elisa Longo Borghini hits the deck too, but she finds the strength to claw her way back to the first chasing group behind Deignan.


Audrey Cordon-Ragot, seen here in second place, is up to no good in the main group, where she works hard to disrupt the chase and help her captain stay clear.


Emma Norsgaard is one of the most active riders seeking to gain ground on Lizzie Deignan. She will be rewarded for her efforts with sixth place.


One week after her victorious World campaign in Liévin, Elisa Balsamo is wearing the rainbow stripes for the first time on the road to Roubaix. While the Italian flounders in 57th place, she will be a woman to watch in the following edition.


Seven-time world cyclo-cross champion Marianne Vos is perhaps the only one who has the wherewithal to turn this race around on such a dreaded course. Riding alone, she inches closer and closer to Deignan, but it is too little, too late.


Lizzie Deignan becomes the first winner of Paris–Roubaix Femmes after an 80-kilometre solo adventure. What a performance!


After taking the 2016 Tour of Flanders and Strade Bianche and the 2020 Liège–Bastogne–Liège and La Course by Tour de France, the 2015 world champion writes a new chapter in the history of women's cycling by claiming the cobble trophy. Elisa Longo Borghini is elated to finish on the podium (third) of such an exceptional race.


Coming in second is a strange experience for the Dutchwoman, who has chalked up wins on every terrain throughout her career. This time round, she reaches the velodrome running on empty, but she will be back to settle the score.


The famous showers are part of what makes Paris–Roubaix magical and one of the reasons why German Tanja Erath put herself through the wringer to reach the velodrome —albeit outside the time limit.

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