“Crashing left, right and centre, it was madness” Tales of the Paris-Roubaix Femmes debutants

The cobbles of Roubaix are rough for everyone, but are even harder when you’re still a neo-pro

It’s nearly impossible to prepare for your first time at Paris-Roubaix. The bone-shaking cobbles are tough to replicate on a training ride and practising alone on the course itself is fatiguing and painful; as well as being a far cry from entering the sectors in a 150-rider strong bunch. Things are even harder when you’re in the first few years as an elite, unaccustomed to the ebb and flow of a professional peloton.

Though Elisa Longo Borghini’s emphatic victory made headlines at Paris-Roubaix Femmes, many riders had a very different story to tell. For the neo-pros conquering the race, just reaching the iconic velodrome was an achievement in itself. We spoke to four young riders who finished Roubaix this year for the first time. Some were covered in dust, some came with bloodied knees, some were tearful, some were elated, but they’d all fought through Hell to get there.

Related: Paris-Roubaix Femmes 2022 Debrief

Flora Perkins - 18-years old, Le Col-Wahoo

“I wanted to try and get in the early break so I could hit the cobbles first. That didn't really go to plan! I had to change my mindset to help to position our leaders at the front. I did that okay, could have been better, could have been worse. From there on it was like there's no tactics, you just ride. I was able to spot my parents on the first sector because I could sort of think straight at that point.

Images: Pauline Ballet

"I was feeling quite good, making my way through the cars and I got up to the group but then I decked it and lost all of that hard work. I was just fighting to the end, but I got tired and then lost concentration. I kept trying to go to the outside line in the mud but then you need to be switched on as it's quite narrow. It was hard but I'm here!

"I’m back to school next week for my A-Levels and I’ve been trying to squeeze in revision while I’ve been here. I put on my Instagram saying I was doing Paris-Roubaix a few days ago and one of my friends was like “Wow, you’re going to Paris!” so my classmates don’t quite get it yet…

Related: From the cobbles to the classroom, balancing life as a neo-pro

"Ask me if I want to do Roubaix again at a later date. I’m not against it. It’s my first WorldTour race as well. Right now a shower would be good, I just had two Fantas which have kind of quenched the thirst, I might have to go for a third!”

Senne Knaven - 19-years old, AG Insurance - NXTG Team

“On the one hand I feel good, but on the other hand I'm a bit disappointed with my race. I crashed in the first lap really hard on my coccyx. It was just really hectic to come to the front and then they crashed again before the first cobbled section. I did recon on Monday with the team and then we had a tailwind but today it was all headwind so it was actually very different. If you're on your own, then you’re just standing still.

Image: Bastien Gason

"Sometimes you go between the cars and then you just had to stop pedalling because you couldn't see anything through the dust, that was shit actually. 

"It was worse than I thought because I thought I would be in a group somewhere in the front, I would hope to be in the second group or something but I had that crash. I’ve learnt a lot for the future. I just need to sit in the front.”

Abi Smith - 20 years old, EF Education-Tibco-SVB

“I’m really pleased to have finished, obviously luck does play a part and I crashed before the cobbles so I did quite a bit of chasing. It was just crashing left, right and centre, it was madness really.

"If you’re out of position going into the first cobbled sector then the front has already gone, if one person goes down in front of you then you lose 30 seconds straight away. It was really important I still made it to the finish. The main thing was making it home and keeping fighting as you never know what might happen. 

Image: Twila Federica Muzzi

"It was so special coming to the velodrome, I was trying to hang on, I attacked my little group. But it was awesome, so cool. My takeaway is to have better positioning. It’s all very well being good and strong on the cobbles but if you’re 100 riders back then your day is over.

"I’m really glad it wasn’t wet, it was skiddy enough on the gravel. It was pretty sketchy, lots of people coming down. I’ve got contact lenses so I was closing my eyes quite a bit – I probably shouldn’t say that! I mean, I signed up to road racing and that is not a road race!

"I need food and a shower. My first Roubaix, only the second women’s one so it’s really really special. I’ll look back and think yeah, that was pretty cool.”

Katie Clouse - 20-years old, Human Powered Health

“I definitely went out too hard. I put myself into the deep end pretty quickly but that was my job. I tried to stay in as long as I could but this is one of the hardest races in the world so I didn't really have much on the cobbles. But it was fun, it was a really cool experience and I'm glad I got to do it.

Image: Tornati

"I was definitely cracked with still 50km to go, but I was like, you know what, I'm going to finish this. I'm pretty proud to just cross the line. But it was definitely hard.

"I've never experienced this kind of race so it was pretty cool. I've been watching on TV my whole life, so it's definitely a day to remember. Now I'm done, I'm gonna go and take a nap.”

Cover image: Bastien Gason