After 15 years in the professional peloton and countless victories in Women’s WorldTour events, there is little that is new to Marianne Vos in the world of cycling. Paris-Roubaix Femmes, this weekend, though, will be a first for the former multiple world champion, as it will be for the entire women’s peloton. She admits she doesn’t know what to expect, but has high hopes for the race this Saturday.
“For all of us it's the first time so we don't really know how we are in the bunch and who will be the best on the cobbles,” she says. “That's new and that's quite a big challenge for us all.” Vos speaks modestly about her chances, but she enters the race as a hot favourite to cross the line first in the iconic Roubaix Velodrome, largely in part to her background in cyclo-cross, as well as her long list of victories in the Classics.
“It helps to have some experience with wet conditions in cyclo-cross if it’s slippery. It doesn't mean that it's easier for me than for others, though,” she explains. Vos is a seven-time World Champion in the discipline and her technical ability will be an asset on the cobbles of Roubaix, as well as on the approach to the sectors which she imagines to be the most crucial part of the race. “Positioning will be the key,” she says with confidence. "We all have to be ready to fight and flexible in whatever happens."
Image: Bram Berkien/Team Jumbo-Visma
Vos will lead the Jumbo-Visma team, supported by Anna Henderson and Jip van den Bos, talented Classics riders in their own right (Van den Bos took victory in semi-cobbled classic Le Samyn des Dames in 2019 and Henderson was in the top 10 in 2021). “I think Paris-Roubaix is the kind of race that decides, itself, who will end up in the final,” explains Vos. “I'll be the protected rider for the team this weekend and I'm very happy with the team around me who will be there to cover me and keep me as safe as possible during the race.”
Jumbo-Visma is a team that has gelled well despite being in their first season together, often seen animating races and executing lead outs perfectly. Henderson and Van den Bos have certainly made names for themselves as aggressive riders who are not afraid to take on races from the start and sacrifice their own chances for the overall victory.
The Jumbo-Visma ethos of working towards a collective result is something that could be said to have been slightly missing in Vos’s national team, the Netherlands. Headlines were made during both the Olympics and World Championships when they failed to execute the team plan after heading in to the races as favourites to win. Riding on the national team brings a unique dynamic, for Vos and her compatriots are largely rivals for most of the season, where they represent different trade teams but come the Worlds and Olympics they have to switch their mindset and become teammates for a day.
Vos finishes second to Elisa Balsamo at the World Championships 2021 (Image: Getty)
“[The trade team] is what you're used to, so you know how everybody reacts,” says Vos. “That's what you do the whole year. You work together to set different goals and everything is set up quite far ahead. It's a different thing,” she explains. Vos finished 2nd in the World Championships last weekend, narrowly missing out on her fourth Road World Championship title. This is something that some onlookers put down to problems with her lead out for the sprint from her Dutch teammates.
“I was so close to gold and then getting away with silver was disappointing,” she says. “But I also know it's sports and in hindsight, you could have done things differently and maybe here or there, but you can't change it.”
“I tried to analyse and learn but also look ahead, and with Paris-Roubaix around the corner it's quite easy to switch the mindset and just be happy with the shape I'm in,” Vos explains.
Cooperation and last minute tactics won’t be an issue for Jumbo-Visma in the upcoming Paris-Roubaix Femmes, though, as Vos explains they have done all the preparation they can to be in perfect form for the race. “We've had a good recon and equipment wise we've done a lot with the team,” she says. “The team has special bikes with special wheels, tyres and tyre pressure.”
Vos sees the introduction of Paris-Roubaix Femmes to the calendar as a big step forward for women’s cycling, discussing how the long history of the race will likely make it watched by many more fans worldwide. “People will watch it just because the name is Paris-Roubaix,” she says. “There's live coverage, so we'll try our best and we hope to have a great race. That's the beauty of cycling.”Image: Bram Berkien/Team Jumbo Visma
The 34-year-old knows to expect fireworks and stresses that she will have to expect the unexpected. “I think some riders that we don't usually see will do really well because they have the power to go on and to keep pushing. This makes it very interesting,” she says.
The introduction of new races like Paris-Roubaix Femmes and the upcoming Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift means that the women’s peloton are constantly being presented with new challenges, and Vos continues to believe she has room for learning and improvement, despite her long, illustrious career. “Paris-Roubaix is very exciting to work towards and also the Tour de France,” she says. “There's so many beautiful races on the calendar and also races I've done 10 times in the past can be very, very exciting. I just like riding my bike and love racing. No reason to stop.”
For now, Vos has her sights set on being the first ever winner of Paris-Roubaix Femmes. “We just need to focus and be prepared for some suffering,” she says.
Cover image: Bram Berkien/Team Jumbo Visma