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Paris-Roubaix takes place this weekend and it finally includes women

Caio Guatelli for Folha de S. Paulo

Every year, since 1896, the international cycling community drops everything to watch 150 men compete in the most extraordinary of the one-day “classics”, the French Paris-Roubaix. Known as “Hell from the North” – with its 257.7 km of muddy and cobblestone roads – the race awards the fastest cyclist who completes the stretch that leaves from the surroundings of Paris and arrives in the mythical velodrome of Roubaix.

Almost the entire world learns, via TV, radio, newspaper or the internet, the name of the winner and the qualities of his pedigree. Normally this bloke will go on to have one of the best salaries – if he didn’t already – in the world of sports. Winners go down in history – Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx, Tom Boonen, Peter Sagan… Year after year, a new him, the man, the star, a godly man to be admired in the world of bicycles. 117 times, a man every single time. There have been 95 of them, and only now we will learn who the best woman is – and there are plenty! How could the world of cycling disdain the potential and gracious female spectacle? A tremendous feminist effort was needed, led by Dutch cyclist Marianne Vos (3x world champion and Olympic gold medallist), for the first Paris-Roubaix Femmes to take place. Different from the male version, the women will start further away from Paris and the total distance will be only 115.6 km. Only? Yes, only (what a sexist question!).  Only a masculinized society to let this happen – 125 years too late and 142 km less for female cyclists, the big stars of Paris-Roubaix 2021!

Maybe it is because of oversights like this that, on social reflection, we see so many men not accepting to be defeated by women that many times are naturally more capable. Or maybe it turns certain unbelievable sexist abuses into reality, like it happened on September 28th with cyclist Andressa Lustosa, in Palmas (PR).

Despite the growing enthusiasm of (part of) the public for female bike competition, the inequality between men and women in this sport is still insufferable, in all levels. Female road cycling races are not usually fully televised. Or at least they didn’t use to be – for the first time we will see here in Brazil a female race being transmitted live. Renan

do Couto and Celso Anderson (yes, two men and no women!) will narrate the first Paris-Roubaix Femmes, that will start at 10h on Saturday on ESPN2. 

For Nadine Gil, professional German cyclist, “the growth of female cycling has been uncontrollable in the last years, and it continues to gain support of big teams and brands that previously only financed men”. The athlete highlights that, despite the decrease in differences between men and women, it is still disappointing to have to compete shorter races when compared to male races. 

Even with 142 km less, Paris-Roubaix Femmes promises strong emotions. There will be 17 cobblestone stretches, including the feared Mons-en-Pévèle and Carrefour de l’Arbre, famous for having wrecked arms, backs, legs and wheels of the stallions that passed through there. Differently to the start (which will be in Denain), the finish line will be the same as for the men, at the Roubaix velodrome. 

The list of favourite female winners is long, and is led by Marianne Vos – the Dutch is at her top physical form and nearly won her fourth road world gold last Saturday. As current world champion, the Italian Elisa Balsamo is a strong and firm contender. Another Italian, Elisa Longo Borghini, has a strong resume – she has won of a few classics, like Strade Bianche (2017). The experienced Annemiek van Vleuten could not be left aside; at the age of 38, the Dutch has won important classics this year, including Ronde van Vlaanderen.

There is no cobblestone nor man that can hold these women. Bow down, the pathway is all theirs! 



When: Saturday, October 2

Distance: 115.6 kilometres

Cobblestone stretches: 17

Total length of cobblestone stretches: 29.2 kilometres

On TV: ESPN2 at 10h


Male race: Sunday, October 3

On TV: ESPN2 at 10h


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