When the „Roubaisiennes“ take the stage
Audrey Cordon-Ragot: „A race where cycling history is made“
Aware of the magnitude of the occasion, the riders in the women’s peloton are gearing up for the first edition of Paris–Roubaix Femmes, scheduled for Saturday 2 October, after their debut on the cobblestones of northern France was frustrated in October 2020 and again last spring. The world of cycling is awash with questions about the favourites to win the inaugural edition, wondering what it takes to shine in this race and whether the decisive attributes are exactly the same as in the men’s competition. Five of these favourites, particularly excited about this momentous event, tell us more about their relationship with the Queen of Classics as the countdown to their initiation on the cobblestones ticks away. French rider Audrey Cordon-Ragot has left nothing to chance in her endeavour to turn this historic occasion into a huge celebration.
Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Trek–Segafredo)
Pontivy (Morbihan, France), 22 September 1989
Teams: Vienne Futuroscope (2008–2013), Hitec Products (2014), Wiggle–Honda (2015), Wiggle High5 (2016–2018) and Trek–Segafredo (2019–2021)
2012: winner of Cholet-Pays de Loire
2013: winner of the Tour de Bretagne
2014: stage winner in La Route de France and winner of the Grand Prix de Plumelec
2015: winner of Cholet-Pays de Loire and French time trial champion
2016: French time trial champion
2017: winner of the Chrono des Nations and French time trial champion
2018: sixth in the Amstel Gold Race, third in the Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta and French time trial champion
2019: winner of the Tour de Bretagne
2020: thirteenth in the World Championships, stage winner in the Tour de l’Ardèche and French road race champion
2021: French time trial champion
An anecdote: „Absolutely useless at mechanics“ by her own admission, the Breton married the former amateur rider Vincent Ragot, who works as a mechanic for B&B Hotels p/b KTM.
A DREAM IS BORN
Audrey Cordon-Ragot discovered the magic of Paris-Roubaix mainly on television. Back when she was a young teen who already stood out as one of the brightest riders of her generation, Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara’s duels and solo adventures kept her on the edge of her seat, and her passion for this extraordinary race has only grown since then. „Everyone who’s won here rates this victory a notch above their other ones. It has a legendary aura because it’s a race for warriors where cycling history is made. I also remember Peter Sagan beating Silvan Dillier and Philippe Gilbert snatching the win against astronomical odds. You get surprises on the podium all the time, even on the top step, such as that time when Mathew Hayman took the win from the early break“. For the Breton, this phenomenal atmosphere also has a lot to do with the place that has come to epitomise the Hell of the North: „I think of the velodrome as the beating heart of Paris-Roubaix… It’s just like a Roman arena. The crowd wants to see the wild animals, and it often comes down to a group of riders. Just going there as a spectator already packed quite an emotional punch.“
CUT OUT FOR THE COBBLESTONES?
Roubaix specialists come in all shapes and sizes, but Fabian Cancellara and, a few decades earlier, Francesco Moser showed that time trialists are a force to be reckoned with. This suits Audrey Cordon-Ragot to a tee: behind the 11 victories of Jeannie Longo, who was in a class of her own, she has racked up 5 national titles and an additional 6 podium finishes in the national time trial championships. It is now up to her to transpose these abilities to the cobblestones. „I’m exactly in the sweet spot between too light and too heavy! The proper technique involves staying on your saddle whenever possible and loosening up your whole body. I think I’m a cobble-gobbler. Positioning will also be key in the approach to the cobbled sectors, and I think my experience will help me here because I’ve learnt a lot when it comes to fighting for my place in the peloton“.
PREPARING FOR THE BIG SHAKE
In Paris-Roubaix, failing to plan is planning to fail. The men have set the example for a long time and are used to preparing for this race with fastidious care. Trek–Segafredo is a tad more passionate about the cobbled classics than other teams, leaving Audrey well placed to capitalise on the experience of her male colleagues: „I had a chat with John Degenkolb, as well as Mads Pedersen, who gave me tips such as not to wear gloves. At first, I thought he was making fun of me, but I heeded his advice anyway and ended up without a single blister.“ Recon is another important factor in the build-up to Paris-Roubaix. Here, too, she has dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s for this exceptional premiere. „Due to the succession of postponements, I’ve already got four recons under my belt and yet another one on my to-do list. We don’t use our Roubaix bicycles anywhere else, so you need to get a feel for the bicycle and, especially, carry out loads of tests to determine the right tyre pressure.“
THE IDEAL SCENARIO
Audrey Cordon-Ragot makes no secret of the fact that winning Paris-Roubaix would be a dream come true. However, there is more than one path that leads to success in the old André Pétrieux Velodrome. The first-timer is raring to go and has already sketched out her ideal scenario: „The perfect situation is one in which I launch an attack in the Carrefour de l’Arbre sector, go full gas in the final 15 kilometres and enter the velodrome on my own“, she reveals enthusiastically. „My kick is powerful enough to spring a surprise if it comes down to a sprint, but I’ll be facing much longer odds if I get to the finish in a small group.“ Depending on how events unfold and how she feels on the day of the race, Audrey is also ready to roll up her sleeves and work for her team, which boasts an enviable level of depth: „Trek–Segafredo has other cards to play, apart from myself, as we’re also bringing Elisa Longo Borghini, newly crowned European champion Ellen van Dijk and Liz Deignan to the race“.