The 2021 edition of Paris-Roubaix will look a little bit different as women tackle the event for the first time ever. The first women's Paris-Roubaix was scheduled for 2020, but was cancelled due to COVID-19, as a result, the first women's Paris-Roubaix will take place on Sunday, April 11, 2021.
The women are expected to race on a course that is a bit shorter and has fewer cobblestone "sectors" compared with the men - but the critical last portion of the route prior to the finish is identical to the challenging route used by the men.
History of Paris-Roubaix
Known as the "Queen of the Classics", Paris-Roubaix is known for distinctive racing on cobblestone road. Depending on the weather it can feature heavy dust or mud. Riders often finished with faces that tell the story of the race - caked in dirt - as they finish the race on the banks of the Roubaix velodrome.
Paris-Roubaix was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19, so between the missing year and the new women's event, interest should be very high. Prior to the pandemic, the only thing that had stopped Paris-Roubaix for more than a hundred years was war.
Cyclocross riders in Paris-Roubaix
2021 will feature some elite cyclocross riders racing Paris-Roubaix.
For the women, many familiar names will take the start of the first women's Paris-Roubaix, with these teams invited: Alé-BTC-Ljubljana, Canyon-SRAM Racing, FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope, Liv Racing, Movistar Team Women, Team BikeExchange, Team DSM, Team SD Worx, Trek-Segafredo, A.R. Monex Women’s Pro Cycling, Ceratizit-WTN Pro Cycling Team, Lotto Soudal Ladies, Parkhotel Valkenburg, Team TIBCO and Valcar Travel & Service making the list.
That means world champions Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado and Sanne Cant could be on the on the starting line, plus Marianne Vas, Lucinda Brand, Annemarie Worst, Inge van der Heijden, Manon Bakker or Yara Kastelijn, depending on the riders selected by the teams. It's even possible that American fan favorite Clara Honsinger could get a nod.
On the men's side, Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel are both scheduled to appear, re-igniting their classics battle that saw MvdP take the Tour of Flanders last year. Quinten Hermans and Corne van Kessel, and Tom Pidcock are also names familiar to 'cross fans that could be on the Paris-Roubaix starting line.
Special bikes for the cobblestones
Bikes are tweaked to survive the special challenges of the cobblestones as well; with riders opting for changes like wider tubular tires and double-wrapped handlebar tape for comfort. In some ways, they look a lot like modern cyclocross or gravel bikes, with frame and fork clearance for bigger tires, disc brakes, and a more upright riding position.
Paris-Roubaix 2021 Live Stream
For readers in the United States, NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass has the streaming and broadcast rights for Paris-Roubaix 2021. This is unfortunate for cyclocross fans, who may have already subscribed to FloBikes or GCN+ Plus Race Pass thanks to the thorough cyclocross coverage on those services. Read my review comparing Race Pass, FloBikes, and Gold Cycling Pass.
NBC has announced that their NBCSN cable/satellite channel will shut down in the future, but at this time, it's not clear how streaming is impacting yet. NBC lost the rights to the road, MTB, cyclocross, track etc. World Championships, with those rights moving to FloBikes. NBC, notably, still has the USA streaming rights for the Tour de France, which are quite valuable. It's likely you'll see the Tour de France available on NBC's Peacock streaming platform as well as inside Gold Cycling Pass.
As of this writing, it's not yet known how much coverage NBC will devote to the women's race specifically, compared with the coverage they typically provide of the men's field. I'm optimistic, however, NBC is at the mercy of the shared camera coverage that is passed along to all TV / streaming providers.
Gold Cycling Pass is currently "on sale" at $24.99 (usually $54.99 annually) which may reflect additional changes coming to this service and the lack of clarity on which events NBC will stream after the conclusion of the 2021 Tour de France. If you elect to subscribe, note that the subscription period ends on May 31, 2021 (before the Tour de France) regardless of your subscription start date.
Regardless of how you watch or listen, join me on Sunday April 11, 2021 as we cheer the first-ever women's Paris-Roubaix.