The Queen of the Classics

Alison Jackson is ready to defend her Paris-Roubaix title. Alberto Bettiol will make his Roubaix debut this weekend.

April 4, 2024

The cobbled classics season will come to a bone-shaking, bike-rattling crescendo this weekend when EF Education-Cannondale and EF Education-EasyPost race onto the pavé at Paris-Roubaix.

On Saturday, defending champion Alison Jackson will lead Letizia Borghesi, Lotta Henttala, Nina Kessler, Coryn Labecki, and Noemi Rüegg onto the cobblestones of northern France.

On Sunday, Alberto Bettiol will make his Paris-Roubaix debut, backed by Stefan Bissegger, Owain Doull, Lukas Nerurkar, Jonas Rutsch, Harry Sweeny, and Jardi van der Lee.

The run-in to every cobblestone sector will be like a mosh pit. By the time they get to the finish-line on the famous cycle track in Roubaix, Alberto and Alison hope to be the last riders dancing.

Before she won last year’s race, Alison could only dream that she would get to bust a move on the velodrome’s infield, but she believed in herself and drove the break right to the line, which she crossed first with a thundering sprint. The Canadian champ then got up and danced—like only she can dance.

Alison now knows that she has got what it takes to win. Paris-Roubaix is a fearsome race—you need luck on your side—but if she can win it once, she can win it again.

“It’ll be really cool to wear the number one,” Alison said. “But it’s a new race, a new weekend, and we plan to win in a different way this year. We get to take a lot of confidence and hopefully positive vibes from having accomplished it before and then we’ll tackle this wild and crazy race again.”

Alberto Bettiol was inspired by Alison’s 2023 victory. He is coming into his first ever Paris-Roubaix in tremendous form. Alberto finished ninth at the Ronde van Vlaanderen on Sunday. The former Tour of Flanders winner just missed out on a place on the podium when he was caught by a chasing group in the last couple of hundred meters. Earlier this spring, he won Milano-Torino and rode powerfully at Milano-Sanremo and Dwars door Vlaanderen. Well-rested and excited, Alberto dreams of adding another monument to his trophy cabinet.

“I am really curious to see how the race will go, because it is the first time that I will race Paris-Roubaix,” Alberto says. "It is a masterpiece of the classics, the Hell of the North. It is a long race. It is a difficult race, which  is a little bit different from the Tour of Flanders. It is a really important race on the calendar, for our sponsors and for the people watching all over the world, so hopefully we can do a really nice race. My expectations are pretty high.”

The Roubaix trophy—a rock pulled from the farm tracks that the race crosses on its route north—is a poignant prize. Riding those cobblestones at race speeds is the ultimate test of a rider’s strength, skill, and resolve. On the toughest sectors, holding the handlebars is like holding a jackhammer. Alison and her teammates face 17 cobbled sectors, including the toughest, Carrefour de l’Arbre and Mons-en-Pévèle, on Saturday’s 148.5-km race course from Denain to Roubaix.

I don’t know if I enjoy the cobbles—they’re really rough and they feel terrible on the body—but you get a bit of fun out of the rodeo of it," Alison says. Those moments where you defy the odds and you bump around but you save it, that is the part of the chaos that I am looking forward to."

The men start further south in Compiègne on Sunday. They will race 260 kilometers, crossing 29 sectors of cobbles, on their way to the Roubaix Velodrome.

Jardi van der Lee and Lukas Nerurkar will make their Roubaix debuts alongside Alberto. With their youth and enthusiasm, plus the experience of Stefan Bissegger, Jonas Rutsch, Owain Doull, and Harry Sweeny, we’ve got a powerful squad. Everyone is determined to get Alberto to the final kilometers with strength in his legs to go for the win. If they have any left in theirs, Alberto’s teammates will push on to the end. Riding on to the boards of the cycle track in Roubaix at the end of the 128-year-old French classic is an achievement akin to finishing a grand tour for any pro.

Letizia Borghesi has done it. Nina Kessler has done it. Coryn Labecki has done it. Noemi Rüegg has done it. Roubaix is one of the few races that Lotta Henttala hasn’t raced yet, but she is one of the most experienced riders in the women’s peloton, and she and her teammates are ready to give their all to get Alison there first.

Our teams have their dance moves ready, but first it’s time to race into the mosh pit.

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