Deignan was part of a team of favourites, with Ellen van Dijk and Elisa Longo Borghini expected to be among the best on the wet and treacherous cobbles of northern France.
She found herself off the front after one of the early cobble sections and surged away to a big lead quickly as the peloton followed behind, getting out to a two-minute lead as the race hit its first five-star sector, Mons-en-Pévèle.
From there, the peloton fractured as the muddy cobbles saw riders sent tumbling and the general attrition of the race only left the elite and lucky riders battling at the front. Deignan’s lead only increased in that time - slipping and sliding over the cobbles at times - before the combined power of Movistar, SD-Worx and Jumbo-Visma began to drag her back.
Nonetheless, the lone British rider still held a two minute and 15 second lead with Camphin-en-Pévèle, until a stunning assault from Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) saw the Dutch star leave the other chasers behind, with her surge seeing a nasty crash for van Dijk and Sarah Roy (Team BikeExchange) as they scrambled to follow wheels. Only Longo Borghini was able to make it clear to chase Vos, not able to make contact as the three-time world champion set off in pursuit of Deignan and cycling immortality.
Deignan’s lead tumbled in the early kilometres of Vos’ assault, but it stabilised at a minute and 15 seconds with 12 kilometres left and barely moved from that point. Deignan soloed around the Roubaix velodrome to take an emotional victory, with Vos second and Longo Borghini third.
“That was really not the plan, no,” Deignan said of race that ended up playing out perfectly for her. “I needed to be at the front on the first cobble sections to protect my leaders. Today, I was the third rider.
“I looked behind and there was a gap and I thought, ‘well, at least if I’m in the front they have to chase me’. So I just kept going.”
Deignan will add to her already storied career with the win, she has already taken out a world championships road race and a Commonwealth Games gold medal, and continues her brilliant career as the first-ever winner of Paris-Roubaix.
“I feel so incredibly proud,” said Deignan. “Women’s cycling is at this turning point, and this is a part of history. We are so proud of everyone behind the scenes and watching this, because everyone watching this is also making history.
“It’s proving that there’s an appetite for women’s cycling and that the athletes here can do one of the hardest races in the world. I’m proud to say that I’m the first winner.”
The coverage of Paris-Roubaix continues on Sunday evening with the men’s race from northern France. The race will get underway from 2000 AEST on SBS OnDemand, with the SBS VICELAND broadcast beginning at 2100 AEST.