Behind the lens: Shooting the first Roubaix Femmes

Jojo Harper works year round for Trek-Segafredo and got to experience Lizzie Deignan's Paris-Roubaix victory first hand.

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Trek-Segafredo’s photographer in residence Jojo Harper has been shooting cycling for years, but last Saturday she captured a pivotal moment in cycling history. The fact that the winner came from the team itself in the form of Lizzie Deignan made the whole experience even more special. Here, in her own words, she recounts what it was like to shoot the first-ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes, and reveals one perk of being a female photographer in a male-dominated field. 

What an amazing day. I feel very lucky to be part of Trek and to witness that. I was super excited, but also quite nervous. I don’t normally get nervous but I knew that Trek had a very good chance of winning and, if that was the case, I had to get the shots and I would be expected to provide something quite amazing because it was an amazing moment.

The action is good. It was actually quite interesting because, normally, it’s a super dusty race, like, dust everywhere, all over the cars everywhere. Actually, it rained a bit the day before, but then for the majority of the race it wasn’t raining, so there was no dust and no mud. On some of the sectors I was on it wasn’t as exciting, there wasn’t as much chaos as the men’s race. But, for me, the most important bit was being at the finish, especially when I knew Lizzie had it in the bag. I had to be there. That’s a huge moment: standing in the middle of the Velodrome is amazing without bike riders so to get them coming around, to get Lizzie coming in and riding around on her own knowing that she’d won was amazing. So for me, the Velodrome is the most important bit. I would sacrifice a few cobbled sectors for that.

It was a brutal race and there was a lot of mud on some of the sectors but we couldn’t really stop, we couldn’t really fit it in. The girls, you know, Ellen, oh my god, head to toe in mud and blood, as were a lot of them. These women are hardcore.

I don’t know how much faith I had in myself. I was in a car with a driver and we nearly missed the finish due to traffic blocks. I was finding it hard to keep perspective, I guess. Ultimately it is only a bike race but I was getting quite flustered about the situation.

We ran into the Velodrome and I think they had 5 km to go. Watching Lizzie come in was just unbelievable. I’m only a photographer for the team but even for me, I was kind of welling up. It’s such an iconic race, it’s been around for so long, so to win the first-ever women’s Roubaix is something quite exceptional.

I was one of the first people that greeted Lizzie when she rolled over the line and she couldn’t believe it, she was in floods of tears, her words were ‘what just happened?’ To be part of that was huge. To get Elisa coming in third as well was a dream come true for the team.

The atmosphere of the team, they were all unbelievably excited. The whole team, the men’s team as well. Getting messages on the WhatsApp group, it was huge. Lizzie couldn’t believe it, Audrey was in floods of tears, Elisa was screaming. Unfortunately, Ellen is concussed but even she was absolutely psyched. Lauretta, what a bloody hero, Trixie, it was amazing.

The showers are also obviously an iconic part of the race. Actually, only female photographers were allowed in. And the girls were loving it, there were so many girls in there, way more than the men. Last year I think only two or three men went in, and pretty much all the women went in which was great. They felt very comfortable and a lot of them were asking for pictures as well. So, obviously, to be a female, I think a male in there would have felt very uncomfortable it’s good that they weren’t allowed in. Being female in that situation was a serious advantage.

We got Lizzie in there but I had to wait about an hour and a half for doping control and for her to do all the interviews, and then it was me, one other photographer, and Lizzie but she was very comfortable.

Pretty much the same team go to the Women’s Tour now in the UK where I will shoot for them again. Hopefully, Lizzie can reclaim her title there.

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