Everything you need to know about Paris-Roubaix

Words by David Hicks

on 03/04/2019 12:33:00

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L'Enfer du Nord. The Hell of the North. Paris-Roubaix is no ordinary bike race. In fact, it's just about the toughest one-day race on the professional calendar and holds near mythical status with fans of road cycling around the world. Marking the close of the Cobbled Classics season, Paris-Roubaix comes one week after the Ronde Van Vlaanderen and what it lacks in elevation it makes up for in sheer unforgiving brutality. Running since the inaugural edition in 1896, Paris-Roubaix is one of the most prestigious victories a rider can claim and the third Monument of the season, with victory only within the grasp of a special type of rider that can excel on the roughest pav� and find luck on his side on that particular Sunday each April.

The Route

The 2019 edition of Paris-Roubaix takes place on Sunday 14th April and - despite the name - doesn't actually start in Paris. Since 1977 that honour has instead been granted to the town of Compi�gne, around 85km to the north east of Paris. From here, the riders begin a 257km journey across the north of France along a route which largely replicates the 2018 route before finishing in the famous Roubaix velodrome where the eventual victor will lift a cobblestone trophy and find his name emblazoned on one of the showers where the riders try to return to a normal human state post-race.

For the uninitiated, what is it that makes Paris-Roubaix so special? Taken in isolation the elevation profile looks mundane and despite the distance you might expect a routine bunch sprint at the end of the day. But that profile belies the devilish nature of Roubaix that is unveiled and begins to escalate after 93km of racing when the race reaches Troisvilles - here, the riders hit the first section of pav�; barely maintained cobbled farm roads which criss-cross the rural landscape. This is where the race really begins as riders bounce over 29 sectors of cobbles covering a total of 52 kilometres. All of the pav� sectors are rated on a five-star scale, with five stars awarded to the most difficult, treacherous roads.

That highest five-star rating falls on just three sectors during the race. First up is the iconic Trou�e d'Arenberg, or Arenberg Forest, with its jagged cobblestones shrouded by trees. With 95km still to ride at this point the race is rarely won at Arenberg but it can certainly be lost. The next key five-star sector is Mons-en-P�vèle which comes with 50km left to race and at 3km in length, is one of the longer sectors that the riders will tackle. Mons-en-P�vèle can provide a springboard for a long-range attack demonstrated by the likes of Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellera in recent history. If no attack has stuck, the race will certainly be thinned down by the time the race hits the final five-star sector, the Carrefour de l'Arbre, with 17km to ride and with only three somewhat nominal cobbled sections remaining before the finish this is typically where you'll see a solo rider or final selection surge ahead in the race to the Roubaix velodrome.

Bikes to tackle to cobbles

Those incredibly rough cobbled sectors place a huge demand on both the riders and their equipment and it's here where you'll find many more endurance-oriented bikes than at any other race. Bikes like Specialized's Roubaix and Trek Domane which feature ground-breaking technology aimed at smoothing rough roads were pioneered at this very race before making it on to the bikes of us mere mortals. Chances are you'll also see a range of gear that you won't see at any other professional race - double-wrapped bars, much wider tyres, and huge inner chainrings - all designed to ease the pain of riding 257km on terrible surfaces.

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Riders to watch

The very nature of Paris-Roubaix makes it more attritional than almost any other race on the calendar and the race is typically won by either a solo rider or from a small group, with only the strongest making it to the front of the race. In addition to having immense strength on their side, those favourites will also need technical ability on the cobbles - look to those who 'float' over the cobbles - and a fair share of good luck with the rough terrain resulting in numerous crashes and mechanical issues.

Egan Bernal - Team Sky: A favourite to win the Giro D'Italia later this year after his performance in last years Tour de France. Team Sky have won five out of the nine races it has entered with four different riders.

Bob Jungels - Deceuninck-Quick Step: This team have been dominating the classics this year so if you're looking to put your money on a team then they're an easy choice. Bob Jugels is an all round, strong rider who has won on cobbles, mountains, TT's and in the Ardennes.

Peter Sagan - Bora-Hansgrohe: Last years winner and firm favourite, Sagan was the first winner of the Paris-Roubaix in a rainbow jersey.

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