New Cycling Legends: Paris Roubaix - Available now

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The ultimate guide to the race through Hell

There is nothing else like it in cycling. Paris-Roubaix is a one-off, an outlier, it’s beyond the norm. All the most famous races, the Classics and Grand Tours, are tough. They are the pinnacle of a very tough sport, but Paris-Roubaix is outrageous.

At its heart are some of the worst roads you will ever see, roads that beg to be repaired, but they cannot be because they are protected for this great race. They are the cobbled sectors, called collectively the Hell of the North, and Paris-Roubaix is the race through Hell.

There are around 27 cobbled sectors in a modern Paris-Roubaix, starting at Troisvilles after 98 kilometres, and ending in Roubaix with 257.5 kilometres done. They are ranked according to severity, one through to five stars. All except one of the cobbled sectors is a narrow track built over 200 years ago for horse transport. The new one is a ceremonial stretch of cobblestones laid just before the finish. Every winners’ name is carved on one of the stones on that stretch.

The sectors are all tough. One-star sectors are bone-shakers, especially when ridden at professional race pace, but five star sectors defy imagination, they have to be seen and ridden to really appreciate them. No other race in pro cycling has roads like these, and it takes a special kind of rider to win this race.

Paris-Roubaix is also an anachronism, but that is its glory. The race passes through what was the mighty industrial heart of France, but that heart stopped beating years ago. It left behind abandoned coal mines, steel works and factories, and they add to the gritty nature of the race. Its road might be from another age, but its roads make Paris-Roubaix special. The race finishes on a velodrome, like hundreds of races used to. Paris-Roubaix is the only one today. Even its Spartan showers make this race unique.

This is Cycling Weekly’s tribute to Paris-Roubaix, told with help of our archives, and through the eyes of people who have ridden it, watched it, won it, love it and photographed it. It is a lavishly illustrated history of one of the oldest, most prized and hard won races in cycling.

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