The penultimate Paris-Roubaix cobbled sector has been partially tarmacked

…and Sep Vanmarcke isn’t happy

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The penultimate cobbled sector in Paris-Roubaix has been partially paved over, potentially offering some respite for riders in the closing kilometres.

Hem, a 1.4km-long cobbled secteur inside the final 10km of the race, has been slightly altered by authorities with the introduction of smooth tarmac footpaths on both sides of the dreaded stones.

The change was spotted by Classics specialist and EF Education First rider Sep Vanmarcke, a podium finisher in Paris-Roubaix.

Willems Á Hem has always had some paving at either side of the cobbles but it was still extremely rough and sporadic. The organisers also put bollards on the smoother sections to prevent riders getting too comfortable.

Vanmarcke posted a picture on Instagram of the new road layout on the Hem cobbled sector, which is a three-star difficulty stretch.

The Belgian isn’t best pleased with the alteration, posting the caption “oh no” with the image.

Cobblestone roads in northern Europe as regularly under threat from being paved over, as local politicians are often keep to re-tarmac the sections to modernise their districts.

The introduction of live television covering ‘The Hell of the North’ result in a number of mayors opting to resurface the cobbles for fear of appearing behind the times to the rest of the world.

Fear that Paris-Roubaix would be changed forever by the modernisation of the road network resulted in the formation of Les Amis de Paris Roubaix (The Friends of Paris-Roubaix), which is dedicated to preserving the cobbled sections to continue the legacy of the Monument.

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The Classics specialists are already looking ahead to the spring it seems, with Vanmarcke out on the cobbles while Jumbo-Visma riders including Wout van Aert have been out testing the route for the 2020 edition of Paris-Roubaix.

Van Aert has been out of competition since the Tour de France time trial in Pau when he suffered a deep wound to his leg.

But Jumbo-Visma have confirmed his racing return, as the Belgian competes in cyclocross on December 27 with a focus on the Classics.

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Alex Ballinger

Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers.  Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.