Philippe Gilbert winning Paris-Roubaix 2019
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Where: France
When: Sunday, October 3, 2021
Rank: UCI WorldTour
Distance: 257km

Paris-Roubaix is, as it's nickname of 'Hell of the North' suggests, the most brutal of all the Classics as well as the most famous with it's unique roads and cobbled sectors in the northern part of France.

The race makes its long awaited return after almost two years out of the calendar due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The race usually takes place in April but, in 2020 was pushed back to October. 

It was then completely cancelled for the 2020 season due to very high cases of the virus in the region. Once again, in 2021 it was set to go ahead in it's usual slot of April but cases went up rapidly again and Paris-Roubaix was pushed back to October again, this time it is going ahead.

This also means that, over a year later than planned, we will see the first women's Paris-Roubaix after years of fans asking for the race to take place.

It is not unusual for the one-day Classics to head over the 250km mark, in fact it is very common, but no other covers quite as much difficult terrain.

Paris-Roubaix is descried as the 'Queen of the Classics' covering more cobbled sectors than any other race, even more than the Tour of Flanders. And with the Roubaix cobbles being on flat terrain and on harsher cobblestones it is seen as far harder than the climbs of Flanders.

The sectors are known for their rough and uneven nature which requires incredible amounts of bike handling skill to go over at 50km/h as well as plenty of luck with punctures always a danger.

In this year's race, the men go over 29 different sectors of what is known as pavé, this brings the total distance of cobbled riding to a boneshaking 54.5km, which is around a fifth of the race, far more than any Flandrien race. 

Even finishing Paris-Roubaix within the time limit is seen as a great achievement.

Bad weather hasn't been a feature for the last 17 editions despite being held in April. The last wet edition of the race was back in 2002 with riders caked in mud, you couldn't identify who was who. And now, with the race being in the unpredictable weather of October weather, a wet 'Hell of the North' may be on the cards.

>>> 12 pictures that show just how tough the Paris-Roubaix cobbles are

The sectors of cobbles are all rated between one to five stars with five being the hardest. They also receive a colour from blue to black. There are three five star black sectors along the route, mostly in the final third of the race.

First on the black list is the Arenburg Trench in the Forest of Arenburg at 94km to go. This long straight stretch is crowded by trees and, at this time of year, is rather overgrown so could add further issues. This is often where the first major sort out is.

With 47km to go, the next five star moment with Mons-en-Pévèlè taking the stage. This has seen some of the most famous solo attacks in the race such as Fabian Cancellara in 2010. However, the section with 15km to go, Carrefour de l’Arbre is the decider on who will fight it out for the cobblestone trophy.

The finish is unique too with the riders coming onto Roubaix's outdoor velodrome to do a lap and a half to the line, with a reduced sprint often the final decider in front of the huge crowds in the stands. The race has not started in the French capital of Paris for some time, but rather a few miles outside in the town of Compiègne.

This year's race also is a nice precursor to the Track World Championships as they take place in Roubaix's indoor velodrome for the 100th anniversary edition of the championships. 

Paris-Roubaix pavé sectors

29: Troisvilles to Inchy (km 97.5 — 0.9 km) **
28: Briastre to Viesly (km 108.5 — 3 km) ****
27: Viesly to Quiévy (km 101.5 — 1.8 km) ***
26: Quiévy to Saint-Python (km 116 - 3.7 km) ****
25: Saint-Python (km 118.5 — 1.5 km) **
24: Vertain to Saint-Martin-sur-Écaillon (km 127.5 — 2.3 km) ***
23: Verchain-Maugré to Quérénaing (km 136.5 — 1.6 km) ***
22: Quérénaing to Maing (km 140.5 — 2.5 km) ***
21: Maing to Monchaux-sur-Ecaillon (km 142.5 — 1.6 km) ***
20: Haveluy to Wallers (km 156.5 — 2.5 km) ****
19: Trouée d'Arenberg (km 164.5 — 2.3 km) *****
18: Wallers to Hélesmes (km 170 - 1.6 km) ***
17: Hornaing to Wandignies (km 179 - 3.7 km) ****
16: Warlaing to Brillon (km 185 - 2.4 km) ***
15: Tilloy to Sars-et-Rosières (km 188.5 — 2.4 km) ****
14: Beuvry to Orchies (km 194 — 1.4 km) ***
13: Orchies (km 199 — 1.7 km) ***
12: Auchy to Bersée (km 206.5 — 2.7 km) ****
11: Mons-en-Pévèle (km 212 - 3 km) *****
10: Mérignies to Avelin (km 215.5 - 0.7 km) **
9: Pont-Thibault to Ennevelin (km 220 - 1.4 km) ***
8: Templeuve — Moulin-de-Vertain (km 225 - 0.5 km) **
7: Cysoing to Bourghelles (km 232 - 1.3 km) ***
6: Bourghelles to Wannehain (km 234.5 - 1.1 km) ***
5: Camphin-en-Pévèle (km 239.5 - 1.8 km) ****
4: Carrefour de l'Arbre (km 242.5 - 2.1 km) *****
3: Gruson (km 244 — 1.1 km) **
2: Willems to Hem (km 251 — 1.4 km) ***
1: Roubaix (km 256 — 0.3 km) *

Paris-Roubaix: Recent winners

2020: No race due to Covid-19
2019: Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Deceuninck – Quick-Step
2018: Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
2017: Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing
2016: Mathew Hayman (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
2015: John Degenkolb (Ger) Giant-Alpecin
2014: Niki Terpstra (Ned) Etixx-QuickStep
2013: Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack
2012: Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
2011: Johan Vansummeren (Bel) Garmin-Cervelo
2010: Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank
2009: Tom Boonen (Bel) QuickStep
2008: Tom Boonen (Bel) QuickStep
2007: Stuart O’Grady (Aus) Team CSC

Key info: Start list 

Previous editions:  2019 | 20182017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010

External links: Official website | Official Twitter feed