There are plenty of other long Classics that exceed 250km, plenty of other big races held in France, and plenty of other races that feature cobblestones, but none are as difficult nor unique in character as the so-called ‘Queen of the Classics.’
For one thing, the cobblestones here are on another level of difficulty to those found in the Flandrian classics like the Tour of Flanders and Ghent-Wevelgem. The most difficult sectors are very unevenly paved, and take real skill, power and a heavy dose of fortune to negotiate.
There are also an awful lot of them. In total there are 30 sectors of pavé, amounting to 54.5km – roughly a fifth of the entire race. That far exceeds the ratio of any cobbled Classic held in Flanders, and makes Paris-Roubaix something of a test of endurance, with riders generally reaching the finish in dribs and drabs.
The race can be even more gruelling if the weather turns foul. Epic editions involving slippery cobbles and mud-caked jerseys have gone down in folklore and helped earn the race its nickname of ‘Hell of the North’.
Each sector of cobblestones is rated between one star (the most straightforward) and five stars (the most difficult), and it’s on the three five star stretches that regularly sees the most spectacular racing.
First is the Arenberg Forest at 94km, a long stretch of road rendered dark by the over-stretching trees either side of the road, where the race’s first major sort-out usually takes place.
Then at 47km to go is the Mons-en-Pévèlè, which, if a rider is on the form of their life, can provide the launchpad for a race-winning attack (as Fabian Cancellara managed in 2010). But more often than not it’s the Carrefour de l’Arbre at 15km to go that has the final say.
Even the finish of the race is unusual and iconic. When finally arriving in Roubaix (these days the race might start in Compiègne rather than Paris, but the finish has always been in Roubaix), the riders head to the town’s velodrome to complete one and a half laps laps of the track, in front of a cheering crowd.
Whether the arena plays host to a sprint between a leading group or a lap of honour for a sole leader, it’s invariably a perfect spectacle to end a perfect race.
For the first time ever, there will be a women’s Paris-Roubaix, running just before the men’s.
This has been campaigned for over many years and ASO have finally decided that it will happen.
As usual with women’s races, it is substantially shorter than the men’s event at 116km compared to the men’s which is over 250km, which is frustrating for some.
More frustrating is that the course joins the men’s route just after the famous Trouée d’Arenburg, which many fans were looking forward to seeing the women’s peloton tackle.
They will be taking in less cobbled than the men with just 25.9km of cobbles around 17 sectors of jagged pavé, whereas the men take on 30 sectors and 55km on cobbles.
Joining the men’s course in Hornaing, the riders will take on the Hornaing to Wandignies sector at 3.7km it is the longest sector in the race.
The race is set to finish on the velodrome in Roubaix, where history will be made with the first winner of the women’s ‘Hell of the North’.
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 — L’Épinette (km 224 – 0.2 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
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