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Cycling: Paris-Roubaix, the Hell of the North

Paris-Roubaix is one of the most epic races in the UCI World Tour. The nickname of this French classic is "The Hell of the North".



Two entrepreneurs had built a velodrome (an arena for track cycling) in Roubaix. It was opened on June 9, 1895. They held several big track meetings on this velodrome. The entrepreneurs wanted more publicity for their venture. In 1896 they hit on the idea of holding a big road race from Paris to their velodrome. The first edition was held on April 19, 1896. It was a heroic race. The winner, Josef Fischer, was covered in filth and blood. He had a lead of 25 minutes.


Over the course of years, Paris-Roubaix became one of the five "Monuments of Pro Cycling". These are the hardest, oldest and most prestigious one-day races in cycling. The five monuments are: Tour of Flanders, Milan-San Remo, Giro di Lombardia, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Paris-Roubaix.


A nickname of Paris-Roubaix is "The Queen of the Classics". The decisive sites of the course are the many long sections of "pavé" (roads of cobblestones). The winner of Paris-Roubaix receives a mounted cobble stone.

Horrible & Beautiful

Sean Kelly won the French race two times: in 1984 and 1986. He said: “Paris-Roubaix is a horrible race to ride but the most beautiful one to win.”

Paris-Roubaix is an inferno of mud, dust, cobblestones and crashes. The French journalist Thierry Bretagne once stated: “The racers look like they have passed through the drum of a cement mixer.”

Surviving in Hell

After winning the 2009 edition, Tom Boonen said: “The race is all about surviving, surviving, surviving; I know I didn’t feel great, but maybe others felt worse.”

The Italian "Campionissimo" Fausto Coppi once concluded: “If one wants to make the list of great champions, a win in Roubaix is a must.”


The British cyclist Chris Boardman didn't like to ride Paris-Roubaix: “It’s a circus, and I don’t want to be one of the clowns.”

Bernard Hinault really hated the race. After the 1980 edition, he told the organizer: “You'll never see me in this circus again." However, Hinault returned for 1981 and won that race. He still hated this classic. After winning it, he told the press: "Paris–Roubaix is plain stupid."




The finish of the race is in Roubaix (in the North of France). Originally, the start of the race was in Paris. In 1966, the start moved to Chantilly. Since 1977, the start of the race is in Compiègne. However, the race kept its old name: "Paris-Roubaix".


How many miles is Paris-Roubaix? The route is approximately 160 miles (260 kilometers). There are 30 sectors of cobblestones ("pavé"), amounting to 34 miles (54,5 kilometers).

Challenge: equipment

This French race is a technical challenge to the teams. Special wheels and frames have been developed for this classic. The bad cobble roads cause frequent punctures.

Paris-Roubaix versus Tour of Flanders

Paris-Roubaix is often compared to another famous cobbled classic: The Tour of Flanders. What is the difference between these two monuments? Paris-Roubaix has more difficult flat cobbled sectors. The Tour of Flanders contains more hills (many on cobbles).


When does the race take place? Paris-Roubaix usually takes place on a Sunday, in early April. It is raced traditionally one week after the Tour of Flanders. The 2021 Paris-Roubaix Pro Race is due to be held on Sunday April 11.

A Sunday in Hell

The documentary film "En Forårsdag i Helvede" (A Sunday in Hell) is a fascinating telling of the story of the 1976 Paris-Roubaix. It's directed by Jorgen Leth from Denmark. The famous film historian Peter Cowie called it: "Arguably the best film ever made about professional cycling".

Most victories

The most successful competitors in the history of Paris-Roubaix are the Belgians Roger de Vlaeminck and Tom Boonen. They both won this race four times. Roger De Vlaeminck has won the 'Hell of the North' in 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1977. Tom Boonen has won in 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2012.

Most successful countries in Paris-Roubaix

  1. Belgium: 57 wins
  2. France: 28 wins
  3. Italy: 13 wins
  4. The Netherlands: 6 wins
  5. Switzerland: 4 wins

Official broadcasters: how to watch it live?

The race is broadcasted live worldwide. NBC Sports (tv) is the official broadcaster of Paris-Roubaix for the United States. FloBikes (live stream) is the official broadcaster for Canada. Eurosport is the official broadcaster (tv) for the United Kingdom. Dutch fans can watch it live on NOS and Eurosport. Flemish fans can watch it live on Sporza and Eurosport.


Paris-Roubaix Femmes (Women's World Tour)

2021 will see the first ever Women's Paris-Roubaix. Originally, the inaugural race was scheduled for 2020, but Covid-19 decided differently.

© 2021 Van Staveren

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