[quote_center]”Paris Roubaix starts like a party and ends like a bad dream.” Guy Lagorce[/quote_center]


His whole body shudders.  Every muscle screams with pain.  Bruised and battered, he tries to focus on the cobbles through mud caked slits in his eyes.  A sporting event unrivalled.  A bike race like no other.  A day of heroics and carnage, pain and glory, heartbreak and tears.  A day of passion.  This is the Hell of the North (L’Enfer du Nord).  This is Paris Roubaix.

First raced on Easter Sunday, April 19 1896, riders donned armbands and cloth caps and lined up in Paris at the start of a race to the now famous velodrome in Roubaix.  Since that day when Germany’s Joseph Fischer won the inaugural race, this epic cobbled journey has become a myth in its own right.  A myth that incorporates the heritage and history of northern France and all that she has endured.  The history of the cobbles.

On those wretched stones, riders have won and lost, battled and prevailed.  From Cyrille Van Hauwaert, the first Belgian to win the race in 1908, to Eddy Merckx and Tom Boonen, the race has turned cyclists into legends.  Masters of the ‘Queen of the Classics’.  Stopped only during the two world wars, this annual bike race has tamed the best in the sport.  All of whom seek the coveted mounted cobble trophy.

Stuart O'Grady 2007
Stuart O’Grady 2007

The 2014 edition of Paris Roubaix is a 257km battle across northern France.  Celebrating the centenary of World War I, this year’s race contains 28 sections of cobbles, totalling 51.1km’s.  Many of these cobbled roads, or pave, were laid by farmers pre war and ridden on by the Army Cyclist Core during the war.  The primary role of the Army Cyclist Core was reconnaissance and communications.  All were armed and often provided mobile firepower when required.  Many of these cyclists, like the 7th Cyclist Battalion, from Devonshire, rode on the very cobbles which will be raced on this year.

Hennie Kuiper on his way to winning in 1983
Hennie Kuiper on his way to winning in 1983

Three sectors of pave are making a comeback to the Hell of the North, after a lengthy absence.  The first is in Troisvilles (km 97.5), where the peloton will deviate from last year’s course for a detour through Solesmes, Saulzoir and then Famars.  The cobblestones in this area are covered with a layer of moss and grass that will make it even more difficult for riders to stay on their bikes! Riders will then tackle the “Pont Gibus”, which has been included in stage 5 of this years Tour de France.

Shortly after Famars the riders reach one of the most famous cobbled sectors: Trouée d’Arenberg.  As riders approach the coal mining town of Arenberg, they are fully aware of the dangerous cobbles that await them.  This slightly descending section of cobbles is approached at high speeds.  Most riders attack this section well before entering the forest, as all want to be in front of the pack to avoid any accidents or getting caught behind a crash.  Although the race will not be won on the pave d’Arenberg, it can certainly be lost here.

Tom Boonen attacking in Arenberg
Tom Boonen attacking in Arenberg

After the notorious Arenberg, each cobbled sector follows the other in rapid succession. One of the toughest is Mons-en-Pévèle. This section of pave contains three uncomfortable kilometres of cobbles.  After 208km’s of frantic racing, exhausted domestiques will drop by the way side and the true contenders will start to emerge.

With 15 kilometres to go riders face the Carrefour de l’Arbre (2100 metres).  This torturous section of pave will eliminate the final stragglers and the individual or group that emerges from this section, will be fighting it out for glory at the finish. The last cobbled section, in Roubaix itself, run along the avenue Alfred-Motte and are a tribute to the race and a local hero Charles Crupelandt who won in 1912 and 1914. After completing this section, there is a sharp right turn into the old Velodrome, where riders are required to complete one and half laps.

Through the fields of northern France
Through the fields of northern France

The race to Roubaix is not for the weak.  It requires a strength both physically and mentally that often defies belief.  However, the strongest rider does not always win in Roubaix.  It is often the luckiest rider that will lift the cobble in the Velodrome.  The cobbles can cause your chain ring to jump and the rough stones are a constant hazard for flat tyres.  Riders must attack the cobbles and not let them dictate their law.  A winner must become one with his bicycle and pray that luck is on his side. Like Bernard Hinault in 1981, Sean Kelly in 84 and 86, Fabian Cancellara in 2006, 2010 and 2013, all have conquered the cobbles and forged their place in history.  Who will it be to lift the trophy in Roubaix in 2014 and triumph over the Hell of the North.

Only the lucky will survive
Only the lucky will survive

The 28 cobbled sectors of Paris–Roubaix

28. Troisvilles (km 97.5 – 2,200 m) +++
27. Viesly (km 104 – 1,800 m) +++
26. Quiévy (km 106.5 – 3,700 m) ++++
25. Saint-Python (km 111 – 1,500 m) ++
24. Solesmes (km 119.5 – 800 m) ++
23. Saulzoir (km 126 – 1,200 m) ++
22. Verchain-Maugré (km 130.5 – 1,600 m) +++
21. Quérénaing – Famars (km 135 – 1,200 m) ++
20. Monchaux-sur-Ecaillon (km 140.5 – 1,600 m) +++
19. Haveluy (km 153 – 2,500 m) ++++
18. Trouée d’Arenberg (km 161.5 – 2,400 m) +++++
17. Wallers – Hélesmes, aka “Pont Gibus” (km 167.5 – 1,600 m)
16 Hornaing (km 174.5 – 3,700 m) ++++
15. Warlaing – Brillon (km 182 – 2,400 m) +++
14. Tilloy – Sars-et-Rosières (km 185 – 2,400 m) ++++
13. Beuvry-la-Forêt – Orchies (km 191.5 – 1,400m) +++
12. Orchies (km 196.5 – 1,700 m) +++
11. Auchy-lez-Orchies – Bersée (km 202.5 – 2,700 m) ++++
10. Mons-en-Pévèle (km 208 – 3,000 m) +++++
9. Mérignies – Avelin (km 214 – 700 m) ++
8. Pont-Thibaut (km 217.5 – 1,400 m) +++
7. Templeuve – Moulin de Vertain (km 223.5 – 500 m) ++
6. Cysoing – Bourghelles (km 230 – 1,300 m) ++++
5. Camphin-en-Pévèle (km 237 – 1,800 m) ++++
4. Le Carrefour de l’Arbre (km 240 – 2,100 m) +++++
3. Gruson (km 242 – 1,100 m) ++
2. Hem (km 249 – 1,400 m) ++
1. Roubaix (km 256 – 300 m) +

2014 Route
2014 Route

Pedal Hard…

Haydn Thomas: haydn@pedaltorque.com