Hell may traditionally be associated with fire and brimstone, but for professional cyclists it is the miles of cobblestoned roads between the cities of Paris and Roubaix.
An integral part of performing well in the Queen of the Classics is reconnaissance; riding the cobbles and challenging parcours two or three days in advance of the race to work out how best to ride, what to look out for and where to make sure you’re at the front of the race.
Knowing these challenging rural roads through the quiet agricultural backwater of North-East France can make all the difference come race day.
It would be safe to say a rider would need one very good reason not to recce some of the route ahead of the seven-hour slog on Sunday.
So, what lies in store for the peloton on their ‘Sunday in Hell.’
The Arenberg Forest
At 96km from the finish, the Arenberg forest is one of the roads the riders have to endure, a tumult of choppy stones that delve deep into the woods just West of Valenciennes, lasting an agonising 2.4km. A road that will test the riders, mentally and physically, you loose concentration for a second and hit one of these stones at the wrong angle, as happened to Tom Boonen in 2011, and that’s your race over.
With the downhill run-in, these cobbles are hit at staggering speed before the gradient changes and a strength-sapping drag leads to the light at the end of the forest. There’s no good line to take, and absolutely no respite for the riders.
As seen in The Tour of Flanders, position is everything, and Paris-Roubaix is no different. Riders will be fighting for the best position leading into a secteur pave, which can sometimes be worse than the cobbles themselves.
Since many cobbled sectors are now little more than farm tracks, a good number (such as sector 11, Auchy à Bersée) are entered and exited via a sharp right-angled bend from a wide tarmac road.
Get the right position, find your line and you’re at the front of the bunch. Get it wrong and you risk being held up, pushed onto the rougher cobbles or worse loosing control and crashing.
Carrefour de l’Arbre
The gruesome road up to the ‘crossroad of the tree’ was the site of the crucial race showdown in 2013, where two Omega Pharma-Quickstep riders crashed from the leading quartet to leave only Fabian Cancellara and Sep Vanmarcke to dual for the win in the velodrome.
One of only three cobbled sectors rated five out of five for difficulty (the others being Arenberg and Mons-en-Pévèle), the 2.1km Carrefour sector is the fourth from the finish and closely sandwiched between two other sectors to give five kilometres of cobbles in almost one go.
Paris-Roubaix 2014: Cobbled sectors
Sector number/name/km from start /length of sector
28 – Troisvilles 97.5km – 2,2km
27. Viesly 104km – 1,8km
26 – Quiévy 106.5km – 3,7km
25 – Saint-Python 111km – 1,5km
24 – Solesmes 119.5km – 800m
23 – Saulzoir 126km – 1,200km
22 – Verchain-Maugré 130.5km – 1,6km
21 – Quérénaing – Famars 135km – 1,2km
20 – Monchaux-sur-Ecaillon 140.5km – 1,6km
19 – Haveluy 153km – 2,5km
18 – Trouée d’Arenberg 161.5km – 2,4km
17 – Wallers – Hélesmes, aka “Pont Gibus” 167.5km – 1,6km
16 – Hornaing 174.5km – 3,7km
15 – Warlaing – Brillon 182km – 2,4km
14 – Tilloy – Sars-et-Rosières 185km – 2,4km
13 – Beuvry-la-Forêt – Orchies 191.5km – 1,4km
12 – Orchies 196.5km – 1,7km
11. Auchy-lez-Orchies – Bersée 202.5km – 2,7km
10 – Mons-en-Pévèle 208km – 3,0km
9 – Mérignies – Avelin 214km – 700m
8 – Pont-Thibaut 217.5km – 1,4km
7 – Templeuve – Moulin de Vertain 223.5km – 500m
6 – Cysoing – Bourghelles 230km – 1,3km
6 – Bourghelles – Wannehain 232.5km – 1,1km
5 – Camphin-en-Pévèle 237km – 1,8km
4 – Le Carrefour de l’Arbre 240km – 2,1km
3 – Gruson 242km – 1,1km
2 – Hem 249km – 1,4km
1 – Roubaix 256km – 300m