Welcome to the 'Hell of the North': 'Mesdames et Messieurs', it's time for Paris-Roubaix

Wout van Aert during the 2021 edition of Roubaix
Wout van Aert during the 2021 edition of RoubaixProfimedia
The third Monument of the calendar will be run on Easter Day. 256.6 kilometres with 29 cobbled sectors: from the mythical Arenberg forest to the terrible Carrefour de l'Arbre. Contending for victory with the two favourites, Wout Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel, will also be Filippo Ganna who, after his second place at the Sanremo, has focused all his energy on preparing for the Classic of Classics

Forget resurrection! This year at Easter, the cyclists will go to Hell. All voluntarily to try to win the Classic of Classics, the race worth a career: Mesdames et Messieurs, the Paris-Roubaix. The third Monument of the season: the pavé queen.

Battling for the most original of trophies, there will be the 175 athletes who have come to France with the ambition to tame the flames and pavé of the Hell of the North. From captains to domestiques. And yes, because Roubaix takes no prisoners and neither knows nor respects hierarchies.

To win, it will not be enough to be the strongest, but also the bravest and sometimes the most reckless- without forgetting the luck factor. Finding yourself on the wrong side of a crash could be an unforgivable mistake, even 200 kilometres from the finish line.

No rain is forecast for this year, although at Easter time the weather is often variable and unpredictable. And it is for this reason that even in the event of a final sprint we will be able to recognise the protagonists' faces without having to approach the TV with the temptation to wipe the mud off the poor runners' faces with our hands.

Like in 2021, when Sonny Colbrelli won over Florian Vermeersch and Van Der Poel in the inconic Velodrome Andre-Petrieux in Roubaix.


The route
The routeParis-Roubaix

The fact that neither Wout van Aert nor Mathieu van der Poel have, at least for the moment, managed to win Roubaix confirms how complicated and unpredictable it is to predict who will emerge from the Hell of the North first.

A crash, rain, an impossible breakaway (which wasn't so impossible after all...), an error of judgement or initial planning, being left alone too early, etc., etc.: there are so many factors that can decide one way or another the most unpredictable and hardest of the races on the calendar.

To win, however, everyone, from the hero of the day to the champion, will have to be able to tame the cobblestones.

Indeed, His Majesty the cobblestones will try to take control of the bike, depriving the aspirant of the physical and mental energy needed to cross the finish line first. Of the 256.6 kilometres scheduled between the start in Compiègne and the Roubaix Velodrome, 54.5 will be run on the traditional cubic cobblestones.

The first of the 29 cobbled sections will arrive in Troisvilles after just under 100 kilometres of racing. This year's route will also make a return - after 19 years of absence - to Haspres (1.7 kilometres). From then on there will be no rest for the riders, who will have to tame their bikes as if they were mustangs.

A task that will be particularly difficult in the five-star sectors. Beginning with the mythicalArenberg forest that will arrive 160 kilometres from the finish: two thousand three hundred metres of irreoglare cobblestones, where in addition to worrying about staying in the saddle, the cyclists will have to avoid destroying their own wheels.

Here, as in Flanders, the bumps at the sides of the road become the riders' good refuge, unless the rain has turned them into dangerous puddles.

The other two five-star sectors come at kilometre 208 in Mons-en Pevele and just before the finish with the terrible Carrefour de l'Arbre, made even more dramatic by the four four-star sectors that precede it.


Sonny Colbrelli, winner in 2021
Sonny Colbrelli, winner in 2021Profimedia

Unlike two years ago when Colbrelli won in a sprint, last year it was Dylan Van Baarle who managed to surprise all the favourites by entering the velodrome alone.

And that Roubaix has nothing to do with what has happened so far and what will happen from Sunday onwards is demonstrated by the absence of the best cyclist around:"Yes, I will try to win it one day, but I have to gain a few kilos and my hands become stronger to survive the cobblestones," assured Tadej Pogacar immediately after winning the Tour of Flanders.

And that is why their predilection for cyclo-cross makes Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel the two main favourites to tame the flames of the Hell of the North.

The Dutchman is coming off an exciting start to the season with victory in the San Remo and second place in Flanders. And it was precisely this last race that raised some doubts about the condition of the Belgian who, unlike his rival, was never able to respond to Pogacar's attacks. But with Wout, you can never tell.

Also contending for the victory of the two champions will be our Filippo Ganna who, after his second place at the Sanremo, has focused all his energies on preparing for the Classics of the Classics, his main objective for the season. He certainly does not lack physique.

The question remains whether after his crash at Gant-Wevelgem it was a good idea not to race Flanders. And yes, because for all that he was able to train on the Roubaix cobbles, being able to tame it during a competition while you have to be careful that none of your rivals fall on you is a different story.

The 29 sectors

The big absentee and the two favourites
The big absentee and the two favouritesAFP

29: Troisvilles - Inchy ** / 2,200 m / -160.3 km from the finish

28: Viesly - Quiévy *** / 1,800 m / -153.8 km

27: Quiévy - Saint-Python **** / 3,700 m / 151.2 km

26: Saint-Python ** / 1,500 m / -146.5 km

25: Vertain - Saint-Martin-sur-Écaillon *** / 2,300 m / -139.4 km

24: Verchain-Maugré - Quérénaing *** / 1,600 m / -129.4 km

23: Quérénaing - Maing *** / 2,500 m / -126.7 km

22: Maing - Monchaux-sur-Écaillon *** / 1,600 m / -123.6 km

21: Haspres - Thiant *** / 1,700 m / -117 km

20: Haveluy - Wallers **** / 2,500 m / -103.5 km

19: Trouée d'Arenberg ***** / 2,300 m /-95.3 km

18: Wallers - Hélesmes *** / 1,600 m / -89.2 km

17: Hornaing - Wandignies **** / 3,700 m / -82.5 km

16: Warlaing - Brillon *** / 2,400 m / -75 km

15: Tilloy - Sars-et-Rosières **** / 2,400 m / -71.5 km

14: Beuvry-la-Forêt - Orchies *** / 1,400 m / -65.2 km

13: Orchies *** / 1,700 m / -60.1 km

12: Auchy - Bersée **** / 2,700 m / -54 km

11: Mons-en-Pévèle ***** / 3,000 m / -48.6 km

10: Mérignies - Avelin ** / 700 m / -42.6 km

9: Pont-Thibault - Ennevelin *** / 1,400 m / -39.2 km

8: Templeuve (L'Épinette) * / 200 m / -33.8 km

8: Templeuve (Moulin-de-Vertain) ** / 500 m / 33.3 km

7: Cysoing - Bourghelles *** / 1,300 m / -26.8 km

6: Bourghelles - Wannehain *** / 1,100 m / - 24.3 km

5: Camphin-en-Pévèle **** / 1,800 m / -19.9 km

4: Carrefour de l'Arbre ***** / 2,100 m / -17.1 km

3: Gruson ** / 1,100 m / -14.8 km

2: Willems - Hem *** / 1,400 m / 8.2 km

1: Roubaix (Espace Charles Crupelandt) * / 300 m / -1.4 km


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