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“The Hell of the North.”
It’s six hours of hand-bruising, tire-busting, grind ‘n’ guts chaos.
Paris-Roubaix is a race like no other on the calendar and a throwback from another age.
It winds back the clocks to take riders down ancient farm tracks coated with off-kilter cobblestones and finishes on a velodrome that outlasted World War II.
Even the nickname “Hell of the North” is steeped in history with its reference to the bleak battlefields that the post-World War I peloton raced through.
It’s an old-school race that brings old-school “ignore the powermeter”-style racing.
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This year’s Paris-Roubaix is back in its traditional spring staging-point for the first time since Philippe Gilbert won in 2019.
Only it’s not fully business as usual. The appointment in “Hell” arrives one week later than usual this year after French elections forced a calendar swap with the Amstel Gold Race.
While the one-week delay caused some calendar kerfuffles for the world’s biggest classics stars, it sure won’t change the race.
Expect attritional, explosive action with more mishaps and mayhem than your local Cat. 4 crit.
Here’s everything you need to know about the 119th edition of Paris-Roubaix:
One of the most open editions of Roubaix in recent memory? Could be.
Mathieu van der Poel sits in pole position for Sunday’s cobblestone trophy but doesn’t look untouchable. The Dutchman dazzled at Tour of Flanders but proved beatable on Amstel Gold Race.
And Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl?
The cobbles-gobblers have gone AWOL all spring.
The 2022 Roubaix is a race that any rider with strong legs and a bit of luck, and there’s a whole mass of contenders a quarter wheel behind “classics kings” van Aert and van der Poel.
Quick-Step’s “Wolfpack” has disintegrated into a one-dog hunt, but team leader Kasper Asgreen managed to stay in the frame all through the spring.
Instead, Ineos Grenadiers has emerged to positioned itself as the new pack with its multi-rider play. Tom Pidcock, Dylan van Baarle, Ben Turner, Magnus Sheffield and Amstel champion Michal Kwiatkowski could all be at the front of affairs Sunday.
And then there’s a whole stack of on-form outsiders like Mads Pedersen, Stefan Küng, Matej Mohorič, and gnarled veteran Alexander Kristoff.
All eyes will be on van der Poel as he battles to become the first rider to win both Roubaix and Tour of Flanders in the same season since Fabian Cancellara did the double in 2013.
But as Amstel proved Sunday, not even “MVDP” can parry every attack, and he’s likely to have a lot of them to manage in what looks a wide, open landscape of cobblestone contenders.
And what of Roubaix’s past champions?
Peter Sagan is undergoing health tests and his participation is uncertain, and Philippe Gilbert isn’t racing.
Greg Van Avermaet has a habit of hitting the podium when no one expects him to, but there may be some double-takes if Niki Terpstra or John Degenkolb make the winning moves.
And no, Tadej Pogačar isn’t racing – sorry.
Paris-Roubaix. It’s all about the pavé.
This year’s men’s race packs 55km of cobblestones into its 257km parcours. And it’s those 30 sectors of harsh slabs of stone that make and break the racing.
The first sector comes after some 96 kilometers of warmup, and from there, there’s no relent as the stones come thick n’fast.
The first 10 cobblestone strips give the peloton to time to test the legs across a sequence of lower category sectors before the first of the king-makers comes to kick tires into dust and contenders out the back.
The infamous Trouée d’Arenberg is the first of the three five-star sectors and its position just inside 100km to go sees some of the race’s crucial early selections.
At 2.4km long, the Arenberg isn’t one of the longest in the race, but is notorious as one of the most fearsome. Packing cobblestones seemingly scattered at random and a fast downhill approach road, the “trench” has seen horror crashes and key splits year in, year out.
No text needed. pic.twitter.com/JBrHrzGOrV
— Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix (@A_ParisRoubaix) April 4, 2022
After the Arenberg, the peloton thins with every passing stretch of pavé.
The most decisive moments typically play out on the two remaining five-star sectors, the Mons-en-Pévèle and the Carrefour de l’Arbre.
The Mons-en-Pévèle arrives 50km from the finish and marks the start of the end of the “Hell of the North.” The right-angle corners in the middle of its 3km stretch make it a test of skill as well as brute strength.
The third of Hell’s unholy trinity is the Carrefour de l’Arbre. Falling at just 15km to go, the Carrefour can mark one of the final opportunities for racers to go off the front with attacks or out the back with mechanicals.
Three “easy” sectors follow before the race is decided in one and a half laps of the Vélodrome André Pétrieux.
The near-90-year-old track has hosted the finish of Paris-Roubaix since 1943 and the aging cement are every bit as venerated in cycling culture as the bends of Alpe d’Huez or the chapel at the top of the Kapelmuur.
As if all that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, three of the sectors – The Hornaing-Wandignies, Warlaing-Brillon and Tilloy-Sars-et-Rosières – will return for stage 5 of the Tour de France this summer.
Check the full list of cobblestone sectors below.
Don’t go hoping for another wet one.
Long-range forecasts for the Roubaix region suggest “Hell” will be sunny and pleasant Sunday, with clear blue skies peaking out at some 15 degrees C.
Reports suggest there may be some headwind slowing the pace, but with northern France looking bone-dry all week long, a fast, dusty race a whole world apart from the mudfest of last fall could be on the cards.
☀ Dry and dusty like in 2019 or wet and muddy like in 2021 🌧
😈 How would you like your #ParisRoubaix done?
— Paris-Roubaix (@Paris_Roubaix) March 25, 2022
Paris-Roubaix cobblestone sectors 2022:
Troisvilles to Inchy (2.2 km) ***
Viesly to Quiévy (1.8 km) ***
Quiévy to Saint-Python (3.7 km) ****
Saint-Python (1.5 km) **
Haussy to Saint-Martin-sur-Écaillon (0.8 km) **
Saint-Martin-sur-Ecaillon to Vertain (2.3 km) ***
Capelle to Ruesnes (1.7 km) ***
Artres to Quérénaing (1.3 km) **
Quérénaing to Maing (2.5 km) ***
Maing to Monchaux-sur-Ecaillon (1.6 km) ***
Haveluy to Wallers (2.5 km) ****
Trouée d’Arenberg (km 162.4 – 2.3 km) *****
Wallers to Hélesmes (1.6 km) ***
Hornaing to Wandignies (3.7 km) ****
Warlaing to Brillon (2.4 km) ***
Tilloy to Sars-et-Rosières (2.4 km) ****
Beuvry-la-Forêt to Orchies (1.4 km) ***
Orchies (1.7 km) ***
Auchy-lez-Orchies to Bersée (2.7 km) ****
Mons-en-Pévèle (3.0 km) *****
Mérignies to Avelin (0.7 km) **
Pont-Thibault to Ennevelin (1,4 km) ***
Templeuve – L’Epinette (0.2 km) *
Templeuve – Moulin-de-Vertain (0.5 km) **
Cysoing to Bourghelles (1.3 km) ***
Bourghelles to Wannehain (1.1 km) ***
Camphin-en-Pévèle (1.8 km) ****
Carrefour de l’Arbre (2.1 km) *****
Gruson (1.1 km) **
Willems to Hem (1.4 km) ***
Roubaix – Espace Charles Crupelandt (0.3 km) *