Paris-Roubaix Preview: The cobbles, contenders, narratives, weather for the men’s and women’s ‘Hell of the North’

From the sectors to the storylines, here's all you need to know before Van Aert, Kopecky, Van der Poel roar toward Roubaix.


Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Roubaix Femmes 2023
Dates: Saturday 8, Sunday 9 April 2023.
Men’s race: Compiègne – Roubaix, 257 km, 55 km cobbles. Finish approx: 17:20 CET/11:20 EDT.
Women’s race: Denain – Roubaix, 146 km, 29 km cobbles. Finish approx: 17:30 CET/11:30 EDT.
Men’s race – Roll of honor: Dylan van Baarle (2022), Sonny Colbrelli (2021) Philippe Gilbert (2019), Peter Sagan (2018), Greg Van Avermaet (2017).
Women’s race – Roll of honor: Elisa Longo Borghini (2022), Lizzie Deignan (2021).

Paris-Roubaix, L’Enfer du Nord, “The Hell of the North.”

It needs little introduction.

Bone-shaking cobblestones in a battle of rider vs bike. An iconic finish on the concrete of an ancient velodrome. And two of the most treasured trophies in the world of pro cycling.

The 120th edition of Paris-Roubaix and the third running of Paris-Roubaix Femmes arrive this weekend for two spectacular days of monument racing.

Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel are back. Elisa Longo Borghini is committed to taking the fight to SD Worx. Riders like Mads Pedersen, Pfeiffer Georgi and Matej Mohorič are looking to spoil everybody’s pavé party in what are two of the most prized races on the calendar.

With long-range weather forecasts calling for sunny, still conditions, this weekend should be a fast, full-frontal assault of breathtaking bike racing.

Here’s what you need to know about one of the biggest weekends of the pro cycling calendar.

The courses

Longo Borghini roars into her title defense Saturday after a quick comeback from COVID. (Photo: Gruber Images)

Paris-Roubaix Femmes will be significantly longer this year, but alas, no, there’s still no Trouée d’Arenberg.

Organizers added some 20 km of paved roads to the parcours for 2023, upping the distance to 145 km in total and drawing the Femmes a little closer to the 150 km+ of the Tour of Flanders.

However, there’s no change to the menu of stones on tap this year. Cobblestone sectors are rated one to five stars depending on length, harshness of stones, and overall difficulty, with five being the hardest.

Like in 2022, the peloton will face 29 km of pavé across 17 sectors, with the four-star Hornaing strip marking the rude stoney awakening after around 60 km of smooth tarmac.

Once the 3.7 km opening sector is done, Longo Borghini, Lotte Kopecky et al face the exact same route as the men. The often decisive five-star queenmakers of Mons-en-Pévèle and Carrefour de l ‘Arbre arrive 49 km and 17 km from the velodrome’s finish line respectively.

Paris-Roubaix Femmes 2023. (Photo: ASO)

And why no Arenberg?

“The problem is that the women start in Denain,” ASO official Franck Perque explained. “The distance between the start and a potential passage through the forest is too small. If you come here with a full peloton, it’s too dangerous.”

The men’s race is largely unchanged from its 2022 template, with 55 km of cobbles stretching across a mammoth 257 km course.

The cobblestone gateway arrives after 96 km with the three-star Troisville sector, and from there, it’s a full battery of bumpy chaos.

The approach of every sector becomes a bunch sprint as racers jostle for a line at the front that keeps them clear of any crash chaos further back.

Paris-Roubaix 2022. (Photo: ASO)

The notoriously gruesome five-star Trouée d’Arenberg comes just as the peloton kicks into the final 100 km.

A herd of goats was employed to chew away at slippy weeds down the nightmare 2.3 km forest lane this spring, but the Arenberg is still likely to put riders out of the race or way off the back with its set of haphazard, unevenly spaced stones.

Like with the women’s race, the Mons-en-Pévèle arrives 49 km out and often sets the final phase of the race in action. The Carrefour comes some 30 km later.

From there, three lower-rated sectors stand between the bunch and the one-and-a-half laps of the historic Vélodrome André-Pétrieux that awards the cobblestone trophies.

The contenders

After disappointment in Flanders, can WvA turn it around in Roubaix? (Photo: Gruber Images)

Check VeloNews in the coming days for a full dive into the favorites and wildcards for both races. In the meantime, here’s a quick look at the heaviest hitters of the weekend.

Paris-Roubaix Femmes: Elisa Longo Borghini, Lotte Kopecky, Marianne Vos, Pfeiffer Georgi, Shirin van Anrooij, Silvia Persico, Elise Chabbey.

Paris-Roubaix: Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel, Mads Pedersen, Dylan van Baarle, Matej Mohorič, Stefan Küng, Filippo Ganna.

And sorry, there’s no Annemiek van Vleuten, Tadej Pogačar, or Lizzie Deignan this weekend (sad face emoji).

The narratives

It’s hard to look past Kopecky and her all-crushing SD Worx crew – but Trek-Segafredo won’t make it easy. (Photo: Gruber Images)

SD Worx vs Trek Segafredo

What didn’t SD Worx win this spring? Kopecky, Demi Vollering, and Marlen Reusser crushed the 2023 calendar, and after winning Tour of Flanders, Kopecky is committed to crushing Roubaix too.

Trek-Segafredo won’t make it easy for the SD crew to “worx” its winning magic Saturday.

The team packs Roubaix know-how after conquering both editions of the Femmes, and will see defending champion Elisa Longo Borghini line up alongside cross-discipline aces Lucinda Brand and Shirin van Anrooij.

Longo Borghini called on the peloton to disrupt SD Worx’s dominance, and Roubaix is her team’s perfect place to do it.

Defending champions, podium contenders on the comeback

There are question marks over some of the peloton’s biggest stars heading into the weekend.

Defending men’s champion Dylan van Baarle hasn’t raced in two weeks after his crash at E3 Saxo Classic.

The 2022 Femmes winner Longo Borghini only recently returned to racing after a COVID layoff but should be more than ready after third in Flanders. The Italian’s rival and former Roubaix podium-finisher Marianne Vos suffered a bumpy road in her comeback from surgery, and couldn’t joust for her second Flanders title after getting caught out of position on the Koppenberg.

Can the three big stars shine at Roubaix?

Any weakness will be ruthlessly exposed if they’re not 100 percent.

Van der Poel vs Van Aert, it’s the gift to cycling that just keeps giving. (Photo: Gruber Images)

Van der Poel vs Van Aert… again

The rivalry that just keeps giving returns Sunday when Van Aert and Van der Poel take co-favorite status in Compiègne.

Van der Poel is on a tear this season with victory at Milan-San Remo, and second-places at E3 and the Tour of Flanders, but has admitted the power-heavy racing of Roubaix plays in Van Aert’s favor.

The Roubaix velodrome offers Van Aert room for redemption after he missed the podium at De Ronde. Van Aert and the Jumbo-Visma Express dominated the first phases of the spring classics and are determined to get back on course after hitting a Pogačar-shaped pothole last weekend.

The whole peloton will be waiting for fireworks from the decades-long rivals Sunday. It should be spectacular.

Can Quick-Step save its spring?

Soudal Quick-Step will be hoping to turn the tide in the final northern classic of the season. The team got turned over by Jumbo-Visma and “the big three” all spring and has been unceremoniously booted from its cobblestone throne.

There may be some glimmer of hope however.

Kasper Asgreen kicked for seventh at Tour of Flanders last weekend to serve one of the team’s best results of the spring. He’s likely to lead the “wolfpack” with Yves Lampaert after the Belgian saw a spectacular ride undone by a collision with a spectator in last year’s race.

And if Quick-Step doesn’t deliver at “The Hell of the North”? It will be “Hell” on the team bus afterward, too – Patrick Lefevere’s fury spares no man.

The weather

Racing will likely be dry and fast this weekend. (Photo: Gruber Images)

Early forecasts for Roubaix’s département du Nord are calling for some showers Thursday and Friday before clear blue skies and light winds through Saturday and Sunday.

The weekend looks for near-ideal spring conditions, with temperatures starting at around 5 degrees C (41F) and peaking at around 13 degrees C (55F). Winds are expected will be light on both days.

Images of the cobbles early this week show dry, clean sectors with only a scattering of small puddles of standing water. Should mid-week rain remain as light as forecasted, the pavé will likely look similar at the weekend.

Strap in for some fast, hard racing both Saturday and Sunday.

Cobblestone sectors 2023

Paris-Roubaix Femmes: 17 sectors, 29.2 km.

(Photo: ASO)

Paris Roubaix: 29 sectors, 54.5 km

(Photo: ASO)

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