Rainy recons, slick cobbles rattle the Paris-Roubaix peloton: ‘It was filthy’

Midweek rain expected to clear through weekend as peloton braces for mix of mud, puddles and dry patches on the notorious pavé.

Photo: BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

The Paris-Roubaix peloton went for a ride on the cobblestones Thursday, and it didn’t have much fun.

“It was filthy, it was raining, the cobbles were greasy, and it was cold,” top contender Wout van Aert told HLN. “It was one of those training sessions where you count down until you see the bus.”

Drizzling rain across the Roubaix region Thursday and the expectation of more to come Friday leaves the peloton braced for mixed conditions on the ancient cobblestone tracks of the “Hell of the North” this weekend.

“We will most likely get a little bit of everything. I can hardly imagine the damp will have all dried up by Sunday, because some sectors were soaking wet on Thursday afternoon,” Ag2r-Citröen rider Oliver Naesen told Het Nieuwsblad. “On the other hand, the water can quickly drain between the cobblestones, but I think we will get a wet spot every now and then.”

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Van Aert and his Jumbo-Visma teammates rode more than 100km Thursday in a cobblestone scouting mission that took in the five-star Trouée d’Arenberg, Mons-En-Pévèle, and Carrefour de L’Arbre sectors.

Arkéa-Samsic and Ag2r-Citröen were among a batch more of the WorldTour elite that chose to check its racing lines and make last-minute equipment tweaks in what was cool, drizzling rain.

“It always feels like a headwind on every reconnaissance. But if you do that in a race, it’s much better. You ride much faster, you fly over those cobblestones,” Naesen said.

“Today we did 40 kilometers of cobblestones. It was endless. A horror.”

Former Roubaix champion Van Avermaet and his teammate Oliver Naesen braved the filth Thursday. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Several other men’s and women’s teams were treated to blue skies and only small patches of standing water when they ventured out on their recon rides Wednesday.

With memories of the filthy autumn 2021 edition of Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Roubaix Femmes still strong in the memory, racers are praying to the weather gods and pinning hopes on benevolent weekend forecasts.

Latest updates for Roubaix’s département du Nord call for morning rain and blue skies Friday before mostly fine conditions all through the weekend.

Various local weather forecasts for Saturday and Sunday predict blue skies, low winds, and morning temperatures of around 5 degrees C (41F) peaking up to 15 degrees C (59F).

“I’ve already ridden a wet Roubaix, I didn’t like it,” Van Aert said. “On wet cobblestones, it’s much more difficult to control the bike. And it’s annoying when you’re in someone’s wheel, the mud obscures your view. That means riders leave more distance between each other. That makes the chance of the race falling apart much greater.”

Racing should be largely dry and fast through the weekend. But it only takes one mucky puddle or a slick patch of mud to pull the handbrake on a racers’ day in Hell.

Van Aert is hoping for less of this Sunday when he continues his Roubaix quest. (Photo: DIRK WAEM/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

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