Paris-Roubaix: the five things to know about the Hell of the North

Paris-Roubaix: the five things to know about the Hell of the North

Le Paris-Roubaix promet d’être agité cette année. MAXPPP – BERNARD PAPON/POOL

Before the Hell of the North, which will take place on Sunday from 10:30 a.m., we offer you five things to know about this legendary race which once again promises this year of ;rsquo;be legendary.

Mathieu van der Poel is the favorite on Sunday at the gates of Hell to win his second Paris-Roubaix, one of the most coveted and dangerous races of the year, in a context weighed down by the numerous falls in recent days. To avoid a new game of bowling, the organizers installed for this 121st edition a chicane on the approach to the Arenberg gap, a strategic and feared sector of the Queen of Classics, especially since the cobblestones are likely to be terribly slippery this year after a wet winter.

Van der Poel for a sixth Monument

Already winner of five Monuments, as many as Tadej Pogacar, the Dutchman can become the only active runner to have six of the five greatest classics on his record. And he is the overwhelming favorite to succeed himself after winning solo on the Roubaix velodrome in 2023. If he does it again, the leader of Alpecin will become the first rider since Tom Boonen in 2009 to keep his property in Roubaix and the first since Fabian Cancellara in 2013 to win Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders in the same year."Winning Flanders was my main goal this year, now everything else is a bonus, but it would obviously be cool to get back to Roubaix", underlines the reigning world champion.

Adversaries in the dark

If the grandson of Raymond Poulidor is also the favorite, it is also because his opponents are not in the best of their form or completely absent, like Wout Van Aert, on the flank for long weeks after his fall in Through Flanders. Often cited as the main outsider, the Dane Mads Pedersen must still dispel doubts to know if he has completely recovered from this same fall. The Frenchman Christophe Laporte, who will carry the ambitions of the Visma team with Dylan van Baarle, has just returned after a stomach flu and a saddle problem. The German Nils Politt or the Swiss Stefan Küng have the power to shine on the cobbles. But it is perhaps a teammate of Van der Poel who represents the biggest threat with Jasper Philipsen, second last year and winner of Milan-Sanremo.

A traumatized platoon

Cycling news has revolved a lot around almost daily and often violent falls in recent weeks. Wout Van Aert broke several bones, seeing his dream of finally winning a Paved Monument disappear. The fear went up a notch again on Thursday with a terrible crash at the Tour du Pays Basque which took away three of the favorites of the Tour de France, Jonas Vingegaard, Remco Evenepoel and Primoz Roglic, the first two also being victims of fractures. On Friday, Mikel Landa in turn broke his collarbone. The debate has been lively since then to find solutions to better protect runners. Bicycles, increasingly faster, are singled out. And runners are increasingly expressing their apprehension in the face of these repeated crashes.

The chicanery at the heart of attention

It is in this context that the ASO organizers installed, at the request of the riders' union CPA, a "chicane" before the Arenberg gap. Rather than approaching this cult cobbled sector at 65 km/h after a straight downward slope, the runners will go around an island placed just after a level crossing to slow down to around 25 km/h. km/h. If most of the actors applauded the decision, some like Mathieu van der Poel believe that it also creates danger. The chicane is in fact a very tight hairpin and risks turning into a bottleneck. The race director, Thierry Gouvenou, recognizes that the solution, found in an emergency, is not ideal and is considering other arrangements for future editions.

Slippery paving stones

Whatever the conditions, Paris-Roubaix is ​​the most feared race of the year with its approximately six million often rebellious cobblestones. This is even more true this year since there will be 55.7 km of cobblestones on the program, the largest total for thirty years. Above all, the 29 cobbled sectors are "all horrible", according to Marc Madiot who believes that the race could settle early. After months of rain, there were indeed puddles everywhere and a lot of mud on Saturday morning. The hot and windy weather will dry out the road a bit, but sometimes it makes things even worse. "The in-between is the most dangerous, when riders gain speed on dry parts before arriving on wet parts which then act like a patch of ice", warns Thierry Gouvenou. The Hell of the North may live up to its name this year.

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