The infamous Paris-Roubaix is the most famous cycling event outside the Grand Tours. The American cyclist, Chris Horner, describes it thus: 'they plowed a dirt road, flew over it with a helicopter, and then just dropped a bunch of rocks out of the helicopter! That's Paris–Roubaix. It's that bad - it's ridiculous!'.
Called The The Queen of the Classics, it is the third of the five Monuments and is more commonly referred to as The Hell of the North - a somewhat misleading name as this particular descripton was coined after race organisers assessed the desolation of the roads in northern France following World War One.
First run in 1896 to publicise a newly opened velodrome in the Roubaix suburb of Lille, Paris–Roubaix is one of cycling's oldest races and it has retained much of its original character. The race still ends in the Roubaix velodrome and the riders shower and change in the same block as their nineteeth century counterparts.
The mileage, the 30 plus miles of cobbles and the intensity of the cycling, both on a physical and mental level, make Paris-Roubaix a huge challenge to riders and their teams. The bikes are set up to deal with the pounding they will inevitably take, yet even so, crashes and mechanical failures are common and will often impact on who will enter the velodrome first.
Even the greats of cycling are not immune to the treacherous path from Paris to Roubaix - or to be specific, town of Compiègne, 40 miles NE of the capital, which has hosted the start of the race since 1968.
Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Fausto Coppi have all triumphed in the Roubaix velodrome, though the achievements of the Italian Francesco Moser (three straight wins from 1978-1980) and the four wins between 1972 and 1977 of Roger De Vlaeminck of Belgium stand out.
More recently, it has been another Belgian, Tom Boonen, who has dominated the race, winning in 2005 and consecutively in 2008 and 2009. His emphatic victory in the 2012 equaled De Vlaeminck's record and for the second time in his career, Boonen secured the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix double.
The 2013 edition of the race was won by Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack) who managed to beat a distraught Sep Vanmarcke of Belgium in a thrilling finale in the Roubaix Velodrome. It was the Swiss riders third Paris-Roubaix victory.
No Britain has ever won the Queen of the Classics, though Sean Yates rode to a typically gutsy 5th place in 1994.
Tom Boonen heading for victory in the 2012 Paris-Roubaix © Suzanne King
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