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Sunday April 7th will mark the start of the 121st edition of the famous Paris-Roubaix race, which is held in northern France. It is one of the cycling’s most historic events, having started in 1896. Its difficulty, a result of frequently harsh weather, along with its lengthy and challenging course has given it the nickname of the “Hell of the North.”

The 260-kilometer route is especially difficult since parts of it are composed of tiny granite stones known as cobblestones, or “cobbles.” There will be 55.7 km of cobblestone portions in the 2024 race, up from 54 km in the previous edition.


The race has long been regarded as the “Queen of the Classics” and its origins date back to 1895, to two Roubaix textile makers, Theodore Vienne and Maurice Perez. They had built a velodrome in 1895 and wanted to promote it in an innovative way, so in1896 staged the Paris-Roubaix road race to help to advertise the velodrome. The roads they raced on were cobblestones, and German Josef Fischer won the inaugural event.

Over the years, the race has been dominated by Belgians. Three times, Belgian superstar Eddy Merckx took home the title. With four victories apiece, fellow countrymen Tom Boonen and Roger de Vlaeminck hold the record for most victories.

Paris-Roubaix is the event where French sportswriter Albert Baker d’Isy first popularised the word “Monument” in 1949. Nowadays, four other major one-day races are referred to by this name.

The race winners have been awarded a single cobblestone set on a plinth since 1977. A plaque with the winner’s name is also presented to them and set in the ancient community showers, beside the velodrome’s entrance.

Photo Credit: ASO


The course’s length has changed throughout the race’s history. The first two races, in 1896 and 1897, had a length of 280 kilometres. The length of recent races, including the 2024 edition has averaged 260 km.

The route’s first start was in Paris, but it was changed to Chantilly in 1966, and then to Compiègne in 1977.

This year’s race will have 29 cobblestone sections.  Each cobbled section has a difficulty rating from 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being the greatest level of difficulty.  The cobblestone sections pay homage to the original route which was raced mainly over cobblestones.

With a 5-star difficulty rating, the Trouée d’Arenberg is one of the most well-known sections. A total of three sections have been rated as 5-stars for difficulty Carrefour de l’Arb and Mons-en-Pévèle are the other two. One particularly lengthy sector is #26, which goes from Viesly to Briastre and is 3 kilometres long is going to be challenging for the riders.

It has an iconic finish – the Roubaix Velodrome.  Competitors enter the Velodrome and complete 1.5 laps of the course before crossing the finish line. With the exception of the years 1986–1988, this has been the finish since 1943.

Riders to Watch

Mads Pedersen of Lidl – Trek, must be considered one of the favourites after his recent victory in Gent-Wevelgem, which saw him out sprint Mathieu van der Poel for victory.

In addition to Lidl – Trek there are the two teams to watch, both hoping to win.  They are Alpecin-Deceuninck and Team Visma–Lease a Bike.

Team Visma–Lease a Bike will be fielding a formidable team that will feature former winner, Dylan van Baarle, sadly Wout van Aert will miss the race through injury but this might be an opportunity for in-form Matteo Jorgenson who may be confident after his recent victory at Dwars door Vlaanderen.

Alpecin-Deceuninck will field a strong team that will consist of winner of Milan-San Remo, Jasper Philipsen and current World Champion, Mathieu van der Poel – he will be wanting a repeat of his 2023 Paris-Roubaix victory.

Summing up

The 260-kilometer race has a rich history and is a test both of endurance and ability. Mathieu van der Poel, the current World Champion will want to build on his triumph from the previous year, but in a race where anything may happen, at any time, chance, as much as talent, will determine the result. This event is truly deserving of the nickname “Hell of the North.”