An unholy start
Paris-Roubaix fell from grace in its debut year of 1896. The Catholic Church chastised the organisers for racing on Easter Sunday. Only half the cyclists turned up to the start line. Priests distributing leaflets seems dangerously close to being cursed – and cyclists are a superstitious bunch.
The uneven road
Paris-Roubaix is the most famous of The Spring Classics featuring extensive cobbled sections. These cobbles are taken as trophies by rabid cycle fans with scant regard for the safety of their heroes. Even after they’re replaced, the result is an unpredictable road surface that bike tyres skim over with minimal contact. Lower your tyre pressure. There may be trouble ahead.
There will be blood
The safety record of Paris-Roubaix isn’t great. French cyclist Phillippe Gaumont fell from his bike while leading the peloton in 2001, and he famously described the dramatic effect an exposed and broken femur had on his body – when his heart was beating at 180bpm. “What I went through, only I will ever know,” said Gaumont. He sadly passed away in 2013 at the age of 40. Many cyclists would be proud to have that quote on their headstone.
“The route is not responsible for your problems. It’s you and you alone,” shrieked twice winner and cycling mad man Marc Madiot. You can ride as many cobbled streets as you like, and if you’re lucky it will rain, making the cobbles dangerously slippery. But even Rapha’s “Hell of the North” tribute to Paris-Roubaix can’t emulate being baptised in the chaos of the pro-tour peloton. “A Paris-Roubaix without rain is not a true Paris-Roubaix,” whispered two-time winner, Sean Kelly.
There are no winners – only survivors
“Paris-Roubaix est une connerie,” muttered five-time Tour de France winner, Bernard Hinault. This famous reference to cow excrement was crow-barred from Hinault’s lips after his 1981 victory. Hinault fell off his bike seven times when he conquered the classic. One of those times was thanks to Gruson, a small black dog whose mind wondered away from the race to the subject of treats.
Hinault won Le Tour five times, a race that is hundreds of kilometres a day for weeks on end. You’re also expected to ride up mountains, to help separate the Wiggins from the Wig-outs. After his 3rd Paris-Roubaix, Hinault refused to put himself through the torment ever again. Winning the Tour de France is heavenly – but winning Paris-Roubaix takes you to hell and back.