Share article:
Share article:

Cycling: The Hell of the North returns this weekend

Peter Sagan, race winner in 2018, in action. Credit: Belga

Bearing the ominous epithet ‘The Hell of the North’, cycling’s most famous one-day race Paris-Roubaix takes place this weekend, with riders again taking on the fearsome cobbles between Paris and Roubaix after a two and a half year imposed hiatus.

Significantly, 125 years after the brutal race was first held, today (Saturday 2 October) will be the inaugural women’s edition. Even better for cycling fans, the women’s and men’s races will be on separate days which should allow the women’s event to be the centre of media attention rather than being overshadowed by the men’s event.

The fearsome cobbled section of the Trouée d’Arenberg, one of the toughest of the course. Credit: Belga

The men’s race is just shy of 258km in distance with a total of 55km punishing pavé sections, of which there are 30. These sections are where the race is won or lost – farmer’s tracks hundreds of years old that are little used today with asphalt roads being considerably more comfortable and faster. Many of the pavé sections are uneven with the great stones interspersed with perilous gaps, quite frankly unsuitable for anything smaller than tractor tyres.

And traction is precisely the problem for this year’s edition with rain forecast and the race notoriously challenging in even dry conditions. The slightest trace of moisture on the cobbles makes it nigh-on impossible to stay upright and after a race recon on Thursday, images surfaced of riders caked in mud who had learned just how difficult the conditions are.

Mathieu van der Poel in the mud on Thursday. Credit: Belga

Indeed, there is an element of schadenfreude in spectating this race – attempting to ride a road bicycle over such treacherous terrain seems nothing short of a suicide mission. Yet with the race being so renowned, a victory is one of the most coveted of all cycling accolades. Even for non-cycling fans, it is a riveting spectacle that, given the conditions this year, will be hugely entertaining.

After disappointment in last weekend’s World Championship race, Belgium’s Wout van Aert will be one favourite looking to round out the season on a high. His arch-rival, Holland’s Mathieu van der Poel, will also be doing his utmost to be crowned king of the cobbles.

Expect to see pile-ups and mud-plastered riders grimacing as they tackle the toughest race on the cycling calendar.

The women’s race is 116km in length and features 17 pavé sections and is due to start at 1:35 PM on Saturday 2 October. The men’s race starts at 11 AM on Sunday 3 October. Both can be followed on Sporza.

Latest news

Belgium in Brief: Rules For A Fourth Wave
It's the news that nobody wants to hear, but here we go again. Belgium’s council of ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss ...
Belgian grandparents to walk across Scotland for COP26
A group of Belgian grandparents has set off on a 100 km hike that will take them from Belgium to the Scottish city of Glasgow, just ahead of the ...
Gare Maritime: Brussels’ most exciting new architectural project
A generation ago, the Gare Maritime in the Tour & Taxis industrial site was an abandoned wasteland. It is now a model for urban renewal and ...
Rise in fuel prices will bring Belgian State €547 million in tax, say Workers Party
The sharp rise in fuel prices that have been felt across the continent will bring an additional €547 million to the Belgian State, the Workers' Party ...
Amid backlash, Brussels police chief promises to do better for sexual assault victims
After multiple rallies against sexual violence took place in Brussels last week, with victims offering testimony of poor treatment from police when ...
Hire bikes and scooters: Brussels Parliament wants to restore order
Majority parties in the Brussels Parliament plan to enact new rules allowing communes to set specific and mandatory parking spaces for hire bikes and ...
‘Fourth wave’ has begun: These are the rules
The expected fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic has begun, according to Belgium’s Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit). Belgium’s ...
Coronavirus: Ending the pandemic is ‘a choice,’ says WHO chief
The Covid-19 pandemic will end “when the world chooses to end it” because “all the tools” are now available to fight the virus, the World Health ...
‘Can’t keep count’: Instagram page for sexual assault testimonies overwhelmed
An Instagram account compiling testimonies in an effort to give a voice to victims of sexual violence in bars and nightclubs has been overwhelmed ...
Increase in number of people ‘asking King for mercy’ through royal pardons
More and more people living in Belgium have been seeking royal pardons, mainly for fines, largely as a result of it now being possible to send in ...
England now accepting cheaper Covid tests from fully vaccinated travellers
Fully vaccinated travellers who enter England from non-red countries will only be required to book a lateral flow test to take following their ...
Re-introducing face masks indoors considered as Covid-19 situation worsens
Belgium's council of ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the worsening epidemiological situation, and reintroducing face ...