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Paris-Roubaix 2021: Route, start list and all you need to know

Cyclist magazine
1 Oct 2021

Key information about the 2021 Paris-Roubaix, which will place on Sunday 3rd October 2021: Route, riders, TV guide & cobbled sectors

Paris-Roubaix: History

Paris-Roubaix was born in 1896, making it one of the very oldest bike races around. A tenuous claim puts Liege-Bastogne-Liege as being older, and therefore the oldest race that's still alive today, but the only other recognisable events to precede the birth of Roubaix are the long-deceased relics of former classics such as Paris-Rouen and Paris-Brest-Paris.

Rewind to 1895, and to two entrepreneurial types from Roubaix who had just built a velodrome in the small northern town, which had already hosted a meet with the dominant track star of the time, American Major Taylor.

But the duo wanted more publicity for their venture, and so approached Parisian sports newspaper Le Velo to enquire about the possibility of their involvement in a race to start in Paris and end in the new velodrome in Roubaix. It was pitched as a warm-up race to the mighty Bordeux-Paris classic.

The newspaper director, Paul Rousseau, duly gave his approval. But the first edition proved difficult to get off the ground, amid concerns of it being held on Easter Sunday: How would the riders attend mass? Would spectators not rather go to church than the velodrome?

The date was presumably moved in accordance, and it was the German Josef Fischer who came out victorious, putting Maurice Garin - who would go on to win the first ever Tour de France - into third.

Every edition until that of 1919 would finish at this original velodrome, at which point began years of the race finishing at various locations around Roubaix, until it found its current home at the Roubaix Velodrome in 1943.

Of course, road conditions in 1896 were hardly of an immaculate standard, and rather than today's need for organisers to go in search of cobbled sectors, in days of old there was no choice in the matter - roads that weren't horrendously paved, cobbled, cindered or just plain dirt, were the exception. 

Indeed, one could be forgiven for thinking that it was these horrendous surfaces, as well as other hazards and a generally harsh crack of the organiser's whip, that earned the race the title the 'Hell of the North'.

But in sobering fact, it was the devastating effects of the world at war that gave Paris-Roubaix this timeless moniker - coined by journalists as they inspected the route prior to the race's revival after World War One.

But as Nord pas de Calais recovered from the battles fought out on its open wastes; as the French economy recovered and roads gradually began to improve, the race director's found that they had to actively search out cobbled sectors to maintain the spirit of the race.

A period of dominance from Eddy Merckx, Francesco Moser and 'Mr. Paris-Roubaix' Roger De Vlaeminck in the 60s and 70s preceded the formation of Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix though.

In an effort to restore the spirit of the Queen of the Classics came this thousands-strong group, which was founded in 1983.

Their aim of discovering and restoring cobbled roads to be used in the race has been appreciated ever since, as well as their maintenance of current ones - the merciless Forest of Arenberg, Carrefour de l'Arbre and Mons-en-Pevele sectors included.