What is it?
Known as L’Enfer du Nord – The Hell of the North – Paris-Roubaix is one of cycling’s flve Monuments, its oldest, longest and toughest one-day races. First held in 1896, it hasn’t earned that nickname lightly, being infamous for including some extremely challenging cobbled roads with bone-jarring surfaces, often made worse by cold, wet spring conditions – not to mention that it’s a real test of endurance at nearly 260km long. It’s a race where some of the greatest stars of the sport have made their name – including Roger de Vlaeminck and Tom Boonen, who’ve both won the race four times each. For many cycling fans, tackling the Paris-Roubaix Challenge – held the day before the pro race – is up there with climbing the Col du Tourmalet or Mont Ventoux on the bucket list of must-do rides.
What’s the route?
While the pro race starts in Compiegne, northeast of Paris, the route is shortened by around 100km for the amateur riders, starting in Busigny – this both eliminates some of the less interesting early sections of the pro race and makes the challenge a lot more manageable. Nonetheless, the longest of the three route options is still a serious test of endurance at 172km (just over 100 miles) and features no fewer than 28 cobbled sectors. These range from 5oom to almost 4km in length and each is given a star rating for difficulty.
The three hardest sectors from the pro race, rated at five stars, are all included in the Challenge route: the Trouee d’Arenberg (2.4km), Mons-en-Pevele (3km) and the Carrefour de l’Arbre (2.1km), which comes late in the pro race and has often been the scene of decisive race-winning attacks. If you don’t feel up to attempting the full distance, there are two shorter options. The î45km route is still a hard day on the bike, with î8 cobbled sectors, including all three five-star sectors, while the 70km short route still packs in seven cobbled sectors including the Carrefour de l’Arbre. This means that whichever route you choose, you’ll get a good taste of what the pros will be taking on 24 hours later. And just like the pro race, the finish line for all three routes is on the track of the iconic Roubaix Velodrome.
Is it well supported?
As you’d expect of a well-established major sportive, there’s plenty of support on the road, with motorbike patrols providing assistance where needed, as well as regular feed stations as well as mechanics are on hand to sort out any bike problems. Bear in mind that the terrain can take its toll on the bike as well as the rider, so make sure any bolts are properly tightened before starting, and remember to carry spare inner tubes for the almost inevitable punctures.
What bike do I need?
Although the road surfaces are extremely challenging in places, a standard road bike will see you through. To make the going slightly more comfortable for yourself, fit the widest tyres your frame will allow and reduce the pressure to improve grip and cushioning. Also, see our review on page 18 of three ‘cobble buster’ bikes which are designed precisely for this kind of race – the BMC Roadmachine on test is very similar to that ridden to victory in the 2017 Paris-Roubaix by Greg Van Avermaet. This being Flanders, you will also see many riders on cyclocross bikes, while the new breed of adventure bikes are also ideally suited to taking on the pave.
How do I enter?
You can register directly via the official website, but get in quick – ‘regular’ entry is open until 22nd March, or until places sell out. Prices start at €27 (£24) for a place on the 70km route, rising to €55 (£49) if you want to do the full 172km, but will rise by €7 after 22nd March for last-minute entries. There is also the option to take part as a team of seven riders for a group entry fee of €315 (£280). If you’re thinking of riding it in 2019 instead, keep an eye on the website for details of availability of early bird tickets at much- reduced prices, which usually go on sale around the start of November.