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ROUBAIX’22 Preview: Who Will Be The King of the Cobbles?

The Cobbles Classic Contenders

Paris-Roubaix Preview: ‘The Hell of the North’ is the Queen of the Classics, unless you are Flemish, but the flat cobbles race is unique in its savage cruelty, stubborn formidability and its mythical attraction. Ed Hood looks at the history, course and the contenders for the 2022 ‘Sunday in Hell’.

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Jeremy Hunt in the gutter

I once asked former British pro and GP Plouay winner, Jez Hunt about the ‘secret’ of riding the cobbles, he’d just finished on the podium of 2009 Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne; ‘if you’re going well you just fly over them, if you’re going shit, you don’t.’ Jez never was a verbose man.

Roubaix - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Johan MUSEEUW pictured during Paris-Roubaix 1994 - archief - stock - archive - archivbild - photo Cor Vos © 2017
Johan Museeuw knew a thing or two about riding the cobbles

Three times winner, the legend that is Johan Museeuw was more forthcoming; ‘let the bike bounce and flow beneath you, don’t grip the bars too tight, if it’s wet ride the crown of the pave, if it’s dry then you ride the gutters – I preferred the wet – ride 28 mm tyres and pressure is critical, 4.8 to 5.2 bar depending on your weight.’

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The start in Compiegne

But it’s a misnomer, that ‘Paris – Roubaix’ title. The race start long ago quit the City of Light, Grand Architecture, romance – and traffic Armageddon, for Compiegne. The town north of Paris perhaps most famous as where the Germans signed the 1918 armistice and where Hitler returned the favour by accepting the French surrender in 1940.

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Northern France was hit hard during the first World War

But Roubaix is the real deal, where the finish has always been situated, in the North, which was the industrial Heartland of France, with Roubaix once renowned for textile production. The peak of that industry is long past and the city is now most famous for the velodrome where for one Sunday each year it becomes ground zero for cycling fanatics worldwide. But as any travel writer will tell you; ‘the journey is more important than the final destination.’

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Roubaix’22 map and profile

This one is indeed quite a journey: 257.2 hard, flat, fast kilometres including 30 sectors of cobbles, totalling 54.8 kilometres. Cobbles – ‘Pave’ in French – ‘Kasseien’ in Dutch – we even have a word for them in Scotland – ‘cause-ays’ with ours coming from Aberdeen.

The 30 cobbled sectors of Paris–Roubaix:
30: Troisvilles to Inchy (km 96,3 – 2,2 km) ***
29: Viesly to Quiévy (km 102,8 – 1,8 km) ***
28: Quiévy to Saint-Python (km 105,4 – 3,7 km) ****
27: Saint-Python (km 110,1 – 1,5 km) **
26: Vertain to Saint-Martin-sur-Écaillon (km 117,9 – 2,3 km) ***
25: Haussy (km 123,7 – 0,8 km) **
24: Saulzoir to Verchain-Maugré (km 130,6 – 1,2 km) **
23: Verchain-Maugré to Quérénaing (km 134,9 – 1,6 km) ***
22: Quérénaing to Maing (km 137,6 – 2,5 km) ***
21: Maing to Monchaux-sur-Ecaillon (km 140,7 – 1,6 km) ***
20: Haveluy to Wallers (km 153,7 – 2,5 km) ****
19: Trouée d’Arenberg (km 161,9 – 2,3 km) *****
18: Wallers to Hélesmes (km 167,9 – 1,6 km) ***
17: Hornaing to Wandignies (km 174,7 – 3,7 km) **** (first sector of Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift)
16: Warlaing to Brillon (km 182,2 – 2,4 km) ***
15: Tilloy to Sars-et-Rosières (km 185,6 – 2,4 km) ****
14: Beuvry-la-Forêt to Orchies (km 192 – 1,4 km) ***
13: Orchies (km 197 – 1,7 km) ***
12: Auchy-lez-Orchies to Bersée (km 203,1 – 2,7 km) ****
11: Mons-en-Pévèle (km 208,6 – 3 km) *****
10: Mérignies to Avelin (km 214,6 – 0,7 km) **
9: Pont-Thibault to Ennevelin (km 218 – 1,4 km) ***
8: Templeuve – L’Epinette (km 223,4 – 0,2 km) *
8: Templeuve – Moulin-de-Vertain (km 223,9 – 0,5 km) **
7: Cysoing to Bourghelles (km 230,3 – 1,3 km) ***
6: Bourghelles to Wannehain (km 232,8 – 1,1 km) ***
5: Camphin-en-Pévèle (km 237,3 – 1,8 km) ****
4: Carrefour de l’Arbre (km 240 – 2,1 km) *****
3: Gruson (km 242,3 – 1,1 km) **
2: Willems to Hem (km 249 – 1,4 km) **
1: Roubaix – Espace Charles Crupelandt (km 255,8 – 0,3 km) *

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Arenberg

The three toughest sectors are Tranchée d’Arenberg, Mons-en-Pévèle and the Carrefour de l’Arbre, often the scene of the ‘coup de grace’ by the eventual – solo – winner.


Carrefour de l’Arbre

Paris – Roubaix 2022 – Route / Parcours / Animation / Profile

The Arenberg Trench is perhaps the most famous but comes with almost 100K still to ride to the velodrome; it’s ‘for sure’ – to use ‘Euro-Pro’ speak – the place where you can’t win the race but can definitely lose it.

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The Forrest of Wallers Arenberg 1998 – Andrei Tchmile on the attack. Johann Museeuw crashed in Arenberg and nearly lost a leg

If there was ever a race where experience counts, this it. It’s not just how to ride the dreaded – or loved, depending on your motivation – cobbles, it’s how to handle the massive fights for position which precede every sector, where to eat, where to turn on the gas, where to cruise and crucially when and where to make THE move. The phrase, ‘fortune favours the brave’ has never been more appropriate than in this race, hedging your bets and waiting doesn’t result in you hoisting that cobble in the track centre at the finish of this epic.

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Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle – Cobbled Royalty

It’s no surprise for ‘veterans’ to win this race where experience counts for so much, witness Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle at 37 and 38 years-of-age, Matt Hayman at 37, Philippe Gilbert at 36 and aforementioned Cobbled Royalty, Johan Museeuw also at 36 years-of-age. So on the subject of ‘veterans,’ let’s start with the oldest of the dozen names we think will make the action in the 2022 ‘Enfer du Nord.’ But before we do, let’s spare a thought for 2021 winner, Sonny Colbrelli, we wish him a speedy return to full health and hopefully, the peloton?

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Get well soon Roubaix’21 winner Sonny Colbrelli

When Norwegian brick built outhouse, Alex Kristoff joined Intermarche – Wanty – Gobert Materiaux it was easy to think that at 34 years-of-age his best days were behind him and he was quietly slipping down from the bigger budget teams towards retirement ?
Then he beat some of the fastest guys around to win the Clasica de Almeria, was third in Milano-Torino, top 10 in Flanders and bludgeoned his way to the first solo win in the Scheldeprijs in years – ignore him at your peril, fellow competitors.

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Alex Kristoff is in form at the moment – Scheldeprijs winner

Not quite a veteran but at 30 years-of-age, Victor Campenaerts [Lotto Soudal & Belgium] is second oldest of our challengers. The ‘chronoman’ turned ‘Classicer’ has turned in some strong performances this spring, fifth in Het Nieuwsblad, sixth in Le Samyn and fourth in Dwars door; the absence of any gradient steeper than a railway bridge is right up his huge geared street. . .

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Big gear man Victor Campenaerts

Let’s talk further ‘big and strong’ now. . .

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Nils Politt – second to Philippe Gilbert in 2019 Paris-Roubaix

We’d like to have seen more ‘signs’ from Nils Politt [BORA–hansgrohe & Germany] this year – albeit fifth in Dwars door isn’t a poor result. But he’s been second here before and has the ideal big, strong build of a ‘Classicer’ – like joint ‘recordman’ on four wins, Tom Boonen – three time Fabian Cancellara or Magnus Backstedt. The German is one who takes races by the scruff of the neck – he should be in the mix.

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A big, strong guy – Stefan Küng

On the subject of ‘Fab’ Cancellara, his fellow Suisse, former World Pursuit Champion, Stefan Küng [Groupama FDJ] has the build and the recent palmarès to suggest a good ride on Sunday – third in the E3, sixth at Dwars door, fifth in de Ronde and eighth in the Amstel. ‘PEZ’s man in la Bella Italia,’ Ale Federico has put his bet down on the man from Wil, St. Gallen.

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The ex-World champion Mads Pedersen – Chuck’s choice

Sticking with PEZ choices, Chuck Peña our tech whizz has gone for another Scandinavian out building, this time from Denmark, former World Elite Road Race Champion, Mads Pedersen. The Trek Segafredo man has demonstrated fine form this year with stage wins in the Étoile de Bessèges, Paris-Nice and Circuit de la Sarthe where he won two and would have taken the GC but for a crash. Classics-wise he’s been top eight in Milan-Sanremo, Gent-Wevelgem and de Ronde with Roubaix’s pan flat profile very much in his big build favour.

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Sanremo in 2021, Roubaix in 2022 for Stuyven?

Trek Segafredo have another big man at their disposal in Belgian, former Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne and Milan-Sanremo winner, Jasper Stuyven. He’s had top 10 finishes at Het Nieuwsblad, De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem, with Pedersen he forms part of a formidable double act.

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Ganna has the power

Going back to pursuiters – this man has the build and huge power to make this race his own, INEOS Italian, ‘Pippo’ Ganna – but can he handle those chunks of granite? But if it’s not his day, this season his team has become a formidable force in the Classics with big Dutchman and Ronde runner-up, Dylan Van Baarle well fancied and backed by young, hard charging riders like Brit, Ben Turner and American, Magnus Sheffield.

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Kasper Asgreen has been riding well, but…

Here’s a $64,000 question, can strongman Kasper Asgreen save Quick-Step Alfa Vinyl’s save the former ‘Kings of the Cobbles’ spring? My amigo, Dave, long term Roubaix observer – the man used to live there – thinks Dane can do it.Asgreen was a fine third in the Strade Bianche then quiet – but his recent sixth in The Amstel suggests he’s on the way back?

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Roger De Vlaeminck – No.1 Cyclo-cross/Roubaix rider

Time for those two acrobatic ‘cross men cum Super Favourites,’ who thrive on the tricky parcours and have been the dominant forces of the spring. But first let’s remember the most famous ‘crosser to make the race his own, with Boonen the other joint race ‘recordman,’ Roger De Vlaeminck who rode the race on 14 occasions, winning four times (1972, 1974, 1975, 1977), finished second four times, third once, fifth once, sixth once, seventh twice and abandoned only once, in 1980.

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Can Mathieu’s back stand up to those cobbles

Former World Elite Cyclo-Cross Champion, Mathieu van der Poel [Alpecin Fenix] has to be the main favourite, third on the Via Roma, a stage win in Coppi e Bartali, winner of Dwars door and de Ronde then fourth in the Amstel – enough said. . .

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Cyclo-cross? No, Wout Van Aert in Paris-Roubaix 2021 – Will he be 100% in 2022?

The second former Elite World Cyclo-Cross Champion, Wout Van Aert [Jumbo Visma & Belgium] was imperious in Het Nieuwsblad, brilliant in Paris-Nice and on a different level in the E3. BUT then he went down with the dreaded virus. Has he recovered, will he actually ride? If he does then he’s the choice of the PEZ Meister himself and PEZ Euro Editor, Al Hamilton. But even if he doesn’t the Dutch team have much improved Frenchman, Christophe Laporte to hold the fort, second in the E3 and Gent-Wevelgem aren’t shabby results.

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What can Anthony Turgis do?

And to close on another Frenchman, can TotalEnergies’ Anthony Turgis replicate the form which gave him second place on the Via Roma? It’s time we had a Frenchman on the podium, it’s a decade since Sebastien Turgot last stood up there in second spot.

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Wout or Matheu?

My choice, Wout if he rides, Mathieu if not.

The race tipple?
It has to be French; so let’s go for Pelforth Brune – but remember that pace judgement is a critical factor during a six hour race. . .

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Ed’s Roubaix choice – Pelforth Brune

2022 Paris-Roubaix Teaser

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