In 1896 two textile manufacturers and cycling fanatics - Théo Vienne and Maurice Perez - were looking for a way to promote their new velodrome in Roubaix. They invent a cycling race from Paris to Roubaix with the finish at their cycling track. The Paris-Roubaix cycling classic is born.
The cobbled classic becomes the most beautiful and toughest race in France. This Sunday hell is simultaneously cursed and loved and can only be won by the truly great cyclists.
WHAT DOES THE CYCLING HELL LOOK LIKE?
A 254 km cycling race of which 55 km on cobblestones: hard narrow roads where no car dares to drive and which are almost only used to move cattle. A true hell consisting of dust, honking cars, roaring motorbikes and frenzied cycling fans. In brightly coloured cycling jerseys, the cyclists stumble and drag through the barren landscape. Flat tyres, scrapes, bruises and fractures are rules of the Hell of the North. Only the best and bravest can take part and only the great riders are able to take Paris-Roubaix to their name.
THE HELL OF THE NORTH
Despite all the scrapes, bruises and fractures that the riders incur during this race, it owes its name 'Hell of the North' to something else. This term was used after the First World War to describe the route of the race. During World War I, the landscape was exposed to artillery fire and thousands of bombs and shells for four years. A countless number of soldiers died in their trenches.
After Henri Pélessier won Paris-Roubaix in 1919 after the Great War, he described the landscape to L'auto:
"We enter the centre of the battlefield. There is not a tree, everything has been flattened! Not a square metre that has not been turned upside down. One shell hole after another. The only thing that stands out in this churned up earth are the crosses with their ribbons in blue, white and red. It is hell!"
A CYCLING HELL THAT IS NEVERTHELESS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL
After the 1985 race, an American reporter interviewed the Dutch Theo de Rooy. The cyclist who was riding with his team Panasonic at the time had abandoned the race. While completely covered in mud, he gave his opinion on the race:
"It's nonsense, this race! You work like an animal, you don't have time to pee, you pee in your trousers. You ride in the mud like this, you slip ... it's a pile of shit. "
After the interviewer asked if he was ever going to run the race again, Theo de Rooij resplied: "Of course, it's the most beautiful race in the world!"
Bernard Hinault during the race in 1981
The Danish documentary 'A Sunday in Hell' gives an impressive picture of the 1976 race.
GREAT RIDERS WHO WON PARIS-ROUBAIX
A remarkable number of Belgians managed to win this great cycling classic, including Tom Boonen and 'Monsieur Paris-Roubaix'; Roger De Vlaeminck. The Belgian competed in the Sunday Hell no less than 14 times. Of all these races, 'The Gypsy' has only abandoned once. All other times, the Belgian finished all the races, even through wind and weather. Roger De Vlaeminck has won the race no less than four times. Tom Boonen has also crossed the finish line first four times.
Belgians with three victories to their name are Gaston Rebry, Rik van Looy, Johan Museeuw and Eddy Merckx. Other great riders who have won twice or more are: Seán Kelly, Francesco Moser and Rik van Steenbergen. Below are a number of cycling jerseys in which these cyclists rode when they won.