Paris-Roubaix, often described as the toughest one-day race on the professional cycling calendar, is held in early April each year, often in driving rain and strong winds. The race is famous for its rough terrain and many cobbled sections – together with the Tour of Flanders and Gent–Wevelgem, it is known as one of the ‘cobbled classics’.
First staged in 1896, it is one of the oldest cycling races in the world. It has been won by many of the sport’s biggest names, including Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault, but the most successful rider in the event’s history has been the Belgian Roger de Vlaeminck who triumphed four times between 1972 and 1977, and also finished in second place four times and in third place once.
Among the riders who have won the race three times include the most recent champion, Fabian Cancellara. A week after winning the Tour of Flanders, the Swiss rider outsprinted Belgium’s Sep Vanmarcke in the 2013 finale to raise his arms once more – he had previously won the race in 2006 and 2010.
Despite its name, the race has not begun in Paris since 1965 – the following year, the start moved to Chantilly, 50 km north, then in 1977 to Compiègne, 80 km north. The 260 km route north to Roubaix is adjusted slightly each year, but always includes around 27 cobbled sections, with riders hitting the first cobbles after 100 km. The race climaxes with 750 m on the smooth concrete of Roubaix’s outdoor velodrome.