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Paris-Roubaix: The fastest, most consistent, unluckiest riders, and more

ROUBAIX FRANCE APRIL 14 Philippe Gilbert of Belgium and Team DeceuninckQuickStep Peter Sagan of Slovakia and Team BORA hansgrohe Nils Politt of Germany and Team KatushaAlpecin during the 117th ParisRoubaix a 257km race from Compigne to Roubaix ParisRoubaix ParisRoubaix PRBX LEnfer du Nord on April 14 2019 in Roubaix France Photo by Stephane ManteyPoolGetty Images
Eventual 2019 Roubaix winner Philippe Gilbert (right) leads Nils Politt and Peter Sagan in the closing stage of the race (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

What began as a tune-up event for the much longer Bordeaux-Paris morphed into the most epic cycling event in the modern-day sport: Paris-Roubaix. The rough cobbled sectors that pepper northern France have hosted this test of endurance, strength, and the sheer will to just keep going since 1896 – their dirt and mud-caked forms squeezing out the last bit of energy to sprint for the cobblestone trophy in the Roubaix Velodrome.

The early editions were almost completely unpaved, but year after year parts of the course have degraded so much that they've been paved over with tarmac, threatening to change the nature of the mostly flat course.

Since 1983, fans of the race – Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix – have maintained the famous secteurs of pavé, helping to preserve some 60km of ancient roads: patching holes and relaying stones so the farmers' fields of France can continue to act as the venue for cycling's greatest feats.

Cyclingnews looks back through the results from the last 70 editions of Paris-Roubaix to tease out the statistics, stories, facts and figures of 'The Hell of the North'.

Most wins: Boonen, De Vlaeminck - 4

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Belgian cyclist Tom Boonen of team Omega PharmaQuick Step competes in the 110th edition of the ParisRoubaix cycling race between Compiegne and Roubaix on April 8 2012 in Roubaix northern France Boonen who had previously won in 2005 2008 and 2009 equals the record of wins in ParisRoubaix held by compatriot Roger De Vlaeminck Boonen won the race ahead of French Sebatsien Turgot Team Europcar and Italys Alessandro Ballan Team BMC AFP PHOTO FRANCK FIFE Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFEAFP via Getty Images

Tom Boonen en route to equalling De Vlaeminck's record (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Roger De Vlaeminck was so successful in the race that his nickname was 'Monsieur Paris-Roubaix'. The Belgian's legendary bike-handling skills led him to four victories in the Hell of the North. De Vlaeminck took his first victory in 1972 followed by back-to-back wins in 1974 and 1975. In 1977, De Vlaeminck won the Tour of Flanders to equal Rik van Looy and Eddy Merckx in winning all of cycling's Monuments, and then went on to win his fourth Paris-Roubaix, setting a record that stands to this day – only equalled in 2012 by Tom Boonen.

Boonen showed his prowess in the race early on when, as a helper for teammate George Hincapie, he went on to land on the podium after the American crashed out in 2002. He claimed his first victory in the race in 2005 by out-sprinting Hincapie, now on a rival team. He went on to take back-to-back wins in 2008 and 2009, and his fourth in 2012. An attempt to break De Vlaeminck's record fell short in a sprint won by Mathew Hayman in 2016, after which Boonen retired.

Most wins
Rider Wins
1Tom Boonen 4
2Roger De Vlaeminck 4
3Johan Museeuw 3
4Rik Van Looy 3
5Eddy Merckx 3
6Fabian Cancellara 3
7Francesco Moser 3
8Sean Kelly 2
9Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle 2
10Franco Ballerini 2
11Marc Madiot 2

Most finishes: Hayman, Knaven, Eisel - 16

Servais Knaven soaks in the emotion of winning the 2001 Paris-Roubaix

Servais Knaven soaks in the emotion of winning the 2001 Paris-Roubaix (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)

Paris-Roubaix is a specialist's race – knowing how to float over the cobbles, how to pick the best lines, avoid crashing in dusty, dry or muddy turns, how to come back from punctures without panic and knowing the best time to attack all take practice.

Hayman, Servais Knaven and Bernhard Eisel hold the record for most finishes with 16, with Hincapie and Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle just behind with 15 completed races.

Most finishes
Pos.RiderFinishes
1Mathew Hayman 16
2Servais Knaven 16
3Bernhard Eisel 16
4George Hincapie 15
5Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle 15

Finishing frequency

Nearly man of Paris-Roubaix: Juan Antonio Flecha

Juan Antonio Flecha in Paris-Roubaix

Juan Antonio Flecha at Paris-Roubaix (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Paris-Roubaix can be an immensely frustrating experience for even the most talented cyclists. Bernard Hinault called the race 'bullshit' after crashing seven times in the 1981 edition, even though he ended up winning. Jacques Anquetil dismissed it as a 'lottery'. Theo de Rooij called it a 'pile of shit', Chris Boardman called it a 'circus' – but each year riders return because the experience is indelibly etched in their memory, the pain fades and the pursuit of glory resumes.

Juan Antonio Flecha was one of the few Spaniards to take to Paris-Roubaix, racing it 11 times, finishing inside the top 10 eight times, and landing on the podium three times. But Flecha never managed to win it, making him the nearly-man of Paris-Roubaix.

Top 10s without a win
Pos.RiderTop 10s
1Juan Antonio Flecha 8
2George Hincapie 7
3Herman Van Springel 6
4Zdenek Stybar 6
5Raymond Poulidor 6
6Marc Sergeant 6
7Adrie van der Poel 5
8Steffen Wesemann 5
9Sep Vanmarcke 5
10Freddy Maertens 5

Winning-group sizes

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13 Apr 1997 Cyclists in action during the ParisRoubaix race in France Mandatory Credit Graham Chadwick Allsport

A big group came into the velodrome in the 1997 Paris-Roubaix (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The difficulty of Paris-Roubaix – in particular the five-star cobbled sectors of the Carrefour de l'Arbre, Mons-en-Pévèle and the Trouée d’Arenberg – shatter the peloton in most years, and riders come into the velodrome for the final sprint in small groups or as solo riders. But there have been some years where a rather large group has sprinted for the victory.

The biggest group to come to the line together was in 1958, when Leon Van Daele won the race in a sprint between 23 riders.

Biggest winning groups
Pos.YearGroup sizeWinner
11958 23Leon Van Daele
21963 11Emile Daems
31967 10Jan Janssen
41997 8Frédéric Guesdon
52015 6John Degenkolb
61961 6Rik Van Looy
71981 6Bernard Hinault
81956 6Louison Bobet
92017 5Greg Van Avermaet
141964 4Peter Post

Solo winners

Fabian Cancellara putting the power down as he rides to the victory

Fabian Cancellara putting the power down as he rides to his first solo victory in 2006 (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)

Paris-Roubaix has a high frequency of solo winners – again because of the high degree of difficulty. It's a perfect opportunity to take the win the best way – with nobody else in the picture.

Roger De Vlaeminck, Francesco Moser and Rik Van Looy each had that sensation three times, while Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, Franco Ballerini, Marc Madiot, and Eddy Merckx each celebrated alone twice.

Solo winners
RiderSolo win years
Roger De Vlaeminck1972, 1974, 1977
Francesco Moser1978, 1979, 1980
Rik Van Looy1960, 1962, 1965
Tom Boonen2009, 2012
Fabian Cancellara2006, 2010
Franco Ballerini1995, 1998
Marc Madiot1985, 1991
Eddy Merckx1970, 1973

Closest race

There have been some pretty close sprints in Paris-Roubaix, and before modern high-speed cameras there might have been closer races, but the closest sprint is unofficially the 1990 edition when it took the officials a torturous 10 minutes to award the victory to Eddy Planckaert over Canadian Steve Bauer.

Biggest Winning Margin - Eddy Merckx, 5:21

Eddy Merckx leads Roger De Vlaeminck at the 1973 Paris-Roubaix, with Merckx winning the race for a third time

Eddy Merckx leads Roger De Vlaeminck at the 1973 Paris-Roubaix, with Merckx winning the race for a third time (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Eddy Merckx was legendary for crushing the competition, and no other rider crushed it in Paris-Roubaix like the Belgian. In a rainy edition in 1970, Merckx opened up a massive 5:21 gap on his closest rival – De Vlaeminck – to claim the victory.

Biggest winning margin
Pos.RiderYearGap
1Eddy Merckx 19700:05:21
2Franco Ballerini 19980:04:16
3Felice Gimondi 19660:04:08
4Johan Museeuw 20020:03:04
5Fausto Coppi 19500:02:45
6Walter Godefroot 19690:02:39
7Eddy Merckx 19730:02:20
8Andrea Tafi 19990:02:14
9Fabian Cancellara 20100:02:00
10Roger De Vlaeminck 19720:01:57

Oldest Winner - Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, 38

Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle won the 1993 edition of Paris-Roubaix for his Z team

Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle (second in line) won the 1993 edition of Paris-Roubaix for his Z team (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)

Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle raced Paris-Roubaix 11 times before he got it just right: in 1980 he was the first man behind Moser, in 1983 he won the sprint for second behind Hennie Kuiper. In 1989, he was out-sprinted for the final podium spot by Edwig Van Hooydonck. But everything finally came together for the Frenchman at the age of 37 when he went into an early breakaway and managed to stay clear for the victory over Olaf Ludwig. He went on to repeat the feat the next year, out-sprinting Franco Ballerini to become the race's oldest winner at 38.

Oldest winner
Pos.RiderAge
1Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle 38
2Mathew Hayman 37
2Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle 37
2Pino Cerami 37
3Philippe Gilbert 36
3Johan Museeuw 36
4Hennie Kuiper 34
4Johan Museeuw 34
5Franco Ballerini 33
5Peter van Petegem 33

Youngest Winner - Eddy Merckx, 22

Eddy Merckx at the 2019 Tour de France

Eddy Merckx at the 2019 Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images)

Since 1950, Paris-Roubaix has been dominated by older, more experienced riders, but Eddy Merckx became the youngest winner of this era in 1968, aged 22 years and 295 days. The youngest of all time remains Albert Champion, winner in 1899 at age 20.

Youngest winner
Pos.RiderAge
1Eddy Merckx 22
2Felice Gimondi 23
2Germain Derycke 23
3Roger De Vlaeminck 24
3Roger Rosiers 24
3Eddy Merckx 24
3Jean Forestier 24
3Tom Boonen 24
4Marc Demeyer 25
4Eric Vanderaerden 25

Fastest Edition - 2017, 45.2kph

Greg Van Avermaet won what has so far been the fastest edition of Paris-Roubaix in 2017 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Greg Van Avermaet's victory in 2017 was won at a startling 45.2kph average speed in warm, dry conditions, with a tailwind boost.

Fastest edition
Pos.Rider YearSpeed (kph)
1Greg Van Avermaet 201745.204475
2Peter Post 196445.129855
3Fabian Cancellara 201344.190421
4Mathew Hayman 201643.906598
5Peter Sagan 201843.547021

Slowest Edition - 1958

The slowest edition came in 1958 when Leon Vandaele won from that big bunch sprint. The race crawled along at 33.3kph.

Slowest edition
Pos.RiderYearSpeed (kph)
1Leon Vandaele 195833.300093
1Eddy Planckaert 199034.789585
1Alfred De Bruyne 195734.871167
1Sean Kelly 198435.209448
1Raymond Impanis 195435.590564

Average speeds

Paris-Roubaix has been getting faster over the past 20 years. Cyclingnews looked at five- and 10-year moving averages and saw a peak over 40kph in the early 1980s before the speeds took a sharp dive – likely due to the inclusion of restored cobbled sectors. There was another peak on the five-year moving average in the mid- to late-1990s, possibly due to the increasing use of EPO.

However, over the past decade, both the five- and 10-year averages have skyrocketed to 43kph.