Rain is forecast for this weekend’s Paris-Roubaix as the Amis de Paris-Roubaix volunteers and local authorities give the famous cobbles a final clean before the races.
The Flanders World Championships were held in summer-like conditions but temperatures have already cooled in northern Europe, with rain expected to pass over the race route early on Saturday morning before the women’s race and again on Sunday during the men’s race.
Some rain has already fallen and winds from the southwest are expected to blow rain showers across northern France at the weekend, meaning tailwinds and even some crosswinds are possible, adding an extra dimension of difficulty to the race.
Paris-Roubaix has not been held since 2019 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, and this year’s inaugural women’s race and the 118th edition of the men’s race have been rescheduled to early October, creating a unique weekend in the Hell of the North.
The last truly wet and rain-soaked edition of Paris-Roubaix was held in 2002 when Johan Museeuw won his third edition of the Hell of the North. Since then, dry spring weather has ensured the cobbles and roads of northern France have been dry and dusty rather than wet and muddy.
Racing on wet cobbles changes the race dramatically, sparking more crashes and chaos but also making for a more dramatic race, at least for spectators.
The first edition of the Paris-Roubaix Femmes will include 17 sectors of cobbles, starting in the town of Denian and covering the final 85km of the men’s route in northern France and finishing in the iconic Roubaix velodrome. The men’s 258km race starts in Compiegne and includes 30 sectors of pavé, all counting down to the finish in the velodrome.
On Tuesday, race organiser and technical director Thierry Gouvenou led a final reconnaissance of the 2021 race route, confirming that the Forest of Arenberg and other sectors of the cobbles have been cleaned after the summer saw a rapid growth of weeds, moss and roadside crops.
Volunteers from Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix and students from a local horticultural school were out removing the grass from the central section of several sectors on Tuesday. On Monday, a mechanical brusher swept the Arenberg Forest cobbles to remove the moss that grows between the cobbles in the shadows of the trees.
“The cobbles haven’t been raced on for 900 days and so they were very green, with weeds everywhere; so we’ve had to do a big clean-up along the route,” Gouvenou told local French media after his reconnaissance.
As a former pro rider, Gouvenou knows the risk of hitting the Forest of Arenberg at speed in the rain. [Only the men will race this sector, ed.] He would prefer dry conditions until then but appeared open to a wet finale to the race. Gouvenou finished seventh in the 2002 edition of Paris-Roubaix.
“As the Paris-Roubaix organiser, the ideal weather is dry at the start and then rain after the passing of the Forest of Arenberg,” he said.
"I think every rider is a little scared about hitting the Forest of Arenberg on a slightly downhill road at 60km/h."
"I liked a wet Paris-Roubaix because I could handle it but some riders are scared about slipping out and crashing. With dry weather, it's the power that will count, plus the endurance. In wet weather, you need less power but a lot more bike handling skills and self-confidence.
Some teams have already gathered in northern France and West Flanders for the race and expected to carry out final reconnaissance rides on Wednesday and Thursday. The SD Worx team will ride the women’s route on Wednesday, with Wout van Aert expected to lead the Jumbo-Visma ride on Thursday.
Cyclingnews will have special stories, interviews and photo galleries in the days before the races, with full coverage, including live updates, of all the action on Saturday and Sunday.
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