The return of Paris-Roubaix is almost upon us, with the 118th edition of cycling's biggest Classic coming up on Sunday October 3.
Coming the day after the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes, the men's race will see the peloton line up for the penultimate WorldTour race of the season, as 30 cobbled sectors and 257.7 kilometres lie between the 25 teams and glory on the famous Roubaix velodrome.
We could be in for our first wet race since 2002, as well, with weather forecasts predicting showers from Friday through Sunday in the area. It's a race that looks impossible to miss.
Join Cyclingnews for live text-based coverage of 2021 Paris-Roubaix, and check in after the race for our full report, results, gallery, news and features on October 3, 2021.
Despite this year being moved from its traditional April slot due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Paris-Roubaix remains a massive season goal for the top Classics riders of the peloton, many of whom have been forced to plan a peak for an unusual time of the season – though for many the recent Flanders World Championships will have helped.
It seems a long time ago now, but reigning champion Philippe Gilbert, who was 36 when he won in 2019 and is now 39, will be back to defend his title on Sunday, leading a Lotto Soudal squad also containing 2015 winner John Degenkolb. If they're in top shape, the pair should be a formidable one-two punch.
Another strong pairing head up AG2R Citroën in the shape of 2017 winner Greg Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen, who has yet to score a top 10 at the race. The final past winner lining up in Compiègne is Team TotalEnergies' Niki Terpstra, who triumphed in 2014.
Wout van Aert heads up Jumbo-Visma a week after his Worlds disappointment and will figure among the favourites despite his career-best result being 13th place in 2018, with the rider finishing in 22nd in the last edition after suffering a mechanical and crash. His eternal rival Mathieu van der Poel leads Alpecin-Fenix and makes his race debut – he'll hope his ailing back can withstand the beating of the cobbles after taking eighth at the Worlds.
Deceuninck-QuickStep again appear to be the strongest squad at the race. They've won the race three times in the past decade with Gilbert, Terpstra and Tom Boonen, and will now look to Tour of Flanders champion Kasper Asgreen and fellow cobbled specialists Yves Lampaert, Zdenek Stybar and Florian Sénéchal – the latter duo coming off very strong rides at the Worlds.
Trek-Segafredo also come equipped with several leaders in former world champion Mads Pedersen and Milan-San Remo winner Jasper Stuyven, while the USA's Quinn Simmons is one to watch on his debut.
Sep Vanmarcke (Israel Start-Up Nation), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious), Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), and Worlds medallists Michael Valgren (EF Education-Nippo) and Dylan Van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) are all outsiders to raise the cobbled trophy in the Roubaix velodrome.
Despite its extended time away from the calendar, the Paris-Roubaix route is still as brutal as ever, with 30 cobbled sectors lying along the 257.7 kilometres – all crammed into the final 160 kilometres of the route. The sectors countdown, with the first sector coming after 96km and the last symbolic sector just a kilometre from the finish.
The flashpoints remain the same in the form of the five-star sectors: the Trouée d'Arenberg (2.3km), Mons-en-Pévèle (3km), and the often decisive Carrefour de l'Arbre (2.1km), while there are numerous other three-star and four-star sectors also along the route, including Hornaing à Wandignies, Auchy-lez-Orchies à Bersée, and Camphin-en-Pévèle.
These sectors – and the rest of the easier cobbles – could prove even trickier should there be rain falling during the day, with handling getting even more treacherous on the rarely-used stones. Even if Sunday is dry, wet weather overnight or the day before could still make the cobbles slick.
As ever, the riders start and head northeast from Compiègne outside Paris, which has hosted the race start since 1977.
The normal asphalt roads early on offer plenty of time for a breakaway to get up the road before the hostilities start on the rough stuff. The famous velodrome in Roubaix will once again burst into life approximately six hours later, with the top contenders either enjoying a lap and a half of glory or one final battle for victory on the smooth surface.
The 30 cobblestone sectors
- 30 - Troisvilles à Inchy (2.2km) **
- 29 - Viesly à Quiévy (1.8km) ***
- 28 - Quiévy à Saint-Python (3.7km) ****
- 27 - Saint-Python (1.5km) **
- 26 - Haussy à Saint-Martin-sur-Escaillon (0.8km) **
- 25 - Saint-Martin-sur-Escaillon à Vertain (2.3km) ***
- 24 - Capelle à Reusnes (1.7km) ***
- 23 - Artres à Quérénaing (1.3km) ***
- 22 - Quérénaing à Maing (2.5km) ***
- 21 - Maing à Monchaux-sur-Escaillon (1.6km) ***
- 20 - Haveluy à Wallers (2.5km) ****
- 19 - Trouée d'Arenberg (2.3km) *****
- 18 - Wallers à Hélesmes (1.6km) ***
- 17 - Hornaing à Wandignies (3.7km) ****
- 16 - Warlaing à Brillon (2.4km) ***
- 15 - Tilloy à Sars-et-Rosières (2.4km) ****
- 14 - Beuvry-la-Forêt à Orchies (1.4km) ***
- 13 - Orchies (1.7km) ***
- 12 - Auchy-lez-Orchies à Bersée (2.7km) ****
- 11 - Mons-en-Pévèle (3km) *****
- 10 - Merignies à Avelin (0.7km) **
- 9 - Pont-Thibault à Ennevelin (1.4km) ***
- 8 - Templeuve - L'Epinette (0.2km) **
- 8 - Templeuve - Moulin-de-Vertain (0.5km) ***
- 7 - Cysoing à Bourghelles (1.3km) ***
- 6 - Bourghelles à Wannehain (1.1km) ***
- 5 - Camphin-en-Pévèle (1.8km) ****
- 4 - Carrefour de l'Arbre (2.1km) *****
- 3 - Gruson (1.1km) **
- 2 - Willems à Hem (1.4km) ***
- 1 - Roubaix-Espace Charles Crupelandt (0.3km) *
- AG2R Citroën
- Astana-Premier Tech
- Bahrain Victorious
- B&B Hotels p/b KTM
- Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB
- EF Education-Nippo
- Ineos Grenadiers
- Israel Start-Up Nation
- Lotto Soudal
- Qhubeka NextHash
- Team BikeExchange
- Team DSM
- Team TotalEnergies
- UAE Team Emirates
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Daniel Ostanek has been a staff writer at Cyclingnews since August 2019, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later part-time production editor. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.
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