It’s professional cycling, at its most vulnerable – and real. (Photo: ASO Ballet Pauline)
- Bloodied handlebars and bloodshot eyes, in the most brutal professional cycling race of the year
- After nearly two decades of dry events, the rain has finally returned to the Hell of the North
- And for the first time, there was also a Paris-Roubaix women
For most of this century, one of the biggest cycling races did not live up to its reputation. But everything changed this weekend.
The 118e Paris-Roubaix was the first wet for 19 years. The rainy conditions made the brutal 257 km course even more trying and true to its heritage.
Appalling weather delivered all the drama fans could ask for in the most respected and regarded one-day road race.
The Hell of the North has been dry for too many years, with dust being the only complication for cyclists as they cycle through these 30 different paved sections of the road.
The cobbled “cobblestone” sections took many runners, causing falls. (Photo: ASO Ballet Pauline)
Women join the legendary race – finally
This year’s Paris-Roubaix saw rain and mud spray, making all those cobblestone sections treacherously slippery. It also brought a certain parity to the legendary cycling event, with the first Paris-Roubaix women, covering 115 km, with 17 of the 30 paved sections.
Most of the pro peloton had never known a real Paris-Roubaix, on wet ground, although it truly deserves its reputation, like the Hell of the North.
A Paris-Roubaix is always hard on the riders and the equipment. Cobbled sections ruin tires and numb hands. Falls are a frequent risk at Paris-Roubaix, which is why most Tour de France winners avoid this one-day classic.
There are no easy kilometers, on a Paris-Roubaix (Photo: ASO Pauline Ballet)
Nowhere to hide
For the loyal French and Belgian supporters who marked the course, this 118e Paris-Roubaix has kept its promises. The professional peloton were deeply humiliated by the spray of mud and the slippery pavement.
Team kits were ruined, covered in mud. All those sleek aerodynamic principles that apply to bikes and components meticulously designed for professional cyclists were of no consequence, with mud splashing reducing aerodynamic harmony.
Smooth rattling gears, with intuitively quick gear changes, moved cassettes up and down and crushed steel towards the end of the stroke. With all that mud sprayed out, acting like an abrasive, destroying the transmissions.
With the sheer volume of mud spray, from all those spinning tires, many runners had eye problems (Photo: ASO Pauline Ballet)
Suffering with reduced eyesight
At times, the Paris-Roubaix peloton looked more like competitors in a mountain bike race – which it should always be at this race, according to cycling traditionalists.
Vision was a big problem for most bikers. With their optics quickly covered in mud, many cyclists had to put their sunglasses away and ride without any eye protection, with some developing severe eye strain from the mud splash.
In the end, Italian debutant from Paris-Roubaix, Sonny Colbrelli, won a thrilling sprint in the last kilometer of the race.
The sole winner of the Paris-Roubaix Women was British rider Lizzie Deignan. She finished the race with a blood-strained handlebars – a testament to the ruthless nature of those cobblestone sections.