As one of the oldest races on the cycling calendar, Paris-Roubaix is rightly considered one of the most important days of the season.
A key fixture in cycling’s five Monuments, the cobbled race that traverses Northern France was first held in 1896, making this year the 119th edition of the race. It will be held on Sunday 17th April, 2022.
One of the sternest tests of a rider’s mettle are the unforgiving cobblestones that lay between Paris and Roubaix. They provide the setting for a race so infamous it has collected a number of nicknames over the years. Most commonly referred to as the Hell of the North (l’enfer du Nord in French), it’s also been titled a Sunday in Hell, the Queen of the Classics and ‘The Easter Race’.
Traditionally held a week after the Tour of Flanders, a change in the scheduling of the Amstel Gold Race this year resulted in the two races mutually agreeing to switch dates. This gives riders an extra week to recover from their exertions on the ‘hellingen’ of Flanders, before they tackle the relentless cobbled nightmare of Roubaix.
Paris-Roubaix 2022 route
The conditions may play a part in the race, as they did in 2021. Last year’s race was the first wet edition of Paris-Roubaix for 16 years, and despite the added risks presented by the slick conditions, many cycling fans were delighted by the grim conditions.
This year it’s anybody’s guess as to whether we will see a repeat of the mud-caked visages of the men’s peloton as they dragged themselves to the finish line, as just over half of the 174 starters made it all the way to the velodrome in Roubaix in 2021.
The route itself has not changed a great deal since 2019. In 2022, the race will be 257.2km long with 54.8 kilometres on tough pavé.
The tension will rise in the early part of the race as, despite the relatively flat, paved nature of the first 96km of racing, teams will fight for position at the front of the pack in preparation for the first cobbled sectors. There were multiple crashes in a nervous bunch at last year’s race, before the riders even hit the first cobbles which are the Troisvilles to Inchy sector.
What follows are a series of 30 sections of cobbles which vary in distance and severity. This has led to the development of a star rating system, with sectors rated from one star – the least tricky, to five-star sectors, deemed to be the hardest either due to their length, the roughness of the cobbles, or a combination of both. Forest of Arenberg 2021 (Image: Peter Stuart)
Thankfully, for the riders at least, there are just three five-star sectors, with the formidable yet mythical Trouée d’Arenberg, or Forest of Arenberg being the first of them. Coming after 162km of racing, the long straight pass through the trees of Wallers is a daunting 2.3km of nerve-shredding cobblestones.
After 209km, the 3km long Mons-en-Pévèle is the second five-star sector, and finally, less than 16km from the finish, the 2.1km long Carrefour de l’Arbre represents a final chance for decisive moves before the run into the velodrome.
The race ends with the traditional lap around the André Pétrieux velodrome in Roubaix, the final 750m of the race before the victor can raise their arms and celebrate.
Jumbo Visma’s classics team have made arguably the strongest start to the season, taking a win with Wout van Aert at Omloop het Nieuwsblad and performing well at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. However, sickness took Van Aert out of the Tour of Flanders, and it's unknown if he will recover in time to race Paris-Roubaix. With the strength shown by Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte so far, though, the team do have other options available to them should illness continue to befall their leader.Matej Mohoric at the Tour of Flanders 2022 (Image: Zac Williams/SWPix)
Defending champion Sonny Colbrelli will not return to the cobbles in 2022 as he takes some time away from racing to recover from heart arrhythmia. Bahrain-Victorious still come with a range of options, however, including Milan-San Remo winner Matej Mohoric whose power and size will suit the rough terrain. Mohoric will be supported by up and coming talent Fred Wright who has proven himself to be well-suited to the cobbles so far this season.
Winner of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Mathieu van der Poel will take to the startline of Paris-Roubaix alongside his Alpecin-Fenix teammates. The 27-year-old finished in third place at the race last year, and his furious demeanour as he crossed the finish line was enough to prove he'll be hungry to do better in 2022. Many doubted if the Dutchman would return to form this year due to his recurring back injuries, but his stellar run of results in his delayed Classics campaign so far prove that he will be a force to be reckoned with in the Hell of the North.
QuickStep-Alpha Vinyl will look to the likes of Yves Lampaert and Kasper Asgreen to conquer the cobbles. 'The Wolfpack' have had a disappointing Classics campaign so far and will be hoping to right this at Paris-Roubaix. The return of the steadying influence and physical presence of Tim Declercq may aid the team in their Roubaix assault and David Ballerini could be a good option for the Belgian squad if the race comes down to a reduced bunch sprint.
Dylan van Baarle at Dwars door Vlaanderen (Image: SWpix/Zac Williams)
Ineos Grenadiers’ rebooted classics unit will not include Tom Pidcock, as he opts to end his Classics season early to prepare for the Giro d’Italia. Dylan van Baarle will feature and could challenge for the win. The Dutch rider finished second in the Tour of Flanders and is well-suited to the attritional nature of Paris-Roubaix. Filippo Ganna will ride Paris-Roubaix for the first time and given his immense strength as a rouleur, if he can master the cobbles he could be a force to be reckoned with. Elia Viviani also is on the startlist as the team's option for a velodrome sprint, and young Brit Ben Turner will be a key domestique for the team.
Lotto Soudal have been quietly assembling a collection of classics specialists who could very well challenge for the win this year. Florian Vermeersch surprised many by sticking with Mathieu van der Poel and Sonny Colbrelli all the way to the velodrome in 2021. The young Belgian rider seems to be born to ride the cobbles, and with Philippe Gilbert hoping to finish his career in style, and Victor Campenaerts reborn as a classics specialist, starting the season in brilliant form, the team have multiple options.
Zdeněk Štybar at Paris-Roubaix 2021 (Image: Peter Stuart)
If they’re having a really good day, some outsiders who may challenge include Zdeněk Štybar of QuickStep-Alpha Vinyl, Heinrich Haussler of Bahrain Victorious, and the AG2R-Citroen duo of Greg van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen who have started 2022 classics season brightly and will hope to challenge. Alexander Kristoff of Intermarché-Wanty has also been quietly scoring top 10s in the recent Classics and won Scheldeprijs earlier this month from a solo breakaway. The Norwegian rider has a chance on the Roubaix cobbles, as do Groupama FDJ's Stefan Kung and Team DSM's John Degenkolb.
‘Is there anything he can’t do?’ was the tongue-in-cheek rhetorical question Team Jumbo Visma asked of Wout van Aert last season, and he went on to prove them right with three fantastic stage wins at the Tour de France.
Not to be outdone, Filippo Ganna is this season’s all-rounder, proving he can climb and sprint, in addition to his many other talents. The long, flat profile suits him well – if he can be at one with the cobbles, Ganna could be the second Italian in as many years to take the win.
Cover image: Peter Stuart