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Paris-Roubaix’s greatest hits: From Peter Sagan and Tom Boonen to stale croissants and beyond

Our editors pick some of their highlights from watching and reporting on 'The Hell of the North.'

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Races as unique as Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Roubaix Femmes come loaded with vivid memories and unforgettable stories.

Whether you’re watching from the couch or stood in the reporters’ mixed zone, “The Hell of the North” always delivers thrills, spills, and a hype reserved for only the biggest races of the year.

Preview: The cobbles, contenders, narratives and weather for Paris-Roubaix weekend 

VeloNews’ editors Sadhbh O’Shea, Andy Hood and Jim Cotton, and Outside’s Fred Dreier pick out some of their best Roubaix memories ahead of this weekend’s cobblestone double-header:

Sadhbh O’Shea: Vibes in the velodrome

Watching the finish from the center of the velodrome is a highlight of many reporters’ year.

It’s hard to pick my favorite Roubaix memory as there have been so many over the years. I’ve been there seven times already and this weekend will be my eighth, if you count the women’s and men’s events as one Roubaix.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of being at a Paris-Roubaix is standing in the center of the velodrome at the end of the race and seeing the leaders come into the huge cheer of the crowd. It’s hard to see much over other people’s heads but you can just about follow the action as the riders do their one-and-a-half laps before crossing the finish line. Then, you get to see the riders pull into the grassy center of the track, muddy and tired with the experience of the day etched on their face.

Standing in the middle of the Roubaix velodrome is an experience that has not got old.

Fred Dreier (Outside): Boonen-mania at a reporter’s rookie Roubaix

Fred was there in 2008 to witness Boonen bagging his second Roubaix. (Photo: Lars Ronbog/FrontzoneSport via Getty Images)

You never forget your first—and I’ll never forget my debut at Paris-Roubaix as a reporter.

It was 2008 and I was in my late 20s. I was amped to cover the race but also somewhat overwhelmed by the crush of the crowds, the confusing network of driving roads (this was pre-GPS), and the French. Still, I somehow managed to find my way from Compiègne to Roubaix and into the velodrome.

This was the height of Boonen-mania, and “Tommeke” rode into the arena in the front group alongside Fabian Cancellara and Allessandro Ballan, and you just knew what was going to happen in the sprint. I’ll never forget the roar that erupted from the crowd when Tommeke unleashed his final kick and bolted across the line first. The memory still gives me goosebumps.

Andy Hood (VN): Bad breakfasts and the startline buzz

You can almost smell the infamous Compiègne coffee from here. (Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)

For me, it’s the absolutely terrible French coffee and stale croissants that are served in the VIP tent ahead of the start on Sunday morning in Compiègne.

Everyone’s stamping their feet and rubbing their hands to try to warm up before the final buzz of the race. The fans are packed in, the riders are revved up, and there’s a sense of pending drama that hangs in the air. There’s no better start of any race than Roubaix on a chilly, damp Sunday morning.

Jim Cotton: Peter Sagan and his greatest ever victory?

Slovakia's Peter Sagan competes to win during the 116th edition of the Paris-Roubaix one-day classic cycling race, between Compiegne and Roubaix, on April 8, 2018 near Compiegne, northern France. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / BERNARD PAPON (Photo credit should read BERNARD PAPON/AFP via Getty Images)
Sagan’s 2018 victory at Roubaix was one of his finest. (: BERNARD PAPON/AFP via Getty Images)

I’ll never forget watching Peter Sagan’s rainbow-jersey Roubaix victory in 2018.

Sagan was in his pomp and delivered a ride worthy of Roubaix’s rich roll of honor that day. He blitzed out of the group of favorites some 55km from the line, gobbled up all the breakaway except Silvan Dillier, and neatly despatched the Swissman in the velodrome sprint.

It was Peter-fection – and for me, it was an afternoon on the couch well spent.

In terms of my two years reporting on the race, the mudcaked scenes after the wild 2021 races hit pretty hard. Pressure-washing fully clothed riders? Why not.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.