Like everyone else, we here at VeloNews will be missing Paris-Roubaix this weekend.
We were not only looking forward to seeing who would add the famed granite rock statue to their trophy case, we were just as keen to be there in the front-row of history to report and tell the stories about the first edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes.
It’s all on hold until October, so all is not lost.
In the meantime, we’ve been feeling nostalgic about “Hell of the North.” Though it’s never an easy choice, our editors pick their favorite recent editions. What’s yours?
Sadhbh O’Shea — Mat Hayman, 2016
It is hard to pick your favorite Paris-Roubaix. It’s like being asked what’s your favorite ice cream flavor (all of them, right?), but if I had to chose just one, then it would be Mat Hayman winning in 2016.
It’s the only Paris-Roubaix I haven’t attended since 2014, and one of the few regrets I have in my life. I did watch it from start to finish, and I watched it again last year. I was just as gripped by what unfolded as I had been four years previously.
Everybody loves an underdog story, and this one was a blockbuster. Hayman, who was riding his 15th Hell of the North, had only twice finished in the top-10 before. Added to that, he had been training almost solely on Zwift after breaking his wrist two months earlier.
Going in the early breakaway usually means your time is up once the big boys come rolling through, but Paris-Roubaix is not an ordinary race, and Hayman had the audacity to hold on tight when the cavalry arrived.
Also read: Hayman’s victory was paved on the trainer
When he was riding the final lap of the Roubaix velodrome with five other riders, he was probably fifth on my list of who might take the cobbled trophy. Shows how much I know. I held my breath watching the final sprint, still believing Boonen would surely come away with the win. The look of disbelief on Hayman’s face as he’s greeted by his team just add to the magic of this edition.
Hayman’s Roubaix win is one for all the triers out there. Don’t give up.
Andrew Hood — Peter Sagan, 2018
In 2018, I tagged along with photographer James Startt as he chronicled the race. The brutality and difficulty of the race are amplified when you can witness riders struggling — or gliding — over the punishing pavé in the front row. Startt drove, and I played co-pilot. Working like a rally team, I would use the road book and GPS to bark out orders while he buried the pedal to try to stay ahead of the hard-charging peloton.
Startt’s covered the race for decades, and knows all the backroads and short-cuts to see the key sectors. After busting out ahead of the race, we took in three sectors before B-lining to the Arenberg forest. Police roadblocks and massive crowds made navigating trickier than usual, but we arrived to some key sectors just in time to see Peter Sagan make his decisive move. Startt snapped the shot of the rainbow jersey attacking over the cobbles.
We hit the entrance onto the Carrefour de l’Arbre, and made a mad dash for the velodrome with a caravan of mechanics, soigneurs and other journalists in a race against the pack. Our hopes were dashed when we hit a train-crossing. After a long wait, a train finally came through, and we sped through the backstreets of Roubaix trying to find the velodrome. We could see the TV helicopters marking the progress of the race chasing us down.
We ditched the car and sprinted into the velodrome via a back entrance, just in time to see Sagan dash to victory. Mission accomplished on cycling’s greatest day.
Jim Cotton — Tom Boonen, 2008
I would have said either Sagan or Hayman, but they’ve been nabbed so I’m going to say Tom Boonen’s 2008 win.
It’s not necessarily my favorite-ever edition of the Paris-Roubaix, but it’s well up there. More significantly though, it’s one of the first editions of the race I remember watching, and possibly the edition that converted me into a full-blown Roubaix-lover.
Also read: Boonen vs. Cancellara — rivalry for the ages
I was a passionate bike rider and racer through my teenage years, but only started following the sport a little later. 2008 was maybe my second or third season of paying attention to you-know-who at the Tour de France and tracking the early flourishes of Mark Cavendish’s career. Yet, at the start of that season, the classics were still a bit of a mystery to me.
I recall getting home from a long Saturday ride and collapsing into the sofa at a friend’s house to fire up some stream of the race that likely left his computer riddled with things stealing his card details and spamming him with dubious websites.
As soon as the bunch hit the first sectors of pavé, I was hooked.
Also read: Tom Boonen and his final Paris-Roubaix
The sight of riders speeding over the stones – some of them wrestling their manically bucking bikes while the likes of Boonen and Fabian Cancellara just glided over – was both fascinating and somehow barbaric. I could barely take my eyes off it for the final 100 kilometers.
And in terms of the race, the 2008 edition had everything. Boonen went mano-a-mano with Cancellara through the final hours in one of the best cobblestone duels I remember. It had all the ingredients that make for a great Roubaix – a late breakaway, the two top favorites trading haymakers, and an edge-of-the-seat sprint to cap it all. Merci, Roubaix.