Such a long wait
September 14 th 2021 - 12:08
After a one-and-a-half-year delay caused by the health crisis which has shaken up sporting schedules, starter’s orders on the 118th edition will eventually be given in Compiègne on 3rd October at 11.00, for a 257,7-kilometre route including 55 kilometres of cobbles spread over 30 sections (as opposed to 54.5 km and 29 sections in 2019). The cobble specialists will notably have to tackle the ascent of the sloped section at the Hameau du Buat.
2021 will also be the year that witnesses the first edition of Paris Roubaix Femmes, on 2nd October. The women’s pack will start from the Northern French town of Denain to cover a 116.4-km route with 17 cobbled sectors and the same last 85 kilometres as the men’s race, including the prestigious finish at the vélodrome de Roubaix cycling stadium.
Between the victory of Philippe Gilbert in Roubaix in the spring of 2019 and the following edition, for which the pretenders to the crown will take starter’s orders on 3rd October in Compiègne, no less than 903 days will have passed… Due to the necessary postponements obliged by the health crisis, “la Pascale” has never worn one of its nicknames so badly, but fate has placed an unprecedented campaign through Flanders in the heart of autumn, with the race for the World Champion’s rainbow jersey taking place one week before not far away. For its return to the cycling calendar, Paris-Roubaix has undergone some slight adjustments. It is never trivial to take an interest in changes that affect the first part of the route, bearing in mind that on the last 16 editions, the race has been won three times by a member of the morning’s breakaway (Magnus Backstedt in 2004, Stuart O’Grady in 2007 and Mathew Hayman in 2016). It is precisely the arrangement of these first cobbled sections that has been modified. The riders will be given the shakes for the first time, as usual, after one hundred kilometres from the start in Compiègne, but unlike in 2019, the Troisvilles section will be ridden in its 2.2-km entirety. Well-known by regulars, the Vertain section (#25) will be tackled in the opposite direction as it usually is and will spice up the race, because this time the riders will have to climb up it. The bumpy ride through Cambrésis and the area south of Valenciennes will also reintroduce the riders to the section at the Hameau du Buat (#24), discovered in 2005, which has not featured on the route since 2016. After leaving this cobbled section that winds over more than a kilometre, there will be a thirty-kilometre gap to prepare for the challenge of the Trouée d’Arenberg (km 162,4), which often witnesses key developments in the race, just as on the other significant sections at Mons-en-Pévèle (after 209.1 km) and the Carrefour de l’Arbre (after 240.5 km).
The major new feature on Paris-Roubaix 2021 will be the creation of the women’s race, whose start will take place in Denain. Three laps of a circuit through the town will immediately lend a dynamic tone to the contest, which will witness a raising of the stakes as the riders reach the municipality of Hornaing (after 31 km), where the routes of the two races merge. From thereon in, there will be a little more than 85 kilometres separating the participants from the vélodrome de Roubaix cycling stadium and the outcome of this historic battle, whose decisive phases will perhaps take place on the two sections with the highest classification of difficulty: Mons-en-Pévèle and the Carrefour de l’Arbre, which have decided the destinies or sealed the fates of Paris-Roubaix riders through the generations.