Tom Boonen | Paris-Roubaix 2012 on Flickr.
Paris–Roubaix is a one-day professional bicycle road race in northern France near the Belgian frontier. From its beginning in 1896 until 1967 it started in Paris and ended in Roubaix (hence the name); since 1968 the start city has been Compiègne (about 60 kilometres (37 mi) north-east from Paris center) whilst the finish is still in Roubaix. Famous for rough terrain and cobblestones (setts),[n 1] it is one of the ‘Monuments’ or Classics of the European calendar, and contributes points towards the UCI World Ranking. It has been called the Hell of the North, a Sunday in Hell (also the title of a film about the 1976 edition of the race), the Queen of the Classics or la Pascale: the Easter race. The race is organised by the media group Amaury Sport Organisation annually in mid-April.
First run in 1896, Paris–Roubaix is one of cycling’s oldest races. It is well known for the many ‘cobbled sectors’ over which it runs, being considered, along with the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Gent–Wevelgem to be one of the cobbled classics. Since 1977, the winner of Paris–Roubaix has received a sett (cobble stone) as part of his prize. In recent years, the terrain over which Paris–Roubaix runs has led to specialized bikes, with unique frames and wheels, being used. Wheel punctures and other mechanical problems are extremely common because of this terrain, and often play a part in who is able to ultimately make it to Roubaix with momentum.
Despite the high esteem with which the race is seen, some notable cyclists throughout history have regarded the race as a joke because of its difficult conditions. The race has also seen several controversies over the years, with many seeming winners of the race disqualified for various reasons.
The course is maintained by Les Amis de Paris–Roubaix, a group of fans of the race formed in 1983. The forçats du pavé seek to keep the course as safe as possible for riders while maintaining its difficulty.