“Paris–Roubaix weekend” is the biggest cycling weekend of the year, comprising of one of the oldest and most famous one day races in cycling (Paris Roubaix) in addition to a massive sportive (Paris Roubaix Challenge).

If you have ever considered riding the Paris Roubaix sportive, here a guide to just about everything you need to know.

Paris Roubaix Challenge

Paris RoubaixOn the day prior to the professional race, you’ve got a chance to ride the famous pave which has been a key feature of the race which has been running since 1896.

The cobbled sections are generally closed for cyclists so riding the sportive is a unique opportunity to experience a tough ride on famous tracks. Don’t be fooled by the lack of elevation on the route – the “challenge” is in enduring the punishing pave. Roubaix is in fact famous for its punishing cobbles, and the pro-race is often referred to as “Hell in the North” and “a Sunday in Hell”!

Each of the 27 numbered sectors in the sportive is given a star rating to represent difficulty (with 5 being the hardest). Sector 1 is the final stretch of cobbles, and sector 27 is the first on the long route.

The difficulty of each sector is determined by its length (the longest sector is 3.7km) and the unevenness of the cobbles on the sector.

What about the cobbles?

Much of the route is comprised of old farm tracks which have surfaces not smoothed by cars – resulting in cobbles which can be incredibly inconsistent and brutal – affecting camber – which makes bike handling a real challenge.

Identifying and selecting the smoothest part of the track is key, this is sometimes right in the middle but sometimes in the gutter! If you observe and cycle clubs from Flanders or more local, you might do well to follow their lines.

Paris Roubaix Challenge Route Options:

Short – 70km | 7 cobbled sections | 8.8km of pave | 1 x 5 star sector | Start & Finish at the velodrome

Medium – 139km | 18 cobbled sections | 30.2km of pave | 3 x 5 star sectors | Start & Finish at the velodrome

Long – 163km | 27 cobbled sections | 52.5km of pave | 3 x 5 star sectors | Start in Busigny* Finish at the velodrome

How to register for the 2016 Paris Roubaix Sportive.

You can buy your entry (and hotel / transfer if required) for the 2016 Paris Roubaix Challenge via Sportive travel agents SportiveBreaks here: Paris Roubaix Challenge

Paris Roubaix Challenge Prices

Medium route (139km): £29 – Long route (163km): £64.

After registration, you will receive your race number from the organisers (approximately one week before the sportive start date). Print this out to collect your registration kit in Roubaix. This can be done either on the Friday (between 2.30pm and 6.30pm) or at the start of the sportive.

Paris Roubaix Challenge: The Key Sectors

Forest of Arenberg – Sector 18. 2.4km, 5 Stars

Quite possibly the most famous stretch of cobbles on the planet – the Forest of Arenberg sector features on all three routes of the sportive. This is usually a sprint section for the professionals who use this section to gain a good position in the pack and where they can carry their accumulated speed to the pave section.

The cobbles here are nasty. Make sure you enter the sector at speed, and that you’re ready to work hard for 5-10 minutes to maintain your power until you exit the sector. If you slow down on these cobbles, it’s really hard to get your speed up again.

Carrefour de l’Arbre – Sector 3. 2.1km, 5 Stars

The last truly tough sector in the race – and as you can see from the video, quite different from Arenberg is Carrefour de l’Arbre . This 5 star section contains a lot of corners – thoroughly testing your bike handling ability. The cobbles are as difficult as the five star rating would suggest, so choosing the right lines becomes even more critical if you want to finish well.

The Velodrome

The grand finale of what is truly an epic sportive. Enjoy what for most cyclists is a once in a lifetime experience, finishing in the legendary velodrome in Roubaix.

You will be tired at this point but make sure allow yourself a little recovery after Carrefour de l’Arbre so that you can really savour the final few kilometres and your lap of the velodrome.

About the Author: Phil Sears is a cycling enthusiast who loves nothing more than tackling the toughest sportives in Europe. When he’s not riding,  he’s usually occupied running Sportive Breaks, “the cycle travel specialists”.