Paris-Roubaix ought not be returned to its traditional place in the calendar.
And no, not because it rained, and might be more likely to rain at this time of year than early spring. The 2021 Hell of the North ought to have quenched our collective thirst for a rain-soaked, clay-caked, slip and slide edition of the race. For a few years at least.
Not that it was not good. God no, it was a great race.
Paris - Roubaix
In the Winners’ Words - Lizzie Deignan on her historic Paris–Roubaix win
17/12/2021 AT 15:44
It was not however many orders of magnitude more thrilling or entertaining than the majority of runnings which took place between 2003 and 2019.
Nor, more pertinently, did it have more to deliver because of the conditions under which the race was held.
https://embed.acast.com/5dc3e0f15c36750d20b37665/606eba1f6e73b73f51a570f2
The mud made a nice change, for sure. A great many of those watching will never have seen one like it, will only have heard the stories of those who “survived” the 2002 edition. Thankfully now we can reset the clock, abandon our obsession, perhaps talk about something else for a bit.
Yes, it was a superb spectacle, but what made it so was not the injection of an additional layer of jeopardy. Paris-Roubaix 2021 was brilliant for the manner in which it raced. How the 174 competitors conducted themselves; the tactical decisions they made, or failed to make, the moments seized or allowed to slip by; how they gave everything, risked it all, laid it all on the line, for one chance of glory, their own or that of a team-mate.
All of that would have been equally true of even the driest squib of an event. Had it taken place in the throes of a deep, Indian summer’s day, it still would have held us in rapturous attention from first kilometre to final.
It might have given us a particularly gung-ho, no holds barred form of racing because it came right at the end of the year, with many of the riders calling time on their seasons, and a few, including Andre Greipel and Mitch Docker even their careers, on the paved tracks of northern France.

'Unbelievable. I'm very happy' - Sonny Colbrelli delighted with Paris-Roubaix win

Whether or not that was true is too difficult an argument to make, however, and would rely on the testimonies of riders we haven’t spoken to, so we won’t try to make it.
What is undeniable is that Paris-Roubaix is the Queen of the Classics. It’s not everyone’s favourite race, we know, but even those who aren’t as keen on it as they are De Ronde would not deny that it is one of the two biggest one-day races of the entire year.
Its rescheduling towards the end of 2021, although an act of necessity rather than choice, has been a gift to our sport’s calendar, imbuing the latter months with a triumphal significance they have not, in memory, enjoyed.
That is because the cycling season is structured unlike that of most other sports. With no league format to speak of, it is instead constructed from a series of disconnected events, all of which weigh differently in their importance.

'Viva Italia! Forza Italia! They've done it finally' - Colbrelli sprints to Paris-Roubaix victory

Until someone manages to solve this problem, the vital forces of balance and rhythm, tension and momentum, all of which are what keep the viewers watching races big and small, will remain a product of calendar placement. A “normal” year’s calendar, in which Paris-Roubaix falls a week after Flanders, in early April, is massively lopsided.
For many of the more casual viewers the biggest race of the season, the Tour de France, is the climax to it, after which they almost automatically switch off. That’s despite Le Tour coming three months (or less) after the spring classics. La Vuelta does not hold the same draw. Nor, despite the UCI’s best efforts, does the World Championships. We love Il Lombardia, the race of the falling leaves, but it is not Roubaix.
This weekend, on which the first Women’s edition and the 118th men’s race have both taken place, has been a truly wonderful festival of cycling. The October placement gave many something to look forward to far beyond the Tour’s early summer Champs Elysees finale. We can wait a whole year to do it again.
Paris - Roubaix
'Road to recovery has begun' - Van Vleuten riding again after Paris-Roubaix crash
19/10/2021 AT 10:47
Paris - Roubaix
'You are nuts!' - Rowe hits back at critics blaming him for Pedersen crash
04/10/2021 AT 14:54