The Legend of the Hell of the North

Oct 1, 2021

Paris-Roubaix is one of professional cycling’s greatest and oldest races, established as early as 1896. As one of the five prestigious monuments of the sport, it’s up there as the most sought out, desired race to win by the professional peloton.

Well known for its sheer brutality and unfathomably challenging cobbled terrain, referred to by many as, ‘The Queen of the Classics’, or more commonly, ‘The Hell of the North’. Fittingly, many riders describe competing in Paris-Roubaix as ‘a day in hell over hellishly tough roads’, often crossing the line completely depleted, covered in the grit and grime of northern France’s former coal-mining region.

Photography by Bastien Gason


Surprisingly, ‘The Hell of the North’ didn’t originate from the hellish terrain, but following the effects of World War I. When a group of race organisers and journalists were eventually able to inspect the route at the conclusion of the war to see what damage had been made on the previous race route, their reaction when discovering the northern part of the course was simply, ‘hell’. It was reported in the media the following day, and the name has stuck ever since.

The race went on to be cancelled again during World War II, and following the war, better recovery was granted to the area, including smoother roads. But with that, the debate sparked – Was there any point in holding a Paris-Roubaix with smooth roads? So, the organisers set out to work to scope out and include what was left of the cart tracks and pavé roads to ensure the race retained its legendary status.

Their efforts were worth it, as the legend certainly still stands. It’s a race where only true warriors cross the line in first place, following a battle full of stories, hardship and fierce determination. Crashes are had, legs are burned, souls are crushed for most, dreams are made for some and heroes are crowned.


Since the Second World War, Paris-Roubaix has taken place religiously every season, until last year’s cancellation due to the pandemic and further postponement this April.

Following the longest wait we’ve ever had to endure for the Hell of the North in our lifetimes, there is no denying that this weekend’s edition is going to be incredibly monumental. Not only will cycling fans across the world be treated to a special return of the men’s race, but also the inaugural women’s race, where the world’s best female cyclists will make history by lining up for the very first time to take on the iconic roads of Paris-Roubaix.

Photo by Kramon


FACTOR are immensly proud to be returning to the Hell of the North with several teams competing for the famous Roubaix cobble stone.

Israel Start-Up Nation will be lining up with a highly ambitious outfit, in support of Classics specialist Sep Vanmarcke. Vanmarcke has had great success in previous editions, placing in the top 6 five times throughout his career, including a 2nd place in 2013 and 4th in 2019, the last time the race was held. He will be supported by a well-rounded team of strong men and puncheurs, more than capable of guiding him to a great result. The majority of the team will be riding the OSTRO VAM, ideally suited to the rough, highly demanding terrain of the roads of northern France.

“Apart from having a good line-up for this race, our FACTOR bikes are ready, too. We did some recon rides last week on the course, and I tested out some of our material. I know which Maxxis tires I want to run and how much pressure is comfortable on the cobbles.” – Sep Vanmarcke. 

The 2021 route travels over a similar course to previous year’s: 258km with a daring 30 cobbled sectors featured, cruelly countering one after the other – some in quick succession. Included in the mix are the infamous 5 star sectors of Trouee d’Arenberg and the Carrefour de l’Abre, the latter lying just 5km from the finish in Roubaix, only metres from the France-Belgium border. The Paris-Roubaix finish in the Roubaix velodrome offers something truly magical and unique to any other race across the calendar. The sheer thrill and beauty combined of seeing the leading riders or solo leader enter the velodrome to battle it out for honours on the track is something remarkable.


Guillaume Boivin 🇨🇦
Hugo Hofstetter 🇫🇷
Jenthe Biermans 🇧🇪
Mads Würtz Schmidt 🇩🇰
Rudy Barbier 🇫🇷
Sep Vanmarcke 🇧🇪
Tom Van Asbroeck 🇧🇪

Photo by Louis Lambin

Photo by Kramon

Photo by Bettini

Parkhotel Valkenburg will be taking to the start-line the day prior, on October 2nd full of motivation and determination participating in the first women’s Paris-Roubaix, that includes 17 cobbled sectors over 116km. The young and talented development team have had a very promising season to date, well and truly making their mark on the pro tour. Paris-Roubaix will provide a whole new window of opportunity to fly their colours, be part of what is considered a pivotal step forward for women’s cycling, and round out what has already been an impressive season. The team will be racing on the O2 VAM

Parkhotel riders, Mischa Bredewold and Femke Markus have both been selected to race this weekend. Having recently undergone an extensive recon of the course, they are primed and ready to hit the pavé rolling.

Mischa Bredewold:

“It’s such a great opportunity to be able to start at the first ever women’s Paris-Roubaix, a bit bizarre even. I think it’s going to be an insane experience that we can only enjoy! I’m very pleased that we did a recon, because the cobbles there are something else. Now we have a bit of the Roubaix-feeling in our legs and we know what to expect on race day.

The number of cobbled sectors and their length is going to be the toughest part. Mons-en-Pévèle is super challenging and Carrefour de l’Arbre is, as feared, for sure the hardest section of the course! Everyone warned us that Roubaix is nothing like you’ve experienced before, but it’s hard to really understand what they mean by that. Now we know…The cobbles in The Tour of Flanders are nothing compared to these! The roads are smaller and there’s mostly just one part of the road that you can really ride on. In terms of technique, riding in the middle of the road will generally be the best way to get over the cobbles. But, most importantly, it will be about shutting out the fears and just going for it!

I want to focus on really enjoying the opportunity to ride this race and let it be an amazing experience! But we’ll be on the start line with a strong team, with riders that all love this kind of work. So, we’re definitely going to go for some good results together. Personally, I’m aiming to stay in the front group for as long as possible, and work together with my teammates to achieve the best result we can in the sprint for whatever position we’re fighting for at that point.

We will be racing on the O2 VAM, together with Black Inc wheels which are a great combo for battling over the cobbles. During the recon, the feeling was good, and we had no mechanical issues, so the bikes are something we definitely don’t have to worry about for Saturday.”

Femke Markus:

“Our Paris-Roubaix recon went really well. I was very curious about the course and I am so glad that we took the time to explore it. Now we know what the cobblestones will feel like and the points along the route that we need to pay extra attention on.

I really like the route – all the cobblestone sections and open plains. But there’s no denying that it’s going to be a tough race…You can only ride to a good result in Paris-Roubaix if you are really strong and have some good luck on your side. My favourite pavé sector has to be the Mons en Pévéle, but it’s also one of the most challenging sections of the course where race decisive moves will probably be made.  

I think the best technique to riding the pavé is with a lot of speed! If you drive harder, the cobblestones will hurt less. I also think it’s important to not grip the handlebars too tightly, but obviously enough to stay in control.

I would love to ride to a strong result, because it is one of my dream races. Cobblestones and a tough course always suit me. I’m going to do my best to race as long as possible in the first group. As a team, we will work together and help each other as much as we can. Together we are stronger than alone.”


Amber van der Hulst 🇳🇱
Femke Markus 🇳🇱
Kirstie van Haaften 🇳🇱
Leonie Bos 🇳🇱
Lieke Nooijen 🇳🇱
Mischa Bredewold 🇳🇱

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