It may not have the brutal reputation of some its sibling sectors, but this stretch of cobbles can still determine the outcome of the whole race
‘If you get through here, you’ve really made it to the “final” of ParisRoubaix,’ says Mitchelton-scott’s Mat Hayman, ‘although there is still a way to go.’
And Hayman should know: the Australian names the 3km section of cobbles at Mons-enPévèle, which comes just 50km from the finish in Roubaix, as key to his victory here in 2016 – although it was also key to his failure to defend his title in 2017.
‘I lost it, I missed the move there last year,’ he admits. ‘So often it’s where the race really gets broken up, which means it’s nice to get off Mons-en-pévèle and be at the front, as you know you’re really in the mix then.’
So much so that Hayman points out that the first five riders off that section in 2016 – him, Tom Boonen, Ian Stannard, Sep Vanmarcke and Edvald Boasson Hagen – made up the top five at the finish in Roubaix.
‘It really is a very good indicator of how people are going.’
While the famous Arenberg Forest and Carrefour de l’arbre sectors of pavé are never far from anyone’s lips when talking shop about Paris-roubaix, Mons-en-pévèle, introduced into the race in 1978 and a regular feature ever since, may just be the most significant sector you’ve never heard of. But you may well do an ‘oh yeah!’ when you’re reminded that it was here in 2016 that Fabian Cancellara was eliminated from among Hayman’s potential rivals after taking a tumble – a crash that saw World Champion Peter Sagan all-but bunnyhop one-footed over the Swiss rider’s bouncing bike and somehow stay upright, riding on as though nothing had happened.
It’s also where, in 2006, George Hincapie busted his handlebars (actually it was his steerer tube that snapped) and subsequently his collarbone in the resulting crash, leaving him sitting in the bordering field in disbelief at what had just unfolded, shedding tears of pain mixed with tears of frustration and the knowledge that it wasn’t going to be the year that he bettered his second place of 2005. And although he’d return another five times for a crack at it – riding the event a total of 17 times during his career – second was as good as it would ever get for the American, or indeed any American.
For Cancellara, though, there were happier times on Mons-en-pévèle’s pavé in 2010 when he attacked – or ‘simply’ rode away from – sole hanger-on Björn Leukemans to solo to the finish for the second of what would eventually be three wins at Roubaix (including twice doing the ‘Flanders-roubaix double’ in 2010 and 2013) before his retirement at the end of the 2016 season.