On the legendary cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, riders face a true test of endurance, skill, and strategy. Known as ‘The Hell of the North,’ this race and cyclo is a battleground where only the strongest and smartest prevail. With its notorious stretches of uneven cobblestones that jolt and challenge, mastering this monument of cycling requires more than sheer power. But with some guts, preparation, and understanding of the unique demands of its historic roads anyone can become a ‘finisher’.

In this comprehensive guide, we offer you 10 strategies, each a piece of the puzzle to not only survive the cobbles but to possibly even enjoy them. From the setup of your machine to the strategic nuances of ‘raceday’. We’ve gathered our experiences and analysed those of others to improve your performance, whether you’re a seasoned pro or a dedicated enthusiast. And as cycling technology evolves, so too do the tactics for tackling such a storied route. Don’t be surprised when we subtly introduce how GRAVAA’s Kinetic Air Pressure System (KAPS) can integrate into these strategies. Offering a UCI-approved advantage to those ready to embrace innovation on the cobbled paths of cycling’s most revered classic.

You need a bit of luck and good legs and I had both today. 2023 Paris-Roubaix winner Mathieu van der Poel

Flying over cobbles playbook tip 1: bike fit and comfort
The foundation of a strong performance on the cobbles is a well-fitted bike. A bike that fits you perfectly will not only be more comfortable over long distances but will also allow for better control when navigating unpredictable terrain. A proper bike fit should consider saddle height and position, handlebar height and reach, as well as pedal alignment. Comfort on the bike means less energy spent fighting poor posture and more energy available for pedaling power. Additionally, consider your handlebar tape or grips and saddle choice, which can greatly affect your comfort during the arduous hours on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix.

Flying over cobbles playbook tip 2: tire choice and maintenance
Tires are your only contact point with the ground and choosing the right ones for the cobbles is crucial. Wider tires, typically between 28mm and 32mm, can offer better traction and comfort on the rough terrain. They allow you to run slightly lower pressures without increasing the risk of punctures, which can absorb the impact from the cobbles and reduce fatigue on your hands and arms. The tread pattern should also be considered; a tire with a subtle tread can provide additional grip in dusty or muddy conditions, which are often encountered during Paris-Roubaix. Regular maintenance and inspection of your tires before the event can help prevent mechanical issues mid-race. Ensure there are no cuts, the tread is not overly worn, and that the sidewalls are in good condition.

Flying over cobbles playbook tip 3: reconnaissance
Riding the course in advance is invaluable. Each section of cobbles has its own character; some may have deeper ruts, while others have smoother sections that can be used to your advantage. By knowing these details, you can position yourself better, choose the right line, and know when to conserve energy or when to push harder. Reconnaissance also allows you to test out your equipment choices under similar conditions, giving you the chance to make any necessary adjustments to your setup. In events like Paris-Roubaix, where every every watt costs, having the foreknowledge of each sector can provide a strategic edge over the competition or even getting to the finish .

A Paris–Roubaix without rain is not a true Paris–Roubaix. 1984 & 1986 Parix-Roubaix winner Sean Kelly

Flying over cobbles playbook tip 4: pacing and energy management
In an event as grueling as Paris-Roubaix, understanding how to manage your energy reserves is vital. The cobbled monument is often compared to a marathon for its demand on endurance and the importance of pacing. Rather than starting out too aggressively, you should aim to measure your effort throughout the day. This means knowing when to take shelter in the masses to conserve energy and when to exert effort to stay clear of the chaos that the cobbles can cause. It’s about the long game—keeping enough in reserve to be able to respond to attacks, bridge gaps, and sprint for the finish if needed. Training should focus not just on peak power, but on the ability to recover and maintain a strong pace over the course of several hours.

Flying over cobbles playbook tip 5: the science of tire pressure
Tire pressure is a critical variable that can be optimised to improve performance on the cobbles. Too high a pressure and the bike becomes difficult to control, bouncing off the cobbles, which can be both uncomfortable and slow. Too low a pressure increases the risk of pinch flats and can cause the tires to feel sluggish. The ideal pressure allows the tire to deform enough to absorb the irregularities of the cobbles, maintaining traction and control without compromising rolling efficiency. For those with access to GRAVAA’s KAPS system, this balance becomes easier to achieve. The ability to adjust tire pressure on the fly allows riders to respond to changes in the course conditions or fatigue levels, maintaining optimal contact with the road and ensuring efficiency and comfort are maximised.

Flying over cobbles playbook tip 6: mastering the cobbles
The cobbles of Paris-Roubaix require a unique riding style. Staying relaxed is crucial; tense muscles will tire quickly and transmit more of the vibrations from the cobbles into your body. Instead, riders should ‘float’ over the cobbles, using a light but firm grip on the handlebars, allowing the bike some autonomy to find the smoothest path. This technique reduces fatigue and helps maintain control. Furthermore, where you look is where you go—focus ahead, not down, and let your bike handle the immediate terrain. By looking forward, you can anticipate and react to larger obstacles and adjust your body position accordingly. This strategy helps in maintaining momentum and reducing the physical toll of the cobbles on the body.

If you win Paris-Roubaix it doesn't matter how you broke away. 2014 Parix-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra

Flying over cobbles playbook tip 7: riding position
The right position on the bike and within the peloton is a critical aspect of racing, especially on the unpredictable cobblestone sections of Paris-Roubaix. Staying near the front of the group can provide a clear view of the road ahead, allowing you to anticipate and react to the cobbles, potholes, and any potential hazards. Moreover, being upfront can help you avoid the bottleneck effect that happens when the peloton compresses as it enters narrower roads. However, maintaining this position can be taxing, as it often means facing more wind resistance. With a technology like GRAVAA’s KAPS, riders can slightly lower their tire pressure when they’re at the front to gain additional traction and comfort without falling back. Conversely, if drafting in the group, riders might increase the pressure for better rolling efficiency on smoother sections, thus conserving energy. This subtle adjustment capability could provide a strategic advantage in both positioning and energy conservation.

Flying over cobbles playbook tip 8: technical skills
Paris-Roubaix is not just a physical challenge but a technical one as well. Navigating the cobbled sections requires skill and finesse; it’s about knowing how to handle your bike when it’s rattling beneath you and how to take corners without losing speed or control. Improving your bike-handling skills can lead to significant gains. Practicing on similar terrain and conditions is invaluable. Master the art of riding through rough sections without braking or pedaling, which can throw off your balance. Learn how to use your body as suspension, with slightly bent elbows and knees to absorb shocks. The ability to maneuver quickly can also help you avoid crashes or move into a better position. These skills can save not just time but also reduce the risk of mechanical failures or falls.

Flying over cobbles playbook tip 9: teamwork and communication
Cycling is often viewed as an individual sport, but teamwork is essential, especially in races or cyclo’s like Paris-Roubaix. Having allies to share the work at the front, protect you from the wind, or help chase down breaks can be invaluable. Communication with your team is crucial; knowing when a mate can cover an attack or when it’s your turn to lead your group over the pavé can make or break your day. In addition to verbal communication, being aware of your mates and other riders non-verbal cues will provide insights into their condition and intentions. A well-orchestrated ‘team effort’ can conserve energy, control your pace, and set you up for a pleasant finish of the day.

The whole team has put a lot of effort into this, testing equipment and so on. This happened because of that. 2022 Paris-Roubaix winner Dylan van Baarle

Flying over cobbles playbook tip 10: optimal cadence and gear selection
Maintaining an optimal cadence is essential on the unpredictable surfaces of Paris-Roubaix. The right cadence helps you pedal more efficiently, conserving energy over the long haul. On cobbles, a slightly higher cadence can help keep the bike rolling smoothly over rough terrain. Reducing the impact on both the bike and rider. Conversely, too slow a pedal stroke can lead to a choppy ride, causing greater fatigue.

Selecting the right gear is just as important as cadence. The correct gear allows you to maintain your cadence without overexerting yourself. On varied terrain like that of Paris-Roubaix, where you transition from smooth asphalt to jarring cobbles, finding the right gear can be challenging.

This is where the adaptability of GRAVAA’s KAPS system can be invaluable. By adjusting the tire pressure to match the changing road conditions, riders can maintain a more consistent cadence. Higher pressure on smoother sections allows for efficient power transfer and a faster roll. When hitting the cobbles, reducing the pressure can absorb some of the terrain’s irregularities, which means less bouncing, better traction, and the ability to keep a steady cadence without the terrain dictating your rhythm. This harmony between tire pressure and cadence, facilitated by KAPS, can lead to a more controlled and less fatiguing ride, giving you the edge over competitors who may not have this level of control.

The results were positive. We experienced the technical advantages, but also noticed that KAPS provides more comfort on the bike. The riders who used the system had less discomfort in their arms after conquering yet another cobblestone section. 2023 Jumbo-Visma Head of Performance Equipment Jenco Drost