Hell of the north: Paris – Roubaix, 1919

Cycling is full of hyperbole and cliche. Epic, hell, brutal. It’s rarely any of these. And then you see the images of the first Paris-Roubaix race after World War 1. A ride through hell. This is the origin of Paris-Roubaix’s nickname as the ‘Hell of the North’.

“This wasn’t a race. It was a pilgrimage.”
Henri Pélissier, speaking of his 1919 victory.

This is a short photo story of the 1919 edition of Paris-Roubaix. This blog post was inspired by the great story of the Roubaix local and twice winner of the race, Charles Crupelandt, or the ‘Bull of the North’. This is a must read story of how life can give and take without mercy. Seriously, go read it now.

“They knew little of the permanent effects of the war. Nine million had died and France lost more than any. But, as elsewhere, news was scant. Who even knew if there was still a road to Roubaix? If Roubaix was still there?

…As they neared the north, the air began to reek of broken drains, raw sewage and the stench of rotting cattle. Trees which had begun to look forward to spring became instead blackened, ragged stumps, their twisted branches pushed to the sky like the crippled arms of a dying man. Everywhere was mud. Nobody knows who first described it as ‘hell’, but there was no better word.”
Procycling, 1919

Paris-Roubaix, 1919

I don’t think this is 1919 despite what Google suggests however this was probably the result for many riders in the race that year
I think this is Belgium rather than France but it gives you an idea of the devastation

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4 thoughts on “Hell of the north: Paris – Roubaix, 1919

  1. Thanks for finding out this bit of cycling history and posting about it! What great and also terrifying pictures. I feel like in the west we are so divorced from the reality and true devastation of war.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hiya – suchan inspiring blog. I started getting into cycling a few years back but still intimidating to try to do more than just ‘social rides’ but these posts are great to see some of the other side of things 😊
    I was initially however looking through your blog as I am a post-graduate student at UCD undertaking research into the experiences of blogging on social media.
    I would love to get in touch and talk to you about being involved in this research although I appreciate that you are extremely busy. If you would like any further information about my work, please let me know and I look forward to hearing from you.


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