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Begun in 1896, Paris-Roubaix, third of the ten UCI World Cup races, has become the most famous single-day bicycle road race. Paris-Roubaix is one of the Classics and carries the nickname Queen of Classics or La Pascale, the Easter race. Held annually in the mid-April rainy season, over the cobblestoned roads and hard rutted tracks of northern France's coal-mining region, La Pascale leaves riders caked from head to toe in mud and grit, earning this race the nickname, l'enfer du Nord, or the Hell of the North.

In 1968, on the guidance of Jean Stablinski, the starting location was changed from Paris to Compiègne, approximately 80 km to the north. Famous for rough terrain, the route of Paris-Roubaix is adjusted slightly from year to year as the older streets are resurfaced and the race organizers seek to replace them with other challenging cobbles, to maintain the character of the race. Since 1977 the course has been routed through the Wallers-Arenberg forest. The race culminates with 1km on the Roubaix velodrome.

Since 1964, the record average speed of 45.129 km/hour has been held by Dutch cyclist Peter Post. The record for the most victories in the race is held by the Belgian cycling legend Roger De Vlaeminck, who between 1972 and 1977 took first place four times (for which he was awarded a trophy in the form of a paving-stone). Octave Lapize (France), Gaston Rebry (Belgium), Rik Van Looy (Belgium), Eddy Merckx (Belgium) and Francesco Moser (Italy) each have won three times. Italian legends Jules Rossi and Fausto Coppi won in 1937 and 1950 respectively. The only German winner of Paris-Roubaix was Josef Fischer, who won the first year the race was held, 1896. Belgian cyclists have won 47 times, French cyclists 30. Meanwhile, in the U.S. hopes are placed on George Hincapie or Fred Rodriguez to be the first American to win l'enfer du Nord.

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