Before the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 Paris-Roubaix race, only a decade of fighting in two world wars had interrupted a tradition established in 1896.
The 2021 competition emerges from the hiatus boasting a new way: a woman's race.
The contest was announced for 25 October 2020 just ahead of the men's event. But as numbers affected by the coronavirus pandemic continued to rise, both races were cancelled.
A spike in cases accounted for the rescheduled date last April.
Saturday 1 October though will witness a flurry of female riders battling the elements and the 116 kilometres of a course bearing nicknames ranging from Queen of the Classics to Hell of the North.
“It’s a brutal race that we’ve all followed many many times on television," said Lisa Brennauer of the Ceratizit-WNT Team. "And now we finally can take on this challenge ourselves. So I think it’s a cool step for women’s cycling and I’m excited to be part of it."
At the Tokyo Olympics, 33-year-old Brennauer was part of the Germany squad that took the gold in the team purusit and is considered one of the favourites for Saturday's race.
"I like the style of the race," she added. "I think it’s also something that suits me as a rider. So I’m extra motivated for this first edition.”
More than 130 riders from 22 teams will line up in Denain on Saturday where they will race around the town for 30km before heading into the fabled hell of the countryside.
The first cobbled section is 33km into the 116 km long race and 17 more cobbled sections follow. They are likely to be wet with forecasts showing a 91 percent chance of rain to add to 27kph of winds from the south-west.
“I’m not afraid of the cobblestones," said Elisa Longo Borghini who will be emulating her brother Paolo who rode the race in 2008 and 2014. "I particularly remember his second race r because I saw it on several cobbled sectors," added the 31-year-old Italian.
"I was watching everything attentively so it wasn’t a new terrain for me when we went for test rides for our race."
Longo Borghino, despite holding the Italian national road racing and individual time trial titles, is not considered one of the favoruites for the Paris-Roubaix.
She will be part of Trek-Segafredo team dedicated to ensuring victory for leader Ellen van Dijk.