The hands of the Hell of the North

On the cobbles at Paris-Roubaix, the hands cop a battering. Eight micro-interviews tell that story.

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 07.04.2024 Photography by
Gruber Images, Iain Treloar, and Kramon
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At Paris-Roubaix, more than any other race, the story of the day is written on a rider’s body. There’s the dirt and mud spattering their bodies and kits; if a rider is unlucky there are grazes and gore spreading across knees and elbows. But what is a near constant – from first rider on the road to last – is damage to the hands. 

In the infield of the velodrome, after finishing Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift, the riders of the women’s peloton peeled their bodies off their bikes and lay on the ground. Some began sobbing; some stared blankly into middle-distance. Then, almost without exception, they assessed their hands: some peeling off gloves, some peeling off tape, some having ridden bare-handed. 

There are many stories to be told from this day’s racing. This particular story is about the battered hands of those who conquered Paris-Roubaix. 

Susanne Andersen displays her hands above her handlebar. Both are dirty and have large, open blisters.

Susanne Andersen (Uno-X Mobility) – 23rd, @ 2:14 down to winner Lotte Kopecky

IT: I see that you were crying … can you talk about the emotion of doing this race? 

SA: I was crying because I saw Pfeiffer [Georgi] crying – she was third, and she’s a really good friend of mine, so this is why I ended up crying. But there’s definitely a lot of emotion in the race – because you’re literally going through hell, and like so many doubts about yourself and about you’re doing during the race. But you have to keep riding. Everyone goes through parts of the race where they sort of don’t believe they can do it. But you have to get through that part, and yeah, keep on believing and keep pushing. And then you will have results, or be a true champion in the end I guess. 

IT: How are your hands? 

SA: Yeah … last year they were completely fine, but for some reason … I have baby hands this year (laughs) so I didn’t handle the cobbles this year really well. So now they are full of blisters. 

Maëlle Grossetête's hands are mostly clean but she has a large blister in the pocket between thumb and forefinger on her right hand and on the outside base knuckle of her left index finger.

Maëlle Grossetête (Human Powered Health) – 34th, @ 3:15

IT: How was your day? 

MG: Oof, super hard day … This race is always so hard. There was the crash at the beginning of the race; all the team was in the front group, but for me, I had a flat tyre and a crash and also Audrey – I don’t really know what happened but she was in the car, so yeah, she must have had a problem but my radio was not working, so I don’t know. It’s such a beautiful race, but hard. 

IT: How are your hands? Can I take a picture? 

(Grossetête wordlessly raises hands)

IT: That looks sore. 

MG: Yeah, a little bit … 

Madelaine Leach's left hand is in surprisingly good shape, with a large red area at the palm pad on the outside, and a wrap of worn black tape on her middle finger.

Madelaine Leech (Lifeplus Wahoo) – 84th, @ 12:43

IT: Can we talk about your day?

ML: I’m dead. I’m tired. Everything hurts. 

IT: But it’s over now. 

ML: Yeah. That’s really good. 

IT: How is it riding with your hands like this? 

ML: Painful, but the crowds help you to maybe not be able to feel it. Just going down some of the sectors, all you’ve got is a wall of roars. So that’s good, and quite helpful. (laughs)

IT: What does it feel like to finish? 

ML: Yeah, it’s really nice, and like the feeling last year, I never made it to the cobbles; I crashed, so to get here this year feels like I’ve run the race myself, even though I’ve come in like 100th. Just because of how hard it is, and you don’t know what’s going to happen, if you’re going to puncture, if you’re going to crash. It’s an achievement getting to the finish.

Elenud King's hands feature red marks on the palm pads and a large blister on the outside pad of each. Her wrists are wrapped in hot pink kinesiotape.

Eluned King (Lifeplus-Wahoo) – 76th, 12:39″

IT: Can I talk to you quickly? I’m interested in how everyone’s hands are: yours look like they’re not great…

EK: No they’re pretty sore, I’m not going to lie (laughs). When I did the recon, they were fine, but then today, they’re just in pieces. 

I couldn’t hold on, and then I just wiped out because I was riding like this (mimes a claw) 

Femke Beuling's right hand has a nasty, cracked blister between thumb and forefinger. It's red and angry and there's a lot of dirt in it and we hope she cleans it out thoroughly.

Femke Beuling (VolkerWessels Women’s Pro Cycling Team) – 98th, @ 18:21

IT: Your hands look like they really hurt. 

FB: Yeah, they do. 

IT: What is it like riding like this? Is it hard to grip? 

FB: I was like, as long as my hands are hurting I can push on. 

IT: There’s a big blister here, a big blister there … 

FB: Yeah, it’s part of the job. 

Stina Kavegi's hands are in particularly rough shape: dirty, tape between thumb and forefinger peeling, and several large blisters.

Stina Kagevi (Team Coop-Repsol) – outside time limit, @ 20:21

IT: So, I’m curious how your hands are feeling.

SK: Yeah (laughs), it’s some problems like that. 

IT: Does it hurt under the gloves? Is it blistered under the glove? 

SK: Yeah… (pulls off gloves)  Oh! (laughs) Nice!

Rebecca Koerner has two large peeling blisters on her right hand between thumb and forefinger where you would grip a brake hood.

Rebecca Koerner (Uno-X Mobility) – 96th, @ 17:53

IT: How are your hands doing? 

RK: (points to blister} I only have this. Only on my right hand. It’s OK. 

IT: How does it affect your ability to control and brake and things?

RK: Like, the last few sectors it hurt a little bit, but I don’t really think about it. I just thought about going full gas to the finish. 

IT: And now you don’t have to ride for a little while! 

RK: Yeah I have the next three or four days off the bike, so it’s OK. 

IT: Is that enough time for it to heal? It looks pretty nasty …

RK: Eh, it’s OK – I expected worse. (laughs)

Laury Milette smiles as she raises her taped and worn hands for the camera. Aside from dirt and red marks, she appears to have maybe one, two blisters.

Laury Milette (Team Komugi-Grand Est) – 75th, @ 12:31

IT: How are your hands? 

LM: Ah … They’re OK. I took care of them just before, cos I knew it was going to be a rough day, but should be fine. 

IT: So no blisters? 

LM: Oh yeah, of course, but it’s Paris-Roubaix so I was expecting it. No blood!

IT: You look cheerful, after having done all of that!

LM: Yeah, I’m just glad to have finished. 

Zoe Backstedt balances a can of Red Bull in one hand as she displays several large, cracked and open blisters on her hands.
The battered hands of Zoe Bäckstedt on the infield of the Roubaix velodrome.
Zoe Backstedt helps her sister Elynor peel tape from her battle-scarred hands in the showers post-race. Zoe is still wearing her helmet.
The Bäckstedt sisters help each other with their tape in the showers after the race.
A Lidl-Trek rider's deep-red painted fingernails poke out past dirty wraps of tape and a mud-spattered glove.

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