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The cobbles of Northern France demand a lot, not just of the cyclists pounding across them during Paris-Roubaix, but of the bike and component manufactures as well. In this post CyclingTips’ roving reporter Dave Everett takes a look at some of the bike modifications that have been introduced for this year’s “Hell of the North”.
UPDATE: Dave has updated his piece below with some more observations from the startline of Paris-Roubaix.
Over the years we’ve seen some “interesting innovations” in the pro peloton ahead of Paris-Roubaix, from Steve Bauer’s Motorola Custom Merckx, with its outlandishly long wheelbase and slack angles, to Trek and Bianchi both producing full-suspension road machines for their respective teams in the 90s. And then there were those Cannondale road bikes with Headshoks that the Seaco team used.
Roubaix is a race where new products will get the ultimate testing. And by the looks of things, this year will be no different.
It isn’t just the frames themselves that are designed with the cobbles in mind. Wheels, contact points and pretty much every other item used will be picked to hopeful perfection. All items are designed to help reduce the fatigue that is bound to happen to any rider when tacking the multiple cobbled sections of the race.
A trip around a few of the team hotels this week and a snoop around the pits at both Flanders and Scheldeprijs has turned up some interesting finds.
For starters Team Sky, along with their bike sponsor Pinarello, has been working on an all new Dogma-K Air. It’s a bike that is built purely for the cobbles and while a few riders on the team have used this at some of the Spring Classics already, it was designed with Paris-Roubaix in mind. I had a quick word with one of the Sky mechanics to see how it differs from the usual team issue Dogma 65.1.
The same toray carbon is used but a new layup is in place for the Dogma-K. The bike borrows its aero seat tube from the Dogma 65.1 but a new beefier head tube is up front, with its 1 1/4″ to 1 1/8″ bearings. The wheelbase is just 5mm longer than a normal race frame, on average — not even close to what Steve Bauer attempted to race on back in the 90s. These differences vary from size to size thought, and the same goes for head and seat tube angles.
One interesting fact is that due to the top tube length the riders need a different size to what they would normally ride. For example, Bradley Wiggins normally rides a 56cm Dogma, but for the Dogma-K he’ll be using a 52cm. The larger head tube puts the rest of the dimensions out quite a way. A sweeping-style back end on the seat- and chainstays apparently softens the ride.
Over at Astana the riders will be using the stock standard Roubaix model from Specialized. All teams that are sponsored by Specialized will use this bike, and all will be plain black, including those of Tinkoff-Saxo and Omega Pharma-QuickStep. There will be no fancy paint jobs here, unless your name is Tom Boonen of course.
One interesting thing I noticed was the inclusion of an alloy FSA seatpost for the Astana guys. When questioned, Perry the mechanic said he felt it was a safer option. Even though he’s never seen a carbon seatpost break he’d prefer to keep it that way.
Astana is also one of the few remaining teams in the peloton that is still using classic box-section-style rims. Ambrosio supply the wheels for Roubaix, not the normal team sponsor, Corima. The hubs are Campagnolo Record and the spokes are good Belgian-built Sapims.
Giant-Shimano meanwhile will be using the Defy carbon model with its slacker angles and longer wheel base. Due to the width of the tubulars that most teams use — up to 30mm in some cases — the majority of Shimano equipped bikes have an almost Sora-looking caliper on them as opposed to the usual Dura Ace.
Rubbing may not be the issue with regular Dura Ace brakes, but due to the tubular being so close, any form of debris could quite easily jam the wheel. The simple black calipers were definitely longer reach than the Dura Ace, though this may be the only difference in the calipers design.
Sky and BMC were the only two teams I noticed that had stuck with Dura Ace calipers, but looking at the BMC GF01 frame that will be used I was shocked to see only about 3mm of clearance between the tubular and the inside of the brake. I was not alone in this observation. While I was hanging around the BMC truck Thor Hushovd wandered past, his quizzing of the mechanic and look of puzzlement said it all.
Sticking with BMC, the team will all be using the GF01, again with slacker angles and a frame designed to take the hits from the cobbles. It’s exactly the same as you’d buy in a shop, apart from the 53/46 chainrings up front — there’s no need for a 42-tooth chainring (or smaller) in Paris-Roubaix.
The BMC riders all appear to be using Di2 satellite shifters so they can easily change gears while keeping their hands on the bars. The wheel of choice seems to be the Dura Ace C50, decked out with an unbranded tubular.
Team BMC is one of many teams that has swapped out their standard team issue carbon bidon cages and replaced them with alloy cages from the sponsor’s catalogue. One little “hack” I noticed was the use of skateboard grip tape on the cages to help better hold on to bidons on the pave.
The guys over at Garmin are using the Cervelo R3 frameset — one for the road and one for the roof of the car. Garmin-Sharp seems to be one of the only teams that has decided to stick with full mechanical Dura Ace. With Garmin-Sharp, as with most teams, the wheel choice is carbon, through Mavic in this case. The team has a vast arsenal to choose from, but most riders will be using the 60mm deep version of the Cosmic Carbone.
Carbon wheels now seem to be commonplace — it wasn’t so long ago that teams were all using simple hand-built box-section alloy wheels, such as the ones Astana will be using. Now with the ramp up in development of carbon, most teams seem to use the mid- to deep-depth versions (40-60mm). A few years back it was just the teams on Zipp that seemed to trust carbon; clearly many companies have caught up.
Trek Factory Racing is pretty much on the same bike as last year, the Domane, albeit with a new paint scheme. The wheel of choice is the Bontrager Race Shop Limited 50mm Carbon Tubular. These wheels are the same depth as a standard 50mm wheel but slightly wider to accommodate the wider tyres used. The lacing pattern is a surprisingly low 18 holes up front and 24 out back.
One notable modification was on Fabian Cancellara’s bike: a custom carbon cage on the rear mech that houses oversized jockey wheels. This apparently helps reduce friction. Fabian is also the lone rider on the Trek team to use a mechanical groupset.
Lampre-Merida will be showcasing a new bike: the Ride, a new model from team sponsor Merida. Last year the bike was used as a prototype on the cobbles, this year it’s the finished product. A huge headtube is one of the more striking points of the bike; that and the lime green and garish pink.
The Fulcrum carbon wheels that the Lampre-Merida mechanics had lined up and ready looked to have seen a fair amount of race abuse already. These were definitely not new wheels for the Queen of the Classics.
Lampre-Merida also seemed to be the only team with both satellite and sprint shifters installed on their bikes.
AG2R-La Mondiale is the only team I spotted that seems to be lining up on Sunday with cyclocross bikes. The lack of decal on the blacked out Focus didn’t help with being able to determine the model of frame being used. The bike was fitted with Avid cantilever brakes and secondary brake levers on the tops of the bars. I asked a team mechanic which members of the team would use the cross bikes and I was surprised to learn that it was the more experienced Roubaix veterans on the AG2R roster.
So this is just a selection of the 25 teams that have spent months getting a small fleet of bikes and kit ready for one single day of racing. The question is: will the months of planning and gear selection pay off in the race?
With the hordes of fans, mechanics dashing about and the ever-increasing amount of barricaded-off team areas, it’s becoming harder to get up close to the bikes at Paris-Roubaix. But I did manage to catch a glimpse of some new and interesting kit that a few of the teams used.
First up Bretagne-Seche: the ProContinental team were aboard Kemo bikes. Kemo is a relatively new brand which was created in late 2012 by the two brothers that originally started the Kuota brand. The team will be riding Kemo bikes for the next two seasons. A mix of FSA and Shimano components comprised the groupset.
Vision supplied the wheel sets, but unlike fellow Vision-sponsored team Cannondale Pro Cycling, Bretagne were using the lower-tiered wheel set, the Trimax TC50. It just shows you that you don’t always get the best kit if you’re a pro.
The Bretagne-Seche riders were perched atop Selle Italia saddles, with several riders on models with the centre cut out, such as the SLR Tekno Flow. This team was the only one I spotted using such saddles.
Over at FDJ.fr the team were on the new Roubaix-inspired and tested Lapierre Pulsium. With its “interesting” almost-triple-triangle-style joint between the seat stays, top and seat tube it’s a bike thats clearly had function put before looks.
Even in the flesh it’s not the prettiest of bikes. But it’s designed to do a job. With an inbuilt elastomer dampener between the top and seat tube it’s idea is much like that of the Trek Domane — to help reduce the vibrations on rough roads. The fork reminded me of that off a Pinarello Dogma. The endurance bike market is growing and clearly the French brand wants a piece of it. Will we see the team use the bike during the rest of the season.
Given FDJ.fr is team on a newly developed bike that had a large product launch in the week building up to Paris-Roubaix it was surprising to see that they hadn’t shelled out much on new wheelsets. Every Dura Ace wheelset racked up on top of the cars looked as though it had seen multiple cobbles over the years. Large gauges and scuffs covered many of the wheel sets.
On the subject of scuffed wheels, over at Trek Factory Racing the very bike that you’d think would be pristine had what looked like a micro crack in the rim surface. The rear wheel of Fabian’s spare bike on the roof had a visible crack running through the braking surface.
Fabian didn’t really have anything different from what I noticed when compared to any of his teammates bikes. The now-standard Spartan paint job was present; the only real bling pice on his bike was the red Nokon cables.
Over at Garmin both David Millar and Johan Vansummeren had outrageously long stems: 150mm! American company Arundel supplied the team with stainless steel bidon cages for this event. New cages, from Elite’s classic Ciussi to Tacx’s Tao had been swapped in for the usual carbon versions on pretty much every team bike on the start line.
Belgian squad, Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise were piloting the latest Merckx frame, the angular looking EMX-525. This team were keeping it old school along with Astana — they both had classic Ambrossio box section rims running on Campagnolo Record hubs laced with Sapim spokes. Usually the young squad would be seen on the Dutch manufactured, Fast Forward wheelsets.
As well as using Rotors chainrings and cranks the team also were seen using the company’s new power meter.
The best bit of “low tech” I spotted though was from Tinkoff-Saxo rider Chris Juul Jensen. The usual piece of paper with a long list of sectors and distance, usually written in tiny letters, was absent from his bike. Instead Chris had opted for a full bar and stem option. With tape and texta covering both areas, Chris didn’t need to squint while his eyes were being rattled from his skull over the cobbles to see how much further he would have to suffer.