Cobble gobblers: the bikes and equipment of Le Tour’s pavé day

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The wet editions of Paris-Roubaix are the ones cycling fans remember most. They produce images that stay with us; images of riders suffering through the dirt and rain while battling the broken cobbles of the north of France. When you get this sort of action at the biggest stage race of the year it produces a day that goes down in the history books. This is exactly what happened on stage five of this year’s Tour de France.
CyclingTips reporter Dave Everett has been roaming the pits to bring us all the latest on the bikes and tech that the riders were sporting on yesterday’s brutal stage.

For a stage such as yesterday’s the teams needed to prepare on a huge scale — completely new bikes, wheels and a raft of other equipment is all prepared for one day of racing. A mistake in equipment choices could have had a major impact on the race.

At the start line in Ypres, Belgium, teams wheeled out new bikes, mechanics made last-minute adjustments and technical sponsors wandered around the buses making sure their kit was all in order and up to the teams’ high standards.

Given they were on home soil and only 150km from their service corse, it was a surprise to learn that Lotto-Belisol didn’t bring many of the bikes from this year’s Paris-Roubaix. If they were the same bikes, they had had a respray to match the retro style that the team are rocking for this Tour.

I spoke with the head mechanic of the team on what is his 25th Tour (see embedded audio below). He has seen trends come and go and even with his years of experience he still has trouble convincing the riders that he knows what he’s talking about.

The majority of the riders on the team were using his preferred Campagnolo Hyperon Ultra wheelsets, with a few deciding to discard his advice and use the deeper Bora Ultra Two wheels. His view of the majority of the peloton using such wheels is one of bafflement.

The Lotto-Belisol guys had a mix of the Fenix and the Helium framesets, with Andre Greipel preferring the lightweight Helium that is usually reserved for the mountainous stages. This was decked out in the usual Gorilla graphics of the star sprinter. The only other differences were the 27mm Continental ProLite tubulars and the plastic bottle cages — only two riders had decided to opt for a different chainring ratio.

Specialized sponsors three of the teams competing in this year’s Tour: Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Tinkoff-Saxo and Astana. For stage five all three teams were on the Specialized SL4 Roubaix.

For Alberto Contador they had installed the new CGR seatpost (or Cobble Gobbler, as it was apparently originally named). With a “Z” type bend to it at the top it acts like a leaf spring to help with cushioning. The Zertz inserts in the frame are designed to take out the road buzz, leaving the seatpost to tackle the big hits.

Renowned tubular manufacture FMB had been working alongside Specialized to produce a tubular for this year’s Roubaix. Tinkoff-Saxo is the only team using Specialized’s in-house brand wheels from Roval. Originally developed with help from Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s development squad over the past two years, Tinkoff now run them after changing from previous sponsor Zipp. The wheels weigh around 1,200grams, are 40mm high and 23mm wide. Development of the wheels involved attempted destruction over the very roads that were used on stage 5, at pressures as low as one bar (14.5psi) in the tyres.

One rider on the Astana team was spotted with a full Campagnolo Chorus groupset, the rest of the team was on Record or even Record RS.

Trek Factory Racing is a team that usually aims for the Classics and this includes Paris-Roubaix. They’d clearly taken a lot of knowledge from that one-day race and carried it over to stage 5 of the Tour. One major advantage that they have is the fact that their service corse is only a short way from the race start. This allowed them to bring every team car out to the race and support the riders by having a car parked at every pave section with wheels ready for any mishap. This is on top of the two follow cars. A total of 35 wheelsets were prepared for the stage.

Every rider on the Trek team was on the Roubaix version of the Domane, all rolling on 27mm FMB tubulars and slightly different chainring sizes. All team members except Frank Schleck and Fabian Cancelara had two bikes at their disposal. Frank and Fabian had three for a total of 18 team bikes ready for the stage.

French wheel manufacture Corima is a relatively small company when compared to several of the other wheel manufactures that sponsor teams. Indeed only Astana is sponsored by Corima. The team was using the Viva S wheelset — this like many wheels used by pros has a 23mm wide rim and this was wrapped in the popular FMB 28mm tubulars.

A new rear wheel is coming from Corima but we are apparently going to have to wait for the roads of the Tour to head in to the mountains to see what they are like. Rumour has it that the new wheel has a stiffer lateral hub and the freehub body engages quicker plus has less flex under extreme power.

Belkin swapped their usual Bianchi Oltre bikes for the the Italian manufacture’s Infinito CV model — Bianchi’s long distance comfort bike. This turned out to be the perfect choice for the day as Lars Boom took a spectacular win. One noticeable addition to the bike was the new prototype tubular by Vittoria. The markings on the side stated some new materials are being used, including “CorespunK” and an “ISOgrip” compound. Whatever this stuff is it sure helped Boom stay upright on the slick roads.

Belkin's prototype Vittoria tyres.
Belkin’s prototype Vittoria tyres.

An on-bike camera was spotted on the team bike of Haimar Zubeldia, mounted under the bars. We should expect some stunning footage from the Shimano camera.

The seatpost by FSA moved away from the current trend of reverting back to a small diameter, with a lot of companies using 27.2mm posts for comfort factors. The FSA SLK carbon post looked a lot larger in diameter.

IAM Cycling had high hopes for Heinrich Haussler on stage 5 — he came out of the team bus looking ready for action and disappointed at the fact two pave sectors had been removed. Team bike supplier Scott had produced a startlingly bright Addict frame and fork for the Australian. The dark blue and fluoro orange stood out in the grim wet weather. A small kangaroo with a German flag behind it sat under the lacquer on the top tube, a reference to his dual nationality. Apart from the custom graphics it was the same set up as every other IAM team member.

The IAM riders were sporting DT Swiss RC38T wheels with what looked to be the same gum-walled Schwable tubulars that the team had used in Roubaix in April. Elite alloy cages had been swapped over from the usual carbon version — these grip the bottles a lot more firmly over the cobbles.

Keeping bottles in place was also in the forefront of the Europcar mechanics’ minds when preparing the bikes. They had placed a small amount of grip tape around the arms of the Tacx cages to try to stop bottles jumping from the cages on the rough pavé.

Tape on the bidon cages to prevent bottles from falling out.
Tape on the bidon cages to prevent bottles from falling out. had clearly dug about in the back of their team truck for some old wheels as the Shimano C35 wheels that were on several of the Lapierre bikes had been seriously abused in past races. Logos had been scraped away and chips were visible. Most of the riders were on the bikes they’d used in Paris-Roubaix. Old Shimano Ultegra alloy seatposts were seen on a few of the riders’ bikes; an odd choice given that the new Lapierre Pulsium had been designed to be more comfortable.

The smaller teams such as NetApp-Endura and Bretagne-Seche clearly had to deal with the problems of the cobbles with the smaller budgets they run on. NetApp had most of the team on the same Fuji Altmira bikes that they’ll use throughout the Tour and only small adjustments were made to them — double-wrapped bar tape and a different ratio of front chainrings like many of the other teams. Bretagne-Seche also had Alloy Vision wheels on several of the bikes with Champion Paris-Roubaix 27mm tubulars.

Simon Gerrans clearly likes to feel the rough cobbles — his Scott Addict in custom Australian national champs colours had only a very thin wrap of Prologo bar tape.

Over at Sky, Chris Froome obviously was the talk of the town thanks to a wrist injury he picked up on stage 4. His Pinarello Dogma K was kitted out with his Osymetric chainrings that he always uses and his choice of tubulars were FMB. One item that was on the bike and may be worth keeping an eye out for on eBay is the bright yellow Stages-branded Garmin 510 — that item won’t be getting used any time soon.

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