Tour de France tech: bikes built for the pavé

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For the past two editions of the Tour de France we’ve seen the return of cobble in early stages of the race. It’s become an engrossing and exciting part of race, but not without polarising views from the peloton. Last year the weather was a demanding and foul with rain storms that the peloton had to battle through; In contrast to yesterday’s stage with dust and sun making it slightly more favourable to the GC contenders.

It’s stages like this where mechanics have their work cut out for them. Instead of the typical lightweight aero race bikes that will see the riders around the roads of France, the bikes that have seen action in April are dusted off and prepared for one more important day in July.

Stage four saw the peloton cover only 13.7 kilometres of cobbles over the 223.5 kilometre course, but that seemingly small amount of pavé could make a big difference in the outcome of the overall race. Therefore the teams and the mechanics put a lot of hard work and emphasis in getting all the equipment correct.

We had a dash around the stage start area to check out what the riders would be using to soften the hard hits from the cobbles they’d be enduring over the longest stage of this years tour.

Cavendish’s bike

Cavendish started the stage on his old Venge. The custom CVDSH paint scheme stood out amongst the all-black bikes that the rest of the Etixx-Quick-Step team. The question hung though as to why Cavendish was starting on an older model Venge when he’s been using the new Venge ViAS for a few weeks now.

Several riders, usually the team leaders, start the race on standard road bikes and changed to more compliant models once they were about to enter the first cobbled sections. We also saw a similar patters at this years Paris-Roubaix. So it seemed an odd choice that Cavendish started on the older Venge, why not his new one and then change to a Roubaix model before the cobbles? As of writing we are waiting on an official response from Specialized and the team, we’ll update you when we hear.

Cavendish had the standard Roval Rapide CLX60 tubulars that he has been using on all the stages so far with what seemed to be the standard Specialised Turbo tubulars as opposed to the FMB carcase with a Specialized compound rubber tread that a few of his team mates were using. Unlike many he stuck with a 39/53 chainring.

Steering was taken care of by the aero looking set up of the new Vision Metron carbon stem and Metron 4D bars, Bouhanni of Cofidis was also spotted using a similar set up on his Orbea.


Chainring choice is one aspect of the bikes that gets close attention by riders and mechanics alike on a stage such as this. Over at Trek Factory Racing, once the excitement of Cancellera’s chances were thwarted in yesterday’s stage, we got a clear view of their equipment choices for the day. The majority of the riders were running 44/53T on the front with a 11-25 cassette, many other teams with similar chainring choices. The Europcar team bikes had their Campagnolo Super Record chain sets looking almost single-speed due to the large inner and outer ring almost looking like a single item.

Contador’s bike

Contador and Nibali both are on teams sponsored by Specialized, but each though opted for slightly different set-ups on their bikes. Both had chosen to use the race proven Roubaix model with its Zertz vibration dampeners in the seatstays and forks. Contador chose to soften the rough cobble surfaces even more with the addition of Specialized’s CG-R seatpost, which has a curved upper that has elastomer vibration dampener embedded in it. One noticeable problem with using this seatpost was the fact that it wouldn’t allow for the ASO’s new Dimension Data transponder that usually attaches to the top of the seatpost and saddle rails. Instead the Tinoff-Saxo mechanics had to place it at the bottom of the post next to the seat clamp.

Contador’s Team Issue BB386 Evo chainset were set up with a whopping 46/53 chainring combination. Compare this to the bike of Nibbli’s with its standard 39/53 chainring combination.

Contador was rolling on the Roval CLX40 carbon clinchers with the FMB/Specialized made tubulars in a comparatively skinny 26 mm width. Nibali on the other hand had some of the widest tubulars we spotted: 28 mm wide again the FMB/Specialized Turbo version these were glued to his Corima 32mms+ carbon wheels.

Vincenzo Nibali’s bike

Peter Kennaugh’s Pinarello

British national road champion Peter Kennaugh was aboard the new Pinarello K8-S. The only real difference to this and the ones that the rest of the team were using was the fact that it had a custom paint scheme. His “everyday” road bike the Dogma F8 is also painted in custom colours, but more of that in a future post.

The defining feature of the K8-S is the DSS 1.0 (Dogma Suspension System) – a small damper at the top of the seatstays that joins to the seat tube in conjunction with the flexstays. This is Pinarello’s offering to help smooth the cobbles out. The geometry is also slightly tweaked from the standard F8 model he uses.

The finishing kit of bars, stem and seatpost was outfitted with PRO, plus a Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupset. Shimano’s Dura Ace C50 carbon tubulars matched with 27mm wide FMB Paris Roubaix edition tubulars finished the package. One other slight difference is the double wrapped bar tape.

Tyres and wheels

Wheels and tyres are always an interesting item when it comes to hitting the cobbles. The shear amount of teams using FMB tubulars is astounding. The small French manufacture has become a favourite over the years in the pro peloton. Along with the collaboration between FMB and Specialized that we first saw at the classics last year, it now seems that Mavic have got in on the action. Over at Cannondale-Garmin where Mavic are the tyre and wheels sponsor, a few tubulars had the FMB Paris-Roubaix caracas with the usual FMB hand-inked stamp on them but with an additional Mavic SSC (Super Service Corsa) red and yellow logo on them. It may be the case that Mavic, like Specialized, produce the rubber compound that they attach to the FMB caracas.

At many of the teams it looked as though they had replaced the standard race wheels with a selection of the wheels that the team would reserve for the cobbled spring classics. Scratches and worn labels on many of the wheels (especially at Lampre-Marida) showed that the wheels were far from new.


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