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by Neal Rogers
March 29, 2017
Photography by Cor Vos
After all the start-stop-start about disc brakes in the pro peloton, will anyone be riding them at the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix?
Disc brakes offer not just better braking modulation, particularly in wet conditions, but also better clearance for a wider tire, which offers improved traction and a more comfortable ride. And while that sounds perfect for the rough and rowdy cobblestones of the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, all indications point to no major contenders risking the possibility of a botched wheel change on this new, not-fully-adopted technology.
Tom Boonen won the first UCI race in history on disc brakes in January aboard an S-Works Venge ViAS Disc, and had implied that he would finish his career this season using only disc-brake bikes.
Most recently, Boonen raced Tirreno-Adriatico on a custom-painted S-Works Venge ViAS Disc (pictured above), but he rode a similarly painted rim-brake Tarmac at Milan-San Remo, which he also rode last week at E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem — Belgian races held on cobbled roads that are also used at the Tour of Flanders.
Boonen, as well as Specialized-sponsored Peter Sagan, had been expected to ride Specialized’s recently redesigned Roubaix, with its unique Future Shock front suspension and disc-only design, for Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
However, as Specialized PR manager Sean Estes told CyclingTips Tuesday, the possibility of a puncture, and neutral support unable to quickly swap in a new wheel due to tight variances around the disc rotor, is too great a concern at one of pro cycling’s most important races.
Instead, both men — two of the biggest favorites for both races — will be riding rim-brake Roubaix frames that were produced just for the team.
Michael Matthews (Sunweb) rode a Defy Advanced SL Disc at Dwars Door Vlaanderen, but was back on rim brakes at Gent-Wevelgem, where he finished eighth. Giant has said its disc bikes will be used at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
“We want all riders to have easy access to neutral support,” Estes said. “There’s too much on the line for these races where punctures are so common. Disc neutral support just isn’t there yet.”
Estes also shared a statement Specialized sent out to its international dealers.
The Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are unique and beautiful races, and at the same time, extremely technical and exhausting. The many infamous cobbled sectors in these Monuments increase the possibility of a tire puncture, and managing the replacement of wheels is one of the main issues for all competitors — especially those aspiring to a great result. In a time where bikes with disc brakes have not yet been adopted by all teams, there exists a discrepancy in mechanical assistance along the course. For these technical and strategic reasons, working closely with our teams and riders, we’ve decided to supply Tom Boonen (for whom Paris-Roubaix will be the last race of his career), and all of our riders competing at both Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, with Roubaix bikes that have traditional rim brakes. This is a platform that’s UCI-approved and could be commercialized, that is if it’s determined to have enough consumer demand.
Some riders from Team Sunweb, sponsored by Giant, rolled out on the Defy Advanced SL Disc at Dwars Door Vlaanderen and E3 Harelbeke last week — with reports that the team would use disc brakes for the entirety of the cobbled classics — but the entire squad was back on older versions of the Defy with rim brakes at Gent-Wevelgem. Andrew Juskaitis, senior product marketing manager at Giant Bicycles, shared an internal marketing email that said “the majority of riders” would use the Defy Advanced SL Disc for “select cobbled races” including the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, though no specific riders were named. Matthews will not race Flanders or Roubaix, instead focusing on the Ardennes classics.
Nothing but rim! Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac) rode a rim-brake Cannondale SuperSix EVO on the Koppenberg during a reconnaissance of the Ronde van Vlaanderen on Tuesday. He’ll likely use a rim-brake Synapse at Roubaix.
Cannondale-Drapac has used disc brake bikes this season, including under some riders aboard the SuperSix EVO last week at Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali, but team communications manager Matthew Beaudin confirmed it will not use the disc-brake Synapse at the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix. Cannondale leader Sep Vanmarcke was spotted doing a Ronde recon ride on Tuesday aboard a rim-brake SuperSix EVO.
Michael Mayer, road brand manager for Trek Bicycle, confirmed that Trek-Segafredo leaders John Degenkolb and Jasper Stuyven — who have the Domane SLR Disc at their disposal — will ride a rim-brake Domane or Madone for Flanders, and the rim-brake Domane exclusively at Roubaix.
For the moment, it looks as though rim brakes will prevail at the cobblestone classics. However rain is in the forecast for Saturday night and the start of the Tour of Flanders on Sunday morning, which could change some minds — though not likely for any pre-race favorites.