Tour of Flanders tech: Boonen’s custom rim-brake Roubaix, cobble-smoothing comfort, and more

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The Spring Classics present a challenge for the mechanics of the WorldTour teams and the select few Pro Continental teams that get to ride these illustrious races. All the races put on by organiser Flanders Classics — from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad through to Scheldeprijs — and ASO’s Paris-Roubaix incorporate the famed cobbles of northern Europe; old broken roads which, for generations, have either made or broken riders. These races demand a lot, not just of the riders but also the equipment they use.

We took a tour of the pits at the Tour of Flanders to find out what kit was being used to tame the bergs and cobbles of De Ronde.

Three special bikes for Boonen

In his last Classics campaign, Belgian superstar Tom Boonen (QuickStep Floors) had not one, not two, but three custom bikes prepared for him by Specialized, his team sponsor. Sat atop the team car, in prime position above the passenger’s door (where the mechanic sits), was a glossy white and gold Tarmac, decked out with matching gold Roval CLX50 wheels. To tip it overboard, Boonen had pristine white, very-pro-looking bar tape with Supacaz bar end plugs.

He started the race on Specialized’s latest incarnation of the Roubaix, a bike with an in-built suspension cartridge dubbed Future Shock. Unlike the disc brake models available to the public, Boonen’s was a conventional rim-brake setup. In line with UCI rules, Specialized will have to make sure this build is also available to the average Joe at some point.

Partway through the race, Boonen switched to his first spare bike, the Tarmac, then later returned to using the Roubaix. His third bike — the second Tarmac — didn’t see any action, and the Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 components with which it was built finished the race as clean as it started.

A few team buses over, team title sponsor and bike sponsor Wilier Triestina supplied team leader Filippo Pozzato with a very “bling” Cento10 Air, whose chrome blue colourway stood out from the rest of the team’s standard red and yellow livery. Italian manufacturer Ursus supplied the 24mm-deep carbon wheels, and in a not-very-Italian manner, the bike was kitted out with a Shimano Dura-Ace groupset.

Not as harsh as Roubaix

At Paris-Roubaix, we tend to see teams on a variety of machines designed to endure the cobbles. At Flanders, where the cobbles aren’t as harsh, the riders tend to stick with pretty standard setups. Most will run normal tubulars in widths of anything from 25 to 28mm. Tyre pressures will be lower at some teams than others. It seems that the bigger the rider, or the more classic in thinking, the higher pressure that they will run. We saw pressures ranging from 4.4 bar (64psi) through to 7.9 bar (115psi) — a huge variation.

Keeping it smooth

Beyond tyre choice, there’s still a few extra adjustments that riders and mechanics can make to soften the roads. This might include an extra wrap of bar tape, but it was amazing to see the number who were running very thin tape this year — much of it in the same style as Lizard Skins with a rubberised surface for extra grip. Many riders apparently like to feel the road instead of being isolated from it.

Saddles are something else that tend to be chosen with caution — it’s not uncommon to see old, worn saddles atop fancy bikes.

Greg Van Avermaet’s BMC Teammachine SLR01

Though it’s been spotted before, Greg Van Avermaet’s BMC Team Machine SLR01 is well worth an inclusion in this piece. The Olympic champion rode his liquid silver and gold bike to second place. Who knows what would have happened if it hadn’t been for his unfortunate crash late in the race.

When it comes to keeping the legs ticking over up the bergs of Flanders, any little aide will help. For Van Avermaet, this came in the form of a 30-tooth sprocket on the rear. The 11-30T cassette was matched with standard 39/53T chainrings.

The rest of the bits

Fighting the crowds on race day to get a glimpse of what items the riders will be using isn’t always that easy, so we were fortunate to be able to get a good look at the Colnago C60s being used by UAE Team Emirates the day before the big race.

The team uses a full Campagnolo Super Record EPS groupset with the only variation being the German-made Power2Max power meter. Keeping the Italian theme, bars and stem are supplied by Deda while the seatpost is Colnago’s own. Wheels are Campagnolo Bora Ultra 35s.

There was practically no change from their normal race setup for Flanders, apart from the addition of 28mm-wide Vittoria Corsa tubulars and the Elite Ciussi cage that’s a favourite for keeping a firm grip on bottles when you hit the cobbles.

Sometimes teams — usually the smaller Pro Continental setups — will use older equipment over these tough cobbled races. The conditions take their toll on running parts, and keeping costs down by using last year’s race kit is at times an option. This year we didn’t need to look any further than Cofidis to see this in action.

Odds and ends

Away from the race, and in the build-up to the big day, we managed to get a sneak peek at two items that you’re sure to see more of soon.

Usually, deals on equipment are done later in the year for the following season, but we bumped into the guys from US-based roof rack manufacturer Seasucker who were chatting to several teams and the UCI about their new nine-bike roof rack.

The rack has vacuum cups — not just suction cups — that hold the rack in place, but also allow it to be removed and packed up small for easy transport. Currently, most racks on team cars come from only a handful of manufacturers who have monopolised the business for years.

SRM were also showing off their latest chainset, a 640g modular design they’ve built in partnership with Look of France. There will be two available — a sealed unit and a USB-rechargeable version. The sealed unit has a claimed battery life of a staggering 1,400 hours. The modular system allows for it to be changed between different bottom bracket designs. It is already available to the public for €2,200 (AU$3,080 or an extra €150/AU$210 for the USB model).

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