In the 70’s and 80’s there wasn’t much difference between the bike a professional rode in Paris – Roubaix and his workaday steed. Fatter tyres for sure, at lower pressures; maybe forks with more rake and perhaps double handlebar tape or foam below the tape. For many riders though, including 1987 winner, Eric Vanderaerden the only concession was the tyres. Then, as now, the sprockets at the rear were close ratio with the inner front ring getting bigger, usually 46, but it depends on the rider’s choice. There’s no need for small gears in this race and the close ratio rings are largely in the interests of keeping the chain in place.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, serious marketing and mountain bike cross-over arrived in the world of road cycling. Gilbert Duclos Lasalle won at Roubaix on Rock Shox and even Belgian hard-man, Johan Museeuw appeared on a “full-suss” Bianchi (see the PEZ story here). The suspension fad has come and gone, but still Paris-Roubaix is used as a shop window by the manufacturers for new features. Some of these features make for a better ride or handling; some just make us want to buy bikes. And remember – that’s why all those companies are sponsoring teams – to sell product.
As for enhanced performance from carbon and titanium – bear in mind that the fastest Paris – Roubaix ever was in 1964 when Peter Post won over 265 kilometres at 45.129 kph. Moser’s last win, in 1980 was at 43.108 over 264 kilometres. Fabian Cancellara won last year at 42.240 over 259 kilometres; so the value of all that R & D might be open to question… However, it keeps me in a job.
This year’s Paris-Roubaix featured 24 teams and more than a dozen favourites – last Saturday we dropped in on a few teams to see what they were building up for the pave…
Discovery Channel Trek
We talked with Ben Coates, one of the team liaisons from Trek, about the bikes. This is the 3rd year the team has run these bikes at Roubaix – and only Roubaix. They’re actually a specially built team-only frame that mates the rear ends from Trek’s Pilot series bikes to Trek 5200 front triangles so that final geometry is very close to the current team Madones. The design evolved out of the team’s request for a frame set with enough clearance to easily run 26mm tires.
Did I say that the suspension craze is finished? Not quite, Trek’s creation for the cobbles has an elastomer damper incorporated in the rear yoke, this gives limited travel and a degree of suspension; there’s no hinge or pivot arrangemant on the chainstay, Trek simply rely on the flex of the carbon.
We’re told the riders like ‘em – Tony Cruz says it’s a noticeably better ride on the cobbles, Tomas Vaitkus compares the ride to a Cadillac (he means it in a good way!), and former Roubaix winner and team DS Dirk Demol agrees it’s a ‘big advantage’ on the cobbles.
At the front end there’s what looks like a slot above the fork end, this isn’t a suspension feature, it’s an extension of the fork length to give more clearance under the fork crown. As is the norm at Disco, one-piece Ultegra seat pins are used in place of the jointed Dura Ace. Fat, fully-rubberized tyres were by Hutchinson but with no model designation.
This little gem dropped onto our lenses when we met Cannondale’s Rory Mason and his lovely wife, Janelle on Sector 3 of the pave, taking photos of Het Volk winner and fancied rider for Roubaix, Filippo Pozzato’s Synapse.
Rory explained; “The team won’t be on their usual System Six. They will be on Synapse, all-carbon frames; they are five mm. longer on the chain stays and have five mm. more front fork rake – so they are a centimetre longer overall than the System Six. In addition, they are a centimetre taller in the head. The Synapse have our ‘Save’ front and rear fork design to give a more comfortable ride.
Pozzatto’s Cannondale Synapse featured a 1cm longer wheelbase than his usual System Six.
Tyres will be 24 or 27 mm Vittoria Special Pave TT. we haven’t decided yet, up from our usual 23 mm.” Will Liquigas’ other piece of heavy artillery, ‘Big Magnus’ be on the same set-up? “No, he likes his System Six and is sticking with it.”
46 tooth inner chainrings were popular to reduce chain drops.
And another little nugget, Mauro Da Alta of Liquigas will be testing Campag’s electronic gears on the pave. (* see the recent Pez feature with Bert Roesems here) suggesting that the Italian Company is getting close to a retail sale launch-date.
The Cannondales had a reasonable day – Roberto Petito was 5th, while Pozzato was next best at 35th, Maggy was 47th.
Tom Boonen’s much-debated ‘new’ Specialized was still under wraps, but we were given 2003 Roubaix-winner, Peter Van Petegem’s Specialized S-Works to play-with; no gizmos or gimmicks just 46/53 rings and the same hefty-looking Hutchinsons as Disco. Boonen was 6th on his aluminum bike, while De Pete was 23rd.
Ever-smiling De Panne and Flanders-winner and hot Roubaix favourite, Alessandro Ballan’s Wilier was just the kind of machine to get a sad, old equipment fanatic like me excited. It was basically a cyclo-cross frame with big clearances, and with the seat stays reversed, so that the blanked-off cantilever brake pivots were on the opposite side of the stays from the rear brake. Ballan was 61st.
Ballan’s rear stays – note the covered cantilever brake bosses, indicating the stays have been ‘flipped’.
Another cyclo-cross feature were the ‘mini’ brake levers on the tops, to facilitate breaking without changing hand position. The all-carbon frame has a pop rivet fixed through the seat tube into the seat pin to prevent the pin slipping-down; it’s just a pity that the saddle was squint! Rings were 46/53, cranks were alloy Chorus and whilst shifters and both gear mechanisms were Record, the brakes looked a lot like old model Shimano.
Tubs were Vittoria Pro Team Special Pave and the final touch to this real one-off hybrid was little strips of skate board grip-tape to the cages to stop the bottles bouncing-out.
Francais des Jeux Lapierre
At the Francaise des Jeux truck, an immaculate carbon cyclo-cross Lapierre was being prepped by the mechanics for rising Belgian star, Philippe Gilbert but there was much debate about whether this would be his race bike. He wound up 52nd – but we’re not sure on which bike!
Cantilever brakes were popular – like the on Gilbert’s LaPierre.
Lots of carbon, gizmos, special tyres; in the end it still comes down to the legs…