Paris-Roubaix's biggest challenge for the bikes used there has always been its brutal pavé – more akin to a dirt field full of haphazardly placed granite blocks than anything resembling a road. Manufacturers continually try to infuse as much vertical flex into the riders' machines as possible but for Sep Vanmarcke of the Belkin squad, it's also now a matter of attenuating vibration via Bianchi's novel Countervail technology.
Bianchi perhaps wisely doesn't reveal too much about Countervail, aside from saying that it incorporates some elastomeric materials that are layered into the carbon fiber in select areas of the frame. Though it doesn't provide lots of movement like any sort of suspension, our experience suggests that it does remove some of the sting of the cobbles, particularly in combination with the flattened chain- and seatstays.
Truth be told, though, Vanmarcke almost certainly got a bigger benefit for his huge 30mm-wide tubulars – the widest we've seen yet from Vitttoria at the Hell of the North. Team mechanics wouldn't disclose Vanmarcke's tire pressures but we observed more than a few riders on race day setting up with just 65psi or so.
Those tires were wrapped around 50mm-deep Shimano Dura-Ace carbon wheels, which teams say actually ride softer than the company's 35mm option.
Shimano also provides much of the rest of Vanmarcke's build kit, including the powerful dual-pivot brake calipers (with blue-compound Shimano carbon-specific pads), carbon-bodied pedals, and Dura-Ace Di2 9070 electronic group outfitted with both climbing and sprinting supplemental shift buttons. The 175mm-long crankarms bear the Dura-Ace logo, too, but it's augmented with power-meter hardware from newcomer Pioneer.
While much of the gear is decidedly high tech, some aspects of Vanmarcke's setup are actually quite traditional. The classic-bend bars are positioned with the bottom of the drops level with the ground, the lever bodies are clamped with the tips even with the drops, and there's just a single layer of tape covering the aluminum bar.
Vanmarcke also went with the big gear ratios typical of Paris-Roubaix, including 53/44-tooth chainrings and a tight 11-23T cassette.
Total weight for Vanmarcke's bike as pictured is 7.86kg (17.33lb) – a rather remarkable figure when you consider the incredible abuse dished out on the cobbles. Vanmarcke crossed the line on Sunday in fourth place.