The Madison-Genesis team may be famous for using steel frames but now that Genesis have produced a carbon-framed bike this good, that could all change. This feature originally appeared in Procycling magazine. To subscribe click here.
When I first heard that Genesis frames would be collaborating with Madison to form a new pro cycling team, I was intrigued by their philosophy of using steel bikes. Of course, their frames they used last year – built from Reynold tubes – had little in common with the frames I rode as a junior. Back then we had the choice of the stiff and heavy 531 frame or the light but very soft 753 model.
The all-steel Genesis Volare I rode last year was drastically different in terms of weight, stiffness and geometry. As the Madison team’s various victories showed, the quality of your riders is way more important than the material used to build their bikes.
But still, if you’re a team competing on the top level you want your riders to have bikes that can match their opponents’ on a technical level. Of course, steel frames are classy, elegant and comfortable but would a Formula 1 racer swap his car for a 1957 Corvette just because it’s classy and cool?
So it came as no surprise to me that Genesis did their homework and came up with the new carbon Zero frame, which will probably be the first choice for all the team’s riders from now on.
When I first got the Zero I was pretty impressed by the finish and the attractive aero shapes the engineers have developed. The slender toptube and the Kamm tail aero profiles at the seat-tube not only look very fast but on the road they proved that the design is quite strong when it comes to power transfer as well.
The chunky bottom bracket houses a press fit 86BB and the junction to the chainstays is as solid as the connection between the aero-formed headtube and the toptube. The front is sturdy, too, which was perfect when I tested the bike on the cobbled roads of Belgium late last year.
Any lingering nostalgia for the steel frame disappeared as soon as I hit the first cobbles. It’s amazing how much more comfortable the carbon frame is compared to the steel one. The handling is also very impressive – probably because of a change to the geometry: the carbon frame has a slightly longer wheelbase meaning that the directional stability is robust. It’s good to know you can trust the frame beneath you, especially when you’re riding fast on cobbles. The 25mm tubular tyres also came in handy, because lowering the air pressure a little bit can really reduce the roughness of your ride. Also, the danger of getting a puncture when there’s just over 90psi in your tyres is definitely smaller with tubs.
I wanted to ‘treat’ myself to a ride up the last six climbs of the 2014 Ronde van Vlaanderen: Koppenberg, Steenbeekdries, Taaienberg, Kruisberg, Kwaremont and the Paterberg. My dilemma began just over 30 kilometres from the Koppenberg...
I’d ridden about 50 kilometres on some quiet side roads with a few undulating hills, and my condition was pretty good. I rode along with a few accelerations, some fast corners and I was completely satisfied with the bike: these wheels are fast and stiff, the Pro Vibe cockpit feels great, and Shimano’s Dura-Ace Di2 is never less than a delight for its ease and accuracy. As I approached the Koppenberg, I remembered one training day as a pro when I failed to make it up the climb because I had a 39x21 and the so-called road was all muddy and wet. I tried three times but finally gave up; there was no way I was making it up there with our seven-speed training wheels and the mechanics had kept the ones with the 23 cassettes back in the truck.
When nature called I took the chance to check out my gearing and saw 53/39 etched into the small chainring and a close-ratio 11-25 block at the back. A 39x25 gear isn’t impossible for the bergs but it was definitely going to be a challenge!
As the Koppenberg drew closer the sheer steepness of the climb became clear again. You only need to come across a few wet patches or a muddy spot to totally ruin all your efforts. I accelerated the genesis to a good speed just before the cobbles started but by the time I reached the white house on the left I was back in slow motion with the hardest bit still ahead of me – the 22 per cent section. It’s pretty daunting just to look at it but that’s nothing compared to when you’re actually on it, with gravity trying to drag you back down.
I put in a really big seated effort until the narrow section through the trees was over. Luckily for me I had a sunny and totally dry day, good legs and the right tyre pressure. The Zero felt great and it’s also a definite advantage when you are all alone for that stretch of the climb. The fact that the cobbles have been renovated here (and also on the Taaienberg) does take a little bit of the ‘epic’ adventure away, though.
Knowing that from the summit of the Koppenberg I would only have about an hour to ride, I gave the Zero the stick, got down on the drops and bombed along.
Only minutes later, with the lactic acid still burning in my legs, I powered up the Steenbeekdries. With a slope of less than 10 per cent all the way, it almost felt like a chance to recover from the brutal challenge of the Koppenberg. I also now had the peace and quiet to ‘listen’ to the bike and its handling. The verdict: superb.
There is no noise in the drivetrain, the shifting is perfect even on cobbles and i love the stretched riding position whether on the hoods or even down in the drops.
The next downhill was another very short one, so when negotiating the corners on the narrow road I had to be careful not to get carried away into race mode – on a route like this, with a bike like this, strange things can happen.
The Taaienberg – which feels a lot less dramatic since it was refurbished – was my next hurdle. It’s only really steep for the first 200 meters so I knew that I could hammer into it without having to worry about saving energy for a steeper bit towards the end.
I attacked it Boonen-style – up and out of the saddle – and when I reached the false flat towards the end I tried to sit down a bit further back behind the saddle and low on the bars. A headwind was slowing me a bit but, again, the Genesis seemed to be the perfect companion. The power transfer is great and, despite the slightly longer wheelbase in comparison to the Volare, the handling is agile enough to shoot down the narrow roads with ease.
When rolling towards Ronse I had to keep my head up so that I didn’t miss the entrance of Kruisberg’s ‘oude straat’. It isn’t a steep berg but it is a long one. And if you’re not tempted to cheat by using the footpath or gutter to avoid the cobbles, the 1,850m can feel really long – especially in a final at Belgium’s biggest race.
From the top it was a long and fast run on the main road towards the start of the Kwaremont. I used the bike path that runs next to the roadway and every time a truck motored past me I could feel the pull and gained some speed.
There were a lot of trucks on the N36 that day and I must have been doing close to 70kph when I stopped pedalling and ducked into my descending position with my shoulders on the handlebars and the fork trapped between my knees. The Zero moved dead straight forward and the fast Dura-Ace tubular wheels made this rolling feeling last forever.
Entering Berchem I turned right and thought: “Two to go!” but the Kwaremont has always been my most hated berg. It’s over 2km long, has some really rough cobbles and various different angles of incline so that finding a rhythm is always really hard. The top bit is more a drag then a climb and the wind usually blows in from the right so that everyone ends up cycling in the left gutter. My legs were also starting to hurt and I literally blew about a minute from the top. Nothing new there: as a pro that always happened as well...
From the top, there were only two turns and a downhill before the Paterberg – the same road I’d taken the day before with the Fuji Transonic that I tested two issues ago. After that, my day would be over.
I probably took a few more risks than the day before but ‘racing’ on this famous route on such a brilliant bike really carried me away. Besides, I knew I had the great Dura-Ace brakes to help me.
When I turned right into the last couple of hundred meters of climbing, not only did the chain go all the way left but I did as well. I cheated myself up the gutter, staying away from the cobbles wherever I could.
By the end, I was triply happy: happy to have done such a ride on the epic roads of Flanders; happy because I could not have wished for a better bike; but also happy that it was over! All that harsh riding for the last hour was a good reminder of how hard this sport can be.