Race Tech: Paris-Roubaix, April 14, 2008
Paris-Roubaix spat in the face of the weather gods today as Sunday morning brought crisp and clean air, a helpful tailwind, blue skies and plenty of sunshine after a short stint of rain overnight. Cool temperatures warranted the use of arm, and occasionally knee, warmers but there were no storm clouds in sight.
As a result, many teams and riders correspondingly adjusted their equipment selections somewhat and the intermediate time checks reflected the higher speeds relative to the predicted average schedule. In fact, the majority of the Specialized-sponsored Quick Step and Gerolsteiner team riders set off on rather stock-looking S-Works Roubaix SL frames, including eventual winner Tom Boonen. We would imagine that they were probably reinforced with additional carbon plies as is usual with the big Belgian and the geometry almost certainly mimicked that of his usual Tarmac SL2. The shock-absorbing Zertz inserts were clearly in place front and rear.
As expected, though, both sets of team machines were primarily outfitted with traditional box-section aluminum tubulars with Quick Step running rarely seen (and fat) FMB tubulars. Boonen's gearing was along the lines of most of the other riders in the field with a 53/46T combination up front and a tight 11-23T cassette.
As rumored, Team High Road's George Hincapie passed over his special road-'cross hybrid creation in favor of his more familiar Giant TCR Advanced SL Team, complete with tight tire clearances and more aggressive handling.
Hincapie also started out with a pair of carbon fiber deep-section HED Stinger tubular wheels and he stuck with at least the front one all the way through to the finish line. Most importantly, though, it was reported that Hincapie's standard road machine simply fit and felt better and he apparently didn't want to stray away from what was familiar for such an important day. Hincapie ended up with another high finish in ninth but sadly, the cobblestone trophy escapes his grasp for yet another year.
Similarly, Liquigas star Filippo Pozzato already had his designated Paris-Roubaix ride all settled in just hours before the race but decided to revert to the custom painted Cannondale SuperSix he used in Milano-Sanremo last month, at least for the first 100km or so at which point the team made plans for a bike change.
Pippo's machine was decidedly standard with few, if any, concessions made for the cobbles. The deep-section carbon tubulars were wrapped with decidedly narrow 23mm Vittoria tubulars, there was no additional padding on his handlebar, and the bar tops were free of any supplemental brake levers.
As it turns out, though, the second bike wasn't actually all that different anyway. The bars were still single-wrapped (with rather thin fi'zi:k tape, no less), there were still no extra brake levers (Pozzato was one of the first to use them in the past), and the rims were still carbon tubulars. The rim profile was far shallower on that bike, though, and tires were upsized to significantly fatter 27mm-wide Vittoria Special Pavè TT tubulars.
2004 Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt (Slipstream-Chipotle) is undoubtedly hard on equipment yet his bike (and the bikes of his teammates) was rife with carbon fiber. Moreover, they weren't even the special machines that team sponsor Felt had created just for Paris-Roubaix as evidenced by the tight clearances front and rear and standard Shimano Dura-Ace brake calipers.
Surprisingly, the team also decided to go with Zipp carbon tubular wheels across the board, including a rear 404 and a slightly shallower 303 up front. Team mechanics fitted those wheels with Vittoria Pavé EVO-CG tires in 24mm and 27mm casing widths front and rear, respectively. Rear wheels were also built around the team's usual PowerTap SL 2.4 hubs across the board.
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