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Bring on the cobbles!

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Campagnolo surprised us

Campagnolo surprised us
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The rear derailleur appears mostly unchanged

The rear derailleur appears mostly unchanged
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Slipstream's Magnus Backstedt

Slipstream's Magnus Backstedt
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Save for the special paint and Swedish national champion graphic

Save for the special paint and Swedish national champion graphic
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The 'Limited Edition' badging on Astana's Bontrager tubulars

The 'Limited Edition' badging on Astana's Bontrager tubulars
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Saunier Duval-Scott ran box-section tubulars, too.

Saunier Duval-Scott ran box-section tubulars, too.
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Mavic is a team sponsor so we weren't surprised to see these…

Mavic is a team sponsor so we weren't surprised to see these…
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Campagnolo surprised us with an as yet unseen new version of its electronic group.

Campagnolo surprised us with an as yet unseen new version of its electronic group. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The new levers are decidedly curvier (and longer) than earlier ones that were based on the standard Ergopower levers.

The new levers are decidedly curvier (and longer) than earlier ones that were based on the standard Ergopower levers. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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In spite of the radical appearance, the levers actually feel surprisingly similar to existing versions so Campyphiles shouldn't get too worried.

In spite of the radical appearance, the levers actually feel surprisingly similar to existing versions so Campyphiles shouldn't get too worried. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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If anything, the extra 'peak' at the top of the levers…

If anything, the extra 'peak' at the top of the levers… (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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…now provides a perfect little hook for your thumbs.

…now provides a perfect little hook for your thumbs. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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This version of the Campagnolo electronic levers also uses a button on the inner side of the body instead of the familiar thumb paddle.

This version of the Campagnolo electronic levers also uses a button on the inner side of the body instead of the familiar thumb paddle. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The rear derailleur appears mostly unchanged from what we've already seen.

The rear derailleur appears mostly unchanged from what we've already seen. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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A titanium bolt mounts the new rear derailleur to the frame.

A titanium bolt mounts the new rear derailleur to the frame. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Likewise, the front derailleur appears the same as in previous sightings.

Likewise, the front derailleur appears the same as in previous sightings. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Campagnolo's semi-integrated battery can apparently also be used with standard bottle cages and not just the integrated carbon one we've seen before.

Campagnolo's semi-integrated battery can apparently also be used with standard bottle cages and not just the integrated carbon one we've seen before. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Check out the novel computer mount on this Cofidis bike.

Check out the novel computer mount on this Cofidis bike. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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At least one Silence-Lotto bike was also equipped with Campagnolo's electronic group.

At least one Silence-Lotto bike was also equipped with Campagnolo's electronic group. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Slipstream's Magnus Backstedt departed from Brugge on a mostly standard machine.

Slipstream's Magnus Backstedt departed from Brugge on a mostly standard machine. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Save for the special paint and Swedish national champion graphics, Backstedt's bike was similar to those of his teammates.

Save for the special paint and Swedish national champion graphics, Backstedt's bike was similar to those of his teammates. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Slipstream was in the minority with its choice of mid- and deep-section carbon wheels.

Slipstream was in the minority with its choice of mid- and deep-section carbon wheels. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Corima carbon-specific pads continue to be a popular choice.

Corima carbon-specific pads continue to be a popular choice. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Surprisingly, Backstedt opted for a carbon handlebar…

Surprisingly, Backstedt opted for a carbon handlebar… (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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…to go along with his massively long stem.

…to go along with his massively long stem. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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A Third Eye Chain Watcher is just about the only concession made to the cobbles of Flanders.

A Third Eye Chain Watcher is just about the only concession made to the cobbles of Flanders. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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However, the team's Paris-Roubaix bikes were mounted atop the car for use as spares.

However, the team's Paris-Roubaix bikes were mounted atop the car for use as spares. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The longer fork legs offer more mud clearance up top.

The longer fork legs offer more mud clearance up top. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Likewise, the chain stays are slightly indented on their inner surfaces for more room.

Likewise, the chain stays are slightly indented on their inner surfaces for more room. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Longer seat stays also offer more space for mud to pass. Note the long-reach Shimano R600 calipers.

Longer seat stays also offer more space for mud to pass. Note the long-reach Shimano R600 calipers. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Special dropouts decrease bottom bracket height slightly for more stability.

Special dropouts decrease bottom bracket height slightly for more stability. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Belgian Stijn Devolder and the rest of his Quick Step team ran traditional box-section tubulars.

Belgian Stijn Devolder and the rest of his Quick Step team ran traditional box-section tubulars. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The sticker says "Roval" but the telltale counterweight is still badged with the Ambrosio name.

The sticker says "Roval" but the telltale counterweight is still badged with the Ambrosio name. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Quick Step team mechanics are apparently hording tires as Clement has been out of business for some time now.

Quick Step team mechanics are apparently hording tires as Clement has been out of business for some time now. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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All of the riders' bikes started out as clean as Tom Boonen's spare, but none of them ended up that way.

All of the riders' bikes started out as clean as Tom Boonen's spare, but none of them ended up that way. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Tomas Vaitkus and his Astana team continued their spring campaign.

Tomas Vaitkus and his Astana team continued their spring campaign. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Like most of the other teams, Astana opted for more traditional box-section tubulars.

Like most of the other teams, Astana opted for more traditional box-section tubulars. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The 'Limited Edition' badging on Astana's Bontrager tubulars can otherwise be translated as 'not available to the public'.

The 'Limited Edition' badging on Astana's Bontrager tubulars can otherwise be translated as 'not available to the public'. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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They're far from a new idea but the machined sidewalls probably yielded more predictable braking for the Astana riders in today's variable conditions.

They're far from a new idea but the machined sidewalls probably yielded more predictable braking for the Astana riders in today's variable conditions. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Saunier Duval-Scott ran box-section tubulars, too.

Saunier Duval-Scott ran box-section tubulars, too. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Mavic is a team sponsor so we weren't surprised to see these…

Mavic is a team sponsor so we weren't surprised to see these… (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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…but we were a bit surprised to see these seeing as how they've been out of production for years.

…but we were a bit surprised to see these seeing as how they've been out of production for years. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Crédit Agricole riders headed out of Brugge with relatively beefy 25mm Continental tubulars fitted with dual Vectran breaker plies and Snakeskin sidewall protection.

Crédit Agricole riders headed out of Brugge with relatively beefy 25mm Continental tubulars fitted with dual Vectran breaker plies and Snakeskin sidewall protection. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Milram's usual Colnago Extreme Power bikes…

Milram's usual Colnago Extreme Power bikes… (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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…were outfitted with rarely seen Dugast road tubulars.

…were outfitted with rarely seen Dugast road tubulars. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The Bouygues Telecom team didn't bother with special wheels…

The Bouygues Telecom team didn't bother with special wheels… (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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…but it did run Michelin's stickier Pro3 Grip rubber.

…but it did run Michelin's stickier Pro3 Grip rubber. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Some Française des Jeux riders again opted to use Hutchinson Fusion 2 Road Tubeless tires on their Shimano Dura-Ace WH-7850-SL wheels.

Some Française des Jeux riders again opted to use Hutchinson Fusion 2 Road Tubeless tires on their Shimano Dura-Ace WH-7850-SL wheels. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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CSC's Cervélo R3 frames use almost impossibly thin-looking seat stays.

CSC's Cervélo R3 frames use almost impossibly thin-looking seat stays. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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However, if those stays can hold up under Stuart O'Grady, winner of last year's Paris-Roubaix, we dare say that they're probably plenty strong.

However, if those stays can hold up under Stuart O'Grady, winner of last year's Paris-Roubaix, we dare say that they're probably plenty strong. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Stefan Wesemann of the rebadged Cycle Collstrop team (formerly Unibet) headed towards the finish in Ninove aboard a German Canyon bike.

Stefan Wesemann of the rebadged Cycle Collstrop team (formerly Unibet) headed towards the finish in Ninove aboard a German Canyon bike. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Even the stem is German on Wesemann's machine.

Even the stem is German on Wesemann's machine. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Top-mount brake levers and heavily taped bars were par for the course over the Flanders cobbles.

Top-mount brake levers and heavily taped bars were par for the course over the Flanders cobbles. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Some Saunier Duval-Scott bars were taped a little thicker than most.

Some Saunier Duval-Scott bars were taped a little thicker than most. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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We don't see top-mount brake levers on the road too often but the cobbles call for unique equipment.

We don't see top-mount brake levers on the road too often but the cobbles call for unique equipment. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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SRAM's Red group continues to challenge the spring classics and this Saunier Duval-Scott rider appears to be particularly fond of the adjustable reach feature as his levers were set rather close to the bar.

SRAM's Red group continues to challenge the spring classics and this Saunier Duval-Scott rider appears to be particularly fond of the adjustable reach feature as his levers were set rather close to the bar. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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A few extra grams of plastic go a long way to providing some welcome security in harsh conditions.

A few extra grams of plastic go a long way to providing some welcome security in harsh conditions. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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This Bouygues Telecom rider went with some makeshift padding between his seatpost head and saddle shell. We're guessing it's a scrap chunk of Michelin tire judging by the color.

This Bouygues Telecom rider went with some makeshift padding between his seatpost head and saddle shell. We're guessing it's a scrap chunk of Michelin tire judging by the color. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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There's actually so much extra padding stuffed in the space that the saddle shell is bowed slightly upwards.

There's actually so much extra padding stuffed in the space that the saddle shell is bowed slightly upwards. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Milram riders were taking no chances with clearly labeled cobbled sections and climbs…

Milram riders were taking no chances with clearly labeled cobbled sections and climbs… (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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…as well as Garmin Edge 305 GPS units to make sure they knew exactly where they were on the course.

…as well as Garmin Edge 305 GPS units to make sure they knew exactly where they were on the course. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Shoe covers were standard fare for today. Even if their bodies were wet, at least the riders' feet were dry and sometimes that can make all the difference.

Shoe covers were standard fare for today. Even if their bodies were wet, at least the riders' feet were dry and sometimes that can make all the difference. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)

Race Tech: Ronde van Vlaanderen, April 7, 2008

New version of electronic Campagnolo Record group spotted

Just when we were pretty confident that Campagnolo had nearly finalized the design for its own electronic group, a new version showed up at the start of this year's Ronde van Vlaanderen. The derailleurs looked to be essentially unchanged from what we'd seen prior but the levers were wholly new items and the battery housing looks to have received some minor tweaks to allow the use of a standard bottle cage instead of the integrated carbon unit.

Relative to the modified Ergopower test mules we're used to seeing, the new levers bear an all-new shape with longer and curvier carbon brake lever blades. The significant length of lever blade on top of the pivot location suggests to us that adjustable reach might also be incorporated here (now a virtually required feature courtesy of SRAM's new Red levers).

The lever body is bigger, too, with a more pronounced and inwardly canted peak that provides a perfect place to hook your thumbs when you're dropping your elbows and getting low. Despite the dramatically different appearance, though, the new shape actually feels quite similar to standard Ergopower levers as the primary contact surface locations are mostly unchanged.

This latest iteration also boasts a functional change as the inboard thumb paddles have disappeared in favor of shrouded push buttons. A second button paired with the shift button is apparently used to operate the associated Ergobrain computer.

Even though this is the first time we're aware of that the new levers have made a public appearance, they look surprisingly close to production items save for the somewhat rough fit of the hoods. If these were true prototypes we would have expected the bodies and lever blades to be made using typical small batch procedures such as CNC machining, SLA (stereolithography) or SLS (selective laser sintering), yet the composite body and carbon lever blades indicate that final, or nearly final, molds have already been cut.

Slipstream saves Paris-Roubaix bikes for the big show

The Ronde van Vlaanderen is littered with stretches of cobbles but their somewhat milder surfaces (?!) apparently didn't warrant the use of one-off machines in the same manner as what we usually see at Paris-Roubaix. In fact, 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt (Slipstream-Chipotle) left the start in Brugge with his usual Felt F1 Sprint, complete with a Zipp 303 carbon tubular up front and a slightly deeper Zipp 404 in back. Save for the custom paint to commemorate his Swedish national champion status, there was little to distinguish his bike from those of the rest of the squad.

Slipstream does have Paris-Roubaix specials, though, and those bikes did still made it out on course; however, they were mounted atop the team cars as spares for the day. The current Belgian weather promises to make this year's 'hell of the north' a decidedly messier (and thus, more typical) affair than last year's uncommonly hot and dry running and from the looks of those 'spares', Slipstream riders should be ready to go.

The Paris-Roubaix Felts utilize a mix of F1 SL and F1 Sprint materials for extra strength and stiffness without too much added weight. Kevlar patches are also applied to the top tube for additional impact resistance from errantly spinning handlebars.

As is typical for the genre, there is also more tire clearance all around courtesy of longer fork blades, rangier seat stays and chain stays that are slightly indented right where the tire passes through. Unique rear dropouts decrease the bottom bracket height a bit for more stability. A 50mm-rake carbon fork offsets the longer rear end to maintain overall weight balance and also yields a longer and more stable wheelbase.

Longer-reach Shimano R600 brake calipers are used to accommodate the increased clearances but it looks like the rest of the componentry (save for the wheels, of course) will be standard team issue come next weekend.

Tried-and-true is the rule of thumb for classics wheels

Deep-section carbon wheels have come to dominate the scene in most road events but the vast majority of riders and teams have opted for more traditional hoops for the spring classics, including Quick Step's Stijn Devolder who soloed in for victory in front of his home crowd.

For example, Astana riders departed on Bontrager 'Limited Edition' wheels built with box-section tubular rims, DT Swiss hubs and 32 Sapim stainless steel spokes front and rear along with more rarely used brass nipples. Saunier Duval-Scott team members headed off on similarly configured wheels with Mavic box-section rims, some of which have long been out of production.

Tire selection was critical as usual and some teams cracked out some unusual selections for the Ronde van Vlaanderen to go along with their robust wheels. Durability was clearly a high priority for Crédit Agricole who used 25mm-wide Continental Pro Limited Competition ProTection tubulars with double Vectran breaker plies and Snakeskin sidewall protection. Milram, on the other hand, opted for a standard 23mm width but a deeper and more aggressive tread. The brand name on those tires was blacked out but the remaining text suggested they were Paris-Roubaix models from 'cross tire icon Dugast.

Clinchers were in the minority here but still made a few key appearances. Michelin-sponsored Bouygues Telecom riders used the new Pro3 Grip model in a 700x23c size for better traction on the uneven surfaces. As compared to the standard Pro3 Race, the most obvious difference is the addition of a slight file tread on the shoulders but we're guessing a softer compound is in use as well.

Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) made history a few weeks ago with his Het Volk victory on Hutchinson's Road Tubeless system. We didn't catch his race bike before he headed off in the morning but most of the team's spare bikes were again outfitted with Shimano Dura-Ace WH-7850-SL wheels and Hutchinson Fusion 2 Road Tubeless tires. We'll have to wait and see if the team opts for the Road Tubeless rubber come Paris-Roubaix.

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