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Kinder weather keeps the special machines at home

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The side of the team bus was awash with Cervélo S2 bikes

The side of the team bus was awash with Cervélo S2 bikes
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It looks like this might very well be Zipp's new ultra-durable 303

It looks like this might very well be Zipp's new ultra-durable 303
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Skil-Shimano team mechanics fitted Goesinnen's bike

Skil-Shimano team mechanics fitted Goesinnen's bike
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Roger Hammond (Cervélo TestTeam) set off from Brugge aboard a new cobbles-specific RS while the rest of the team donned aero bikes.

Roger Hammond (Cervélo TestTeam) set off from Brugge aboard a new cobbles-specific RS while the rest of the team donned aero bikes. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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A raised brake bridge affords more tire clearance but requires a long-reach brake caliper.

A raised brake bridge affords more tire clearance but requires a long-reach brake caliper. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The fork is similarly adjusted with longer blades for additional tire clearance and another long-reach caliper.

The fork is similarly adjusted with longer blades for additional tire clearance and another long-reach caliper. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Didn't believe that 3T used carbon dropouts on their Funda Pro fork? Here's your proof as seen on this unfinished team-only model.

Didn't believe that 3T used carbon dropouts on their Funda Pro fork? Here's your proof as seen on this unfinished team-only model. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Hammond was using 24mm-wide Vittoria tubulars today but hmm… doesn't that rim seem awfully wide?

Hammond was using 24mm-wide Vittoria tubulars today but hmm… doesn't that rim seem awfully wide? (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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It looks like this might very well be Zipp's new ultra-durable 303 which is wider and more bulged than before.

It looks like this might very well be Zipp's new ultra-durable 303 which is wider and more bulged than before. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The same tire mounted on a standard Zipp 404 makes the difference in rim width much more obvious.

The same tire mounted on a standard Zipp 404 makes the difference in rim width much more obvious. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The RS' longer head tube requires Hammond to use a -17º stem to get the bars low enough.

The RS' longer head tube requires Hammond to use a -17º stem to get the bars low enough. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Hammond apparently prefers 3T's compact bend.

Hammond apparently prefers 3T's compact bend. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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All of the Cervélo TestTeam bikes were fitted with FSA cranksets at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, supposedly pending production of stiffer Rotor models.

All of the Cervélo TestTeam bikes were fitted with FSA cranksets at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, supposedly pending production of stiffer Rotor models. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Cervélo TestTeam sprinter and one-day specialist Thor Hushovd set off aboard a Cervélo S3 in contrast to the other riders' S2 frames.

Cervélo TestTeam sprinter and one-day specialist Thor Hushovd set off aboard a Cervélo S3 in contrast to the other riders' S2 frames. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Nokon brake cable housing compresses less than standard brake housing for a crisper lever feel.

Nokon brake cable housing compresses less than standard brake housing for a crisper lever feel. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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You'll find no fancy GPS computer on Hushovd's bike; just a tiny Cateye Strada Wireless mounted up here.

You'll find no fancy GPS computer on Hushovd's bike; just a tiny Cateye Strada Wireless mounted up here. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Like most of the team today, Hushovd's bike was fitted with an FSA crank and round chainrings.

Like most of the team today, Hushovd's bike was fitted with an FSA crank and round chainrings. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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At least one rider was on Rotor Q-Rings, though.

At least one rider was on Rotor Q-Rings, though. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The side of the team bus was awash with Cervélo S2 bikes prior to the start in Brugge.

The side of the team bus was awash with Cervélo S2 bikes prior to the start in Brugge. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The Cervélo TestTeam started out the season with Shimano Dura-Ace 7800, then switched to 7900 only to revert back.

The Cervélo TestTeam started out the season with Shimano Dura-Ace 7800, then switched to 7900 only to revert back. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Garmin-Slipstream's Julian Dean didn't make it to the finish in Meerbeke today - but he had lots of company.

Garmin-Slipstream's Julian Dean didn't make it to the finish in Meerbeke today - but he had lots of company. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Dean and his Garmin-Slipstream teammates were among those using Zipp carbon tubular rims today.

Dean and his Garmin-Slipstream teammates were among those using Zipp carbon tubular rims today. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Dean's bike was fitted with stainless steel-axled Speedplay Zero pedals.

Dean's bike was fitted with stainless steel-axled Speedplay Zero pedals. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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fi'zi:k's new dual:tape includes a cushy center section that likel proved handy on the cobbles.

fi'zi:k's new dual:tape includes a cushy center section that likel proved handy on the cobbles. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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An extra zip-tie helps ensure that Dean's weighty Garmin 705 GPS computer stayed put when he hit the bumps.

An extra zip-tie helps ensure that Dean's weighty Garmin 705 GPS computer stayed put when he hit the bumps. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank) started today's race with a lot of new equipment.

Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank) started today's race with a lot of new equipment. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Breschel set off on the new Zipp rims as well.

Breschel set off on the new Zipp rims as well. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The integrated Specialized S-Works cranks have carried through from the early season…

The integrated Specialized S-Works cranks have carried through from the early season… (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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…those the team has recently switched to SRAM Red to replace the previous Shimano Dura-Ace componentry.

…those the team has recently switched to SRAM Red to replace the previous Shimano Dura-Ace componentry. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Breschel's bike was fitted with a Red rear derailleur…

Breschel's bike was fitted with a Red rear derailleur… (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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…but a special steel-caged Red front derailleur which is presumably preferred for its greater cage rigidity.

…but a special steel-caged Red front derailleur which is presumably preferred for its greater cage rigidity. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Not sure who makes these carbon-specific pads, though.

Not sure who makes these carbon-specific pads, though. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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A Prologo Scratch Pro TR saddle provided Breschel with some much-needed cushioning today.

A Prologo Scratch Pro TR saddle provided Breschel with some much-needed cushioning today. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Skil-Shimano rider Floris Goesinnen set off on a Dura-Ace Di2 electronic drivetrain.

Skil-Shimano rider Floris Goesinnen set off on a Dura-Ace Di2 electronic drivetrain. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The Di2 levers have a more rounded shape relative to 7900 and the 'tap-and-forget' shift action may have proved useful today.

The Di2 levers have a more rounded shape relative to 7900 and the 'tap-and-forget' shift action may have proved useful today. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Skil-Shimano team mechanics fitted Goesinnen's bike with an extra set of shift buttons to enable shifting from the tops while on the cobbles.

Skil-Shimano team mechanics fitted Goesinnen's bike with an extra set of shift buttons to enable shifting from the tops while on the cobbles. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Skil-Shimano was another of the few teams that opted for carbon fiber rims today.

Skil-Shimano was another of the few teams that opted for carbon fiber rims today. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Liquigas rider Enrico Franzoi opted for Cannondale's softer-riding Synapse today.

Liquigas rider Enrico Franzoi opted for Cannondale's softer-riding Synapse today. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The Cannondale integrated crank and BB30 bottom bracket was ahead of its time a few years back but the concept is now gaining favor.

The Cannondale integrated crank and BB30 bottom bracket was ahead of its time a few years back but the concept is now gaining favor. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Franzoi's bike was fitted with Campagnolo Record 11 componentry.

Franzoi's bike was fitted with Campagnolo Record 11 componentry. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The new Record rear derailleur's stiffer body may have offered improved shifting on the bumps.

The new Record rear derailleur's stiffer body may have offered improved shifting on the bumps. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Mavic Reflex box-section aluminum tubular rims are one of the stars of this time of year.

Mavic Reflex box-section aluminum tubular rims are one of the stars of this time of year. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Franzoi ran Schwalbe Ultremo tubulars at this year's Ronde van Vlaanderen.

Franzoi ran Schwalbe Ultremo tubulars at this year's Ronde van Vlaanderen. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The extra mud-shedding ability of these Classics-specific Speedplay team-only pedals weren't terribly necessary today but that may change by Sunday.

The extra mud-shedding ability of these Classics-specific Speedplay team-only pedals weren't terribly necessary today but that may change by Sunday. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Liquigas has some of the slickest-looking front chain guards around.

Liquigas has some of the slickest-looking front chain guards around. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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This list on Franzoi's stem told him when the climbs were coming but only he knew how painful they were.

This list on Franzoi's stem told him when the climbs were coming but only he knew how painful they were. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Daniele Bennati passed over the Synapse in favor of a lighter and stiffer SuperSix Hi-Mod.

Daniele Bennati passed over the Synapse in favor of a lighter and stiffer SuperSix Hi-Mod. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Liquigas team bikes were fitted with standard Campagnolo Record D-Skeleton brakes up front…

Liquigas team bikes were fitted with standard Campagnolo Record D-Skeleton brakes up front… (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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…but a Cannondale C1 rear caliper - perhaps for a little extra stopping power from the dual-pivot configuration?

…but a Cannondale C1 rear caliper - perhaps for a little extra stopping power from the dual-pivot configuration? (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)

Race tech: Ronde van Vlaanderen, April 6, 2009

Cervélo's new cobble-specific RS

As compared to the veritable minefields of Paris-Roubaix, the Ronde van Vlaanderen's relatively less punishing cobbles saw most of the Cervélo TestTeam riders aboard their standard S2 aero frames -Thor Hushovd was on an S3 - at the start instead of the new cobble-specific machine based on the RS that we recently previewed. In fact, the only rider using it today was Roger Hammond, who may have been partially using the day to iron out any last minute bugs before next weekend's big show.

Some may question the platform switch as Cervélo have enjoyed an enviable record about their existing modified R3 framesets (two wins at Paris-Roubaix plus one second place finish) but the stock production RS closely mimics its special geometry as is, including the 1cm-longer chain stays and longer-rake fork for a longer and more stable wheelbase. In addition, the RS' slightly curved seat stays presumably provide an even more compliant ride and the slacker head tube angle lends even more security on slippery cobbles.

Changes from the stock RS appear to be limited to additional tire clearance courtesy of a raised bridge out back and longer blades on Hammond's modified 3T Funda Pro fork. Unlike the old modified R3s, though, long-reach brake calipers are used at both ends.

Sunday's more demanding parcours will likely see more of the team using the new frames and we'll hopefully have more detailed information by then.

New Zipp 303 carbon rims take to the cobbles

Several riders at this year's Ronde van Vlaanderen - from teams Cervélo TestTeam, Garmin-Slipstream and Saxo Bank - set off from the start in Brugge aboard a new version of Zipp's versatile 303 carbon tubular rim.

The new rims use a toroidal profile that noticeably bulges in width at the midsection and also appear to abandon the parallel braking surface in favor of the angled ones used on the 1080. Based on what Zipp have previously said about the 1080, the new 303 shape is presumably more aerodynamic than before and according to Zipp-sponsored 'cross rider Joachim Parbo (Leopard Cycles) - who conveniently happened to be on hand at the start and has been riding them all year - they are also much more resistant to impact damage though at this point in time it's unclear how.

Interestingly, the new 303 rims we spotted at the start were molded without Zipp's trademark aero-enhancing dimples but it's a safe bet that they'll reappear on production versions.

Carbon rims in general, however, were still the minority with just six of the 25 teams eschewing the standard-issue aluminum box-section tubulars in search of lighter weight and/or extra speed. Team Columbia-Highroad looked to be mostly on deeper-section HED carbon rims while Rabobank and Skil-Shimano were on shallow Shimano carbon hoops.

Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 offers unique advantage on the cobbles

For whatever reason, fewer teams and riders were seen using electronic drivetrains at this year's Ronde van Vlaanderen and Campagnolo's electronic group was notably absent entirely (though we admittedly may have missed it). Some Skil-Shimano riders though were not only heading to the finish in Meerbeke with the latest Dura-Ace Di2 group - they were also wisely exploiting one of its key advantages.

One of the draws of Di2 for multisport athletes is the option for remote shifters, which would normally be placed out on aero extensions to let riders maintain a tuck. Here however, Skil-Shimano mechanics installed an additional set of rear shift buttons on the bar tops right next to the stem, thus enabling the riders to shift more easily while on the cobbles.

Given the roughness of some of the sections - which we can confirm firsthand after riding the 140km route of the Touriste Ronde on Saturday - and Di2's tap-and-forget shift action, such an advantage likely proved most convenient.