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One last lead-in to Paris-Roubaix

Race tech: Gent-Wevelgem, April 9, 2009

Columbia-Highroad's custom steeds for the Classics

Team Columbia-Highroad has checked an interesting list of options for its Scott Addict road machines this spring. In addition to the more rigid fork lay-ups that several riders have chosen - including star sprinter Mark Cavendish - most of the team has also opted for conventional seatposts instead of the usual integrated setups.

Team officials say the standard posts offer a softer ride over rough roads so the riders are willing to overlook the weight penalty for some extra comfort here in Belgium. Though not a huge issue for Gent-Wevelgem's mostly paved parcours, it certainly was welcome last Sunday at the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Cavendish was one notable exception with his integrated Ritchey seatmast head in a rarely seen short-offset configuration.

Top-level teams frequently request stiffer one-piece non-replaceable rear derailleur hangers for snappier shifting and though Scott had already provided the team with stouter bolt-on units earlier in the season, it seems that that wasn't quite enough as nearly all of Columbia-Highroad's frames sported new one-piece construction. Given the production frame's carbon fiber dropout design though, this change wasn't exactly a simple plug-and-play for the Scott engineers.

Scott looks to have nearly completely replaced the usual carbon bit in favor of a machined alloy piece that is presumably either co-molded or bonded into the surrounding structure. The result is decidedly clean looking and without a close inspection, most folks would never be the wiser.

Columbia-Highroad is also running a mix of Shimano Dura-Ace 7800 and 7900 componentry at the moment. Most of the setup is from the newer package but many of the riders were using the older 7800 rear derailleurs. Cassettes and chains were also a mix of old and new but that is perhaps more due to stock on hand since the team needs so many of them.

Team officials wouldn't confirm as much but the rear derailleur swaps are presumably due to the older model's more durable - and stiffer - pulley cage. Given the abuse these bikes have been subjected to over the past few days, a little extra durability and resilience is likely more than worth the handful of extra grams in this case.

Michael Schär's custom Trek

Trek offers its Madone frame in an admirably wide range of sizes though it still isn't enough to accommodate Astana rider Michael Schär, who stands a towering 1.96m tall (6' 5"), has exceptionally long arms, and also rides with an unusually long and low position. A custom bike was simply the only way to go here.

According to team liaison Ben Coates, Schär's frame - designed, mitered, welded and painted in Trek's Waterloo, Wisconsin headquarters - features a longer top tube than a stock 62cm Madone but a head tube more akin to a 56cm yet even with this extreme geometry, he still runs a 140mm-long Bontrager stem slammed right on top of his Cane Creek headset.

The Alpha 2 aluminum tubing is mostly borrowed from Trek's XO cyclo-cross platform with a giant TTX time trial top tube lending extra rigidity to the rangy front end. Coates says the head tube, however, is custom turned so that Schär can still use a standard Madone fork with its tapered alloy steerer.

Schär's bike is otherwise rather standard and filled out with a variety of Bontrager kit, including a set of shallow-section aluminum tubular wheels, a carbon-wrapped ACC seatpost, alloy bar with VR semi-anatomic bend, and an inForm saddle. Componentry needs are filled with a complete SRAM Red group with the sole exception of Rival crankarms since Red isn't offered in Schär's required 180mm length.

Milram previewing equipment for Paris-Roubaix?

Gent-Wevelgem isn't a particularly demanding course in terms of cobbles and most riders, including Milram sprinter Gerald Ciolek, set off from Deinze aboard standard road machines. Teammate Niki Terpstra, however, didn't just use a modified road bike with cantilever brakes and extra clearance; he used a actual 'cross frameset in what was possibly a planned get-to-know-you session for Sunday.

In usual 'cross bike fashion, Terpstra's carbon Focus Mares Team frame features extra-wide tire clearances and cantilever brakes both front and rear, along with top tube-routed cables and supplemental top mount brake levers. Gore fully sealed derailleur housing keeps out road grime and mud for more consistent shift performance while Speedplay's pared-down 'Paris-Roubaix' pedals (currently only for pros but set for consumer release this fall) are fitted to the ends of the SRAM Red BB30 crankset.

If Wednesday's soggy conditions continue through the weekend, we may just see more of this sort of thing come Sunday.

Speed machines for Gent-Wevelgem

Most of the riders at Gent-Wevelgem used the same compliant box-section aluminum wheels on Wednesday as they did for the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Gent-Wevelgem's mostly reasonable roads - with just a few sections of interspersed cobbles - prompted several to bring out the full-blown speed machines.

Perennial fast guy Robbie McEwen (Katusha) threw caution to the wind by opting for his aerodynamic Ridley Noah, whose deep-section tubes and novel split fork blades and seat stays are primarily meant to reduce drag, not yield over the bumps. We found the previous Noah to already be one of the most unyielding machines we'd ridden in some time and even if this new one is moderately cushier, it is still a rough ride and demonstrates the extent to which McEwen was willing to go to get some extra speed on the way into Wevelgem.

McEwen also set off with a set of deep-section Campagnolo Bora Ultra Two carbon tubulars.

We're not sure what to think of the Nick Nuyens' (Rabobank) Giant TCR Advanced SL though. In spite of its oversized tubes, the frame is actually surprisingly comfortable by itself but Nuyens - or more likely, one of the team mechanics - stuffed a block of wood in between the top of the integrated seatmast head and the bottom of the saddle shell, effectively making his Selle Italia Flite Team Edition saddle as hard as a rock.

But why?

At 1.77m tall and 68kg (5' 10", 150lb), Nuyens isn't particularly heavy so it's unlikely the block was fitted to slow excessive shell sag over time. It is conceivable though that it is on hand to prevent a broken saddle in the event of an especially hard impact but again, that scenario is unlikely especially given that other team riders aren't so equipped.

Apparently he just likes it that way.

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