Race tech: Riders and teams doing final equipment checks before Paris-Roubaix

Specialized certainly knows how to launch a new bike.

Days after introducing the McLaren Venge aero road bike to the world, HTC-Highroad rider Matt Goss won Milan-San Remo and now Mark Cavendish won a crash-marred sprint victory at Scheldeprijs aboard a similar machine.

Unlike in Italy, where multiple Venges were in play under HTC-Highroad riders, Cavendish's bike clearly stood out in the start area in Antwerp among the rest of the team, who were still using standard S-Works Tarmac SL3 rigs covered in team-issue livery rather than the McLaren's matte black and neon orange hues.

Cavendish looks to have fully embraced the aero movement, too, supplementing his slippery Venge with an aggressive Zipp 808 rear wheel and a Zipp 404 front rim (laced to a Shimano Dura-Ace hub). Though the total bike weight isn't particularly groundbreaking at 7.64kg (16.84lb) – and this is after the finish with caked-on energy drink and all – the Scheldeprijs route isn't exactly a climber's paradise so it was almost certainly more important to reduce drag rather than mass today.

Cavendish is also now on Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 after at least two seasons on the mechanical version, but we're currently waiting for word from HTC-Highroad on exactly why he finally made the switch. Interestingly, 'Cav' hasn't taken advantage of Shimano's optional satellite sprint shifters, though.

A closer look at Tyler Farrar's new Garmin-Cervélo S3

Like Scheldeprijs winner Cavendish, Garmin-Cervélo sprinter Tyler Farrar also opted for a full-blown aero road bike in his quest for another victory in Schoten.

Farrar's version was built around Cervélo's second-generation S3 model, which is still based on the older SLC-SL in concept but revamped with slim R3-like seat stays for a much improved ride, more refined internal cable routing relative to the first-gen S3 for easier servicing and reduced friction, and ultra-fat chain stays for efficient power transfer – a critical feature for a sprinter.

Similarly, Farrar's bike was fitted with aero wheels front and rear, though the Belgian transplant (he's an American living in Gent) went slightly less aggressive in profile with 52mm-deep Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLRs. Unlike Cavendish's all-carbon Zipp rims, though, Farrar's Mavics use aluminium hoops with aero carbon caps plus bladed carbon spokes that run from one side of the rim to the other.

Consumers still can't purchase the tubular versions used by Farrar and the rest of Garmin-Cervélo, but the production versions do share the team's unique Exalith sidewalls, which supposedly provide stronger and more predictable braking (especially in the wet) by virtue of an aggressive machined-in texture and an extra-hard surface treatment that requires the use of special pads.

Farrar's bike also sported double-wrapped bar tape – apparently in preparation for Sunday's beating – Veloflex tubulars with blacked-out logos, a 3T bar and stem, Rotor's innovative 3D+ cranks, aluminum Shimano Dura-Ace pedals, the team's usual SRAM Red running gear, a Garmin Edge 500 computer, and the sprinter's trademark fi'zi:k Pavé CX saddle mounted atop an aero carbon seatpost.

Robbie McEwen's Trek Madone 6.9

Team RadioShack veteran sprinter Robbie McEwen was likely hoping for a repeat of 2002 – the last time he won Scheldeprijs – when he wound up his new Trek Madone 6.9 for the bunch sprint to the line.

McEwen's Madone was dressed with SRAM Red DoubleTap levers, derailleurs (including the standard titanium front cage), and brake callipers, plus the usual PG-1070 cassette favored by most pros. McEwen opted for SRAM's S900 crankset, though, with its carbon arms and alloy spider and beefed up with a solid time trial outer ring.

Trek component division Bontrager supplied most of the rest of the gear, including the new 50mm-deep wide-profile carbon tubular wheels, the Race XXX Lite carbon stem, Race Lite VR aluminum bar, Node computer, and Race X Lite carbon cages.

Rounding out the build are blacked-out Continental tires (the team's official tire sponsor is Challenge), a Selle Italia Turbomatic saddle, Look KéO Blade pedals, a Cane Creek tapered headset, and Gore Ride-On sealed derailleur cables and housing.

Also showing up in the RadioShack team pit area was US national champion Ben King's custom-painted red, white, and blue Madone. King's build was similar to McEwen's with the exception of a Bontrager Affinity saddle, Challenge tubular tires, the black version of SRAM's Red group, and SRAM S900 carbon cranks with an SRM power measuring chainring spider.

BMC uses Scheldeprijs for final shakeouts of specially modified Paris-Roubaix framesets

The Scheldeprijs parcours is essentially flat and almost completely free of cobbles yet its place on the racing calendar still makes it a prime final testing ground for bikes and equipment that will be used just four days later in Paris-Roubaix. The BMC team – as did others, we're sure – did just that, opting to run their modified SLR01 Team Machines prior to the real test on Sunday.

Changes are decidedly subtle and well in keeping with what we've seen from top-end teams in recent years. Slightly longer chain stays yield extra tire clearance out back for fatter rubber and less chance of clogging with mud, and without having to resort to long-reach brakes. The longer rear-center lends more relaxed and stable handling, too, while the inner surfaces of the chain stays have also been slightly scalloped around the tire for even more room out to the sides.

Up front, a modified fork with longer blades does the same thing, lending extra clearance beneath the crown and effectively increasing the rake slightly, which again provides less nervous steering on account of the longer front center but also maintains the overall weight balance between both wheels for predictable handling.

New Prologo Scratch saddle variant spotted on Sky team bikes

We've become well accustomed to seeing new, previously unannounced Prologo models at big races and Scheldeprijs has revealed yet another one, this time on the Pinarello Dogma of Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Boasson Hagen's new Prologo Scratch Pro TR appears to use the same fiber-reinforced nylon shell and general overall shape as other Scratch models but adds a deep and fairly broad channel running nearly the entire length of the saddle from front to rear to relieve pressure on soft tissue. Aside from the ill-fated Nago Pas, Prologo has mostly stayed away from design with channels and/or cutouts but this new model may signal a changing tide.

Prologo general manager Paolo Mion tells us Boasson Hagen's saddle is indeed a new model that was originally intended to be launched at Eurobike in August.

"This Scratch Pro TR is a prototype we created and developed for and with Boasson Hagen," he said. "It has the same philosophy of all Prologo saddles we develop – we start from a concept and then develop with the team or the great riders we have the pleasure to work with along with the sport-biomechanical university here in Italy before we put it on the market."

In addition to the central channel, the new Scratch Pro TR also gets Prologo's triple density foam padding and a triple stiffness hull for tuned flex. Mion says titanium railed versions will weigh 210-215g and Prologo will offer both 134mm and 143mm widths.

This story first appeared on Bikeradar.com.

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