213km-long (132mi) Stage 3 encompasses just 13.2km (8.2mi) of Northern Classics pavé spread across seven secteurs. Though conditions at the start were warm and sunny, teams and riders were taking few chances equipment-wise after yesterday's crash-filled fiasco with expectedly conservative setups that would help ensure rider safety – and hopefully, bike survival.
Most teams – including Astana, Team Radioshack, Quick Step, Garmin-Transitions, and Cervélo TestTeam – opted to run their usual machines but augmented with some of the usual tricks to better handle the bumps. Common practice included a mix of wider tubular tires measuring up to 27mm (and run at lower pressures), sturdier alloy bottle cages, and a few sightings of double-wrapped bars. Larger inner chainrings were fairly common as well.
"In the Tour de France, [our] riders use the S3 the day before and after so generally they prefer to stay on the same bike for stage 3 if possible," said Cervélo TestTeam race engineer Damon Rinard. "Remember there are only a few tens of kilometers of pavé, all near the end of the stage, and plenty of normal roads beforehand. So the added pavé can be dramatic, but we know the dramatic part doesn't take away the racing they have to do to get there."
Rim selection looked split roughly down the middle between alloy and carbon, though, with HTC-Columbia and Radioshack even choosing their usual deep-section wheels. However, it's also worth noting that the support cars for those teams – and the bikes mounted atop them – were mostly stocked with Classics-style wheels.
BMC was one team that mostly went the carbon route.
"We're using an assortment of our classics wheels," said team mechanic Ian Sherburne. "We will have Easton SLX (shallow 24mm carbon rim), SL (medium 36mm carbon), and aluminum box section rims, all with Continental 25mm tires."
Still, a few teams pulled out the big guns such as Saxo Bank, Team Sky, and Liquigas-Doimo – perhaps a nod as to how important those teams considered those short sections of pavé to be during the course of the stage.
Saxo Bank pulled out their full-blown Paris-Roubaix bikes, with Andy and Fränk Schleck, Fabian Cancellara, and Stuart O'Grady riding Specialized's latest S-Works Roubaix SL3 and the rest of the team on their specially prepared Roubaix SL2s. Zipp 303 carbon rims were mounted throughout, wrapped with fat 25mm-wide FMB Paris-Roubaix tubulars.
Likewise, Sky opted for the Pinarello KOBH 60.1 bikes they used in Paris-Roubaix instead of their usual Dogmas, deciding that the more stable handling, softer ride, and more generous tire clearances were necessary for the day's parcours. Cushy FMB tubular tires were again put into play but here they were mounted to Shimano's latest C35 carbon wheels.
Liquigas riders were mostly on the softer and more stable Cannondale Synapse but Ivan Basso and Roman Kreuziger were on their usual SuperSix Hi-Mods. Mavic wheel choices were split along similar lines with the Synapse framesets matched to either handbuilt Open Pro box-section tubulars or the carbon-spoked R-Sys, and the two team leaders sticking to their lighter and speedier Cosmic Carbone Ultimates.
One of the most interesting equipment stories of the day belonged to the AG2R-La Mondiale squad. Those riders set off on perfectly reasonable mid-section Reynolds MV32UL/T carbon tubulars and standard-width tubulars (shod with Michelin logos, though the company only currently offers clinchers) but we're struggling to figure out the team's choice of spares.
Most of the wheels mounted atop the team car were aluminum DT Swiss clinchers with 23mm-wide Michelin Pro 3 Race tires. Moreover, two of team leader Nicholas Roche's spare bikes were also equipped with 23mm-wide Michelin Pro 3 Race clincher tire wrapped around even-deeper Reynolds DV46UL/C carbon rims.
Whatever options they ultimately chose, adding to the teams' decision-making processes was a recent UCI rule update that prohibited teams from staging support staff along the cobbled sections with spare bikes. Teams could still place staff roadside with spare wheels but complete bikes had to come from atop a team car, meaning a replacement could be long delayed depending on the race situation and position of the support vehicles – not exactly a good time to gamble with durability.
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