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Tour de France tech: Special gear for the cobbles of stage 5

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Michele Scarponi choose a bike named for cobbles, the Specialized Roubaix

Michele Scarponi choose a bike named for cobbles, the Specialized Roubaix (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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The cotton casings of tiny French manufacturer FMB are prized possessions among pro teams for cobble racing

The cotton casings of tiny French manufacturer FMB are prized possessions among pro teams for cobble racing (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Belkin's Staf Clements even opted for a cyclocross-style top-mounted brake lever on his rig

Belkin's Staf Clements even opted for a cyclocross-style top-mounted brake lever on his rig (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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While BMC makes a Granfondo endurance bike, interestingly none of the BMC riders choose to use it, opting instead for the their standard Teammachine SLR01s

While BMC makes a Granfondo endurance bike, interestingly none of the BMC riders choose to use it, opting instead for the their standard Teammachine SLR01s (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Lotto-Belisol voted cobbles confidence in Ridley's Helium SL

Lotto-Belisol voted cobbles confidence in Ridley's Helium SL (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Lotto-Belisol also went with lightweight wheels, too, with Campagnolo's Hyperion Ultra Twos

Lotto-Belisol also went with lightweight wheels, too, with Campagnolo's Hyperion Ultra Twos (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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The Cervélo R3 Mud is an older bike, but the right tool for the job on stage 5

The Cervélo R3 Mud is an older bike, but the right tool for the job on stage 5 (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Elia Viviani needed a steeply dropping stem to get his position on the Cannondale Synapse, an endurance bike with a relatively tall head tube

Elia Viviani needed a steeply dropping stem to get his position on the Cannondale Synapse, an endurance bike with a relatively tall head tube (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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If you are Peter Sagan, however, you can get your own custom Synapse, built low and ultra long

If you are Peter Sagan, however, you can get your own custom Synapse, built low and ultra long (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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All teams but three had multiple bikes to choose from during the Tour de France. Many Belkin riders opted for Bianchi's Infinito CV

All teams but three had multiple bikes to choose from during the Tour de France. Many Belkin riders opted for Bianchi's Infinito CV (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Giant-Shimano had the Defy Advanced SL endurance bike

Giant-Shimano had the Defy Advanced SL endurance bike (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Team Sky opted for the DogmaK for stage 5

Team Sky opted for the DogmaK for stage 5 (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Spartacus don't need no stinking padding or double-wrapped tape for cobbles

Spartacus don't need no stinking padding or double-wrapped tape for cobbles (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Other riders, like Scarponi, were happy for a little extra padding

Other riders, like Scarponi, were happy for a little extra padding (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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And sometimes tape is used for other things, like notes on where the cobble sectors fall

And sometimes tape is used for other things, like notes on where the cobble sectors fall (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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While many amateur riders obsess about metric-laden Garmin GPS computers or power meters, sometimes basic functions are enough for the pros

While many amateur riders obsess about metric-laden Garmin GPS computers or power meters, sometimes basic functions are enough for the pros (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Lotto-Belisol riders stuck with their electronic Campagnolo Super Record EPS groups for stage 5

Lotto-Belisol riders stuck with their electronic Campagnolo Super Record EPS groups for stage 5 (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Some of Cancellara's Trek Factory Racing teammates used Di2 with the 'climbing switch' satellite shifter. Although riders weren't climbing on stage 5, many do prefer to ride on the tops over the cobbles, so the 'climbing switch' position is appreciated

Some of Cancellara's Trek Factory Racing teammates used Di2 with the 'climbing switch' satellite shifter. Although riders weren't climbing on stage 5, many do prefer to ride on the tops over the cobbles, so the 'climbing switch' position is appreciated (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Specialized-sponsored teams had FMB tubular casings with Specialized Gripton rubber in 26, 28 and 30mm widths

Specialized-sponsored teams had FMB tubular casings with Specialized Gripton rubber in 26, 28 and 30mm widths (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Two primary commonalities about tubulars for Paris-Roubaix or Paris-Roubaix-like stages: wider widths and lower pressures compared to normal road racing

Two primary commonalities about tubulars for Paris-Roubaix or Paris-Roubaix-like stages: wider widths and lower pressures compared to normal road racing (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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While this 26mm width is available to teams, many riders choose the 28mm

While this 26mm width is available to teams, many riders choose the 28mm (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Team Sky, like many others, viewed stage 5 as Paris-Roubaix, and choose gear accordingly

Team Sky, like many others, viewed stage 5 as Paris-Roubaix, and choose gear accordingly (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Although air pressure depends on rider weight and preference along with tubular width, teams generally run about 1.5bar / 20psi less on cobbles than on pavement

Although air pressure depends on rider weight and preference along with tubular width, teams generally run about 1.5bar / 20psi less on cobbles than on pavement (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Team Belkin had these fat Vittoria Pave Team Prototype tubulars

Team Belkin had these fat Vittoria Pave Team Prototype tubulars (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Super-fat tubulars on some road race bikes - like this Canyon - meant very little clearance

Super-fat tubulars on some road race bikes - like this Canyon - meant very little clearance (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Alberto Contador had a Specialized CG-R seapost, which was originally dubbed the Cobble Gobbler for its double-the-normal vertical flex

Alberto Contador had a Specialized CG-R seapost, which was originally dubbed the Cobble Gobbler for its double-the-normal vertical flex (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Katusha had its own branded Ass Savers mini-fenders

Katusha had its own branded Ass Savers mini-fenders (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Matthieu Ladagnous opted for metal bottle cages over the standard carbon for better retention over the cobbles

Matthieu Ladagnous opted for metal bottle cages over the standard carbon for better retention over the cobbles (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Peter Sagan, like many Speedplay-sponsored riders, went with the stripped-down version of the pedal to allow for a bit of mud clearing on a pedal that normal jams pretty quickly with mud and debris on nasty days

Peter Sagan, like many Speedplay-sponsored riders, went with the stripped-down version of the pedal to allow for a bit of mud clearing on a pedal that normal jams pretty quickly with mud and debris on nasty days (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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A few Giant-Shimano bikes had large inline barrel adjusters on the brake lines, perhaps anticipating the brake pads being worn down throughout the stage

A few Giant-Shimano bikes had large inline barrel adjusters on the brake lines, perhaps anticipating the brake pads being worn down throughout the stage (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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No compact gearing needed for the pro peloton on 'Paris-Roubaix day'

No compact gearing needed for the pro peloton on 'Paris-Roubaix day' (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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The mighty Fabian Cancellara has staunchly refused to run Shimano Di2 electric shifters on the cobbles, saing accidental shifts are too easy

The mighty Fabian Cancellara has staunchly refused to run Shimano Di2 electric shifters on the cobbles, saing accidental shifts are too easy (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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But many other riders are becoming comfortable enough with the digital shifting to use it on their stage 5 bikes

But many other riders are becoming comfortable enough with the digital shifting to use it on their stage 5 bikes (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)
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Perhaps after substantial tubulars, rain clothing was of top priority for riders on a wet stage 5 of the Tour de France

Perhaps after substantial tubulars, rain clothing was of top priority for riders on a wet stage 5 of the Tour de France (Image credit: Sam Dansie/BikeRadar)

This article first appeared on Bikeradar.

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Every year the Tour de France tackles a new route, but this year riders and fans were in for something special on stage 5 that tackled many cobblestone sections made famous by Paris-Roubaix. Although two sections of cobbles were removed at the last minute due to poor weather and conditions, the course was still filled with treachery, causing scores of crashes and forcing the abandonment of reigning champion Chris Froome.

For riders, fans and mechanics, stage 5 lived up to its billing as a Hell of the North in July.

"For us, this stage is not the Tour de France, it's Paris-Roubaix," said Garmin-Sharp head mechanic Geoff Brown. "We are approaching the mechanical aspects exactly as we would for Roubaix."

BikeRadar spoke with teams ahead of the stage to learn about their various set-ups. Moving from thinner tubulars to 26, 27, 28 and even 30mm options was the primary difference, of course, but by no means the only change in gear for the pivotal day.

Choice in bikes

Only three teams at this year's Tour have a single model of bike. The other 19 squads have at least two models, with many bike sponsors offering endurance road bikes built for stability and a little more comfort on rough roads.

One wrinkle in this plan for some teams is that so-called endurance bikes often have taller head tubes than pros would prefer, so mechanics look to steeply angled stems to get the position dialled. For instance, Team Cannondale is racing the SuperSix EVO for every road stage of the Tour save stage 5, where the Synapse was brought out. While Peter Sagan is a big enough star to warrant his own mold for a carbon bike that's low and very long, the rest of his teammates have no choice but to use stems to drop their front end.

Other teams also broke out endurance bikes for this stage only: Trek Factory Racing had the Domane (which Paris-Roubaix star Fabian Cancellara races year-round, although the team Domane Classics geometry is a world apart from standard endurance geometries), Belkin had the Bianchi Infinito CV, Giant-Shimano had the Defy Advanced SL, and on and on.

Sticking with their standard race bikes were three French teams: AG2R La Mondiale, Bretagne-Séché Environnement and Cofidis. Cofidis mechanic Mickael Houtteville said the team is racing the Look 695 for the entire race, just bumping up to fatter 25mm tubulars and dropping the pressure down to 6bar (85psi) from the standard 7-7.5 (100-110psi). The other two French squads had a similar strategy.

Garmin-Sharp put its entire squad on an older model bike, the Cervélo R3 Mud, which has external cable routing and room for fatter tubulars. The entire team switched from Shimano's electronic Di2 to mechanical Dura-Ace for this stage.

Digital versus mechanical, and other modifications

An initial knock against electronic shifting systems like Shimano Di2 and Campagnolo EPS was that, in some riders' minds, the gears could be shifted accidentally too easily as bikes were raced across the lumpy cobbles. While reservations remain — most notably for Cancellara and the entire Garmin-Sharp squad — more and more riders and mechanics are becoming comfortable with electronic groups on rough roads.

In fact, Shimano's Di2 system has a distinct advantage in one way; satellite shifters like the so-called climber switch let riders shift with their hands on the hoods, which is where many prefer to grip when riding the stones.

In any event, we saw more than a few bikes with Dura-Ace Di2 and Campagnolo EPS groups.

The mini-fender/mudflap Sencillobikes, usually a product for commuters or foul-weather amateur riders, made an appearance on some Katusha bikes — team-branded, of course.

Overall race hopeful Alberto Contador choose to use Specialized's CG-R seatpost. Originally dubbed the Cobble Gobbler, the zigzag-shaped post has twice the deflection of a standard carbon post.

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