The Sunweb team will race on disc brakes over the course of the cobbled classics campaign, with Michael Matthews one of five riders who will give Shimano's latest Dura Ace 9100-series disc groupset its first ever race outing.
Shimano initially launched its hydraulic road disc brakes a few years ago with non-series parts, saying it did not yet have a Dura-Ace-level package ready, and only recently released this first-ever Dura-Ace complete group with mechanical and electronic options. Cyclingnews understands that last Friday four teams were each sent five sets of the new system, which features more traditionally shaped shifters and improved heat dissipation on the rotors.
Sunweb were one of those teams, and on Wednesday at Dwars door Vlaanderen will use disc brakes for the first time, with riders having been given bikes to try at home in recent weeks. Zico Waeytens and Soren Kragh Andersen are the only members of the Classics squad sticking to traditional rim brakes.
The riders will be using Giant's Defy Advanced SL frame, which is "built to optimize Giant's Road Disc technology". It features flat-mount disc brake integration along with 12mm front and rear thru-axles, delivering "superior braking power and consistency, which equals added control in all types of conditions".
The five riders on the new Dura-Ace disc groupset will be using 140mm rotors front and rear, with most going for electronic shifting. The Dura Ace 9100 groupset has a few variations, the 9170 being electronic and disc, and the 9120 being mechanical and disc.
"We chose this setup, with the disc brakes, for the upcoming cobblestone classics because we believe they will offer us a competitive advantage," said Tom Davids, Team Sunweb's R&D expert.
"We continuously work together with our innovation partners DSM and TU Delft. The outcomes of our innovative research are used to further develop and advance our equipment, along with Giant and Shimano."
Matthews in favour of disc brakes
The team gathered in Waregem on Tuesday, where Cyclingnews grabbed some photos of Michael Matthews' Dura Ace disc-equipped bike, which can be viewed in the gallery above.
"The braking is really amazing," Matthews told Cyclingnews, having tested discs in between Paris-Nice and Milan-San Remo. "It really feels like a mountain bike and I love the braking on mountain bikes. It's not too much and it's not too little; it's really the perfect balance of braking."
Disc brakes have been the source of controversy in recent months after the UCI decided to re-introduce its trial period, which had been halted last April when Fran Ventoso suffered a gash to his leg. A similar incident at the Abu Dhabi Tour, supposedly involving Marcel Kittel's bike and Owain Doull's shoe, has seen many riders voice their opposition to the re-trial, at a time when the CPA, the riders' union, was already at loggerheads with the UCI over the topic.
"I think that was all a misunderstanding. It wasn't the disc brakes, as we found out in the end that made all those problems. I think they're fine to race on and perfectly safe," Matthews argued.
"I haven't actually raced with them yet, but from what I've felt in training and seen on TV with other people racing, I can't see anything wrong with them. It's the evolution of cycling, we need to move forward with something and, looking at this bike right now, it's the evolution of cycling. It looks beautiful and to ride it's also really nice.
"Everyone has their own opinion, obviously, and not everyone will agree on everything, but at the moment you have the choice whether you ride on them or not, so you make your own decision really."