The cobbles of the Tour of Flanders have special demands of both riders and bikes, but while some of the riders have been preparing for this race for months, the mechanics have also been working hard to modify the team bikes to make them ready for the demands of this Classics race.
One of the biggest talking point on the start line was Lampre-Merida‘s decision to put a fair proportion of their riders on disc brakes, the first time that the technology will be used in the Classics. The only other team to be using disc brakes in the Tour of Flanders was Roompot-Oranje Peloton, although Direct Energie did have a BH G7 Disc on top of one of the team cars. None of the Campagnolo-sponsored teams were using the Italian brand’s new disc brakes.
The only other sign of disc brakes was on the Shimano neutral service vehicles, although this was really a token presence with only one front and one rear wheel, both of which were equipped with quick releases rather than thru axles, meaning they wouldn’t be much good on any of the disc brake bikes being used in the race.
Electronic shifting has now been embraced by a large proportion of the peloton, and all of the Shimano and SRAM-sponsored teams were making the most of it by having remote shifters positioned in various positions around the bars to help riders shift without having to move their hands too much when riding over cobbles.
Peter Sagan was one of a huge number of riders to be using Shimano sprint shifters, which are positioned on the inside of the drops to allow him to shift using his thumbs when sprinting in the drops.
Other riders were using Shimano’s climbing shifters positioned in various places on the tops. Most were using them in their usual position (i.e on the back of the bars being operated with a thumb, but others had them positioned on the fronts of the bars so they could shift using their fingers. IAM Cycling‘s Heinrich Haussler was unique in using a single stripped down sprint shifter located on the tops, presumably to enable him to shift up to respond to attacks.
This is the first Classics season in which a number of teams have being using SRAM Red eTap, and Katusha, in particular were making full use of the Blip remote shifters. Defending champion Alexander Kristoff had the shifters positioned on the bottom of the bars, while other riders had them on the front of the bars.
As for the actual bikes, there was a split down the middle of the peloton with some riders switching to their bike sponsor’s vibration dampening endurance bike for the cobbles, while other stuck with their standard road bike for the more benign Flemish cobbles.
Team Sky and Pinarello went the extra mile, putting a number of riders, including team leader Michal Kwiatkowski, on the Pinarello K8, an unreleased model that we assume will sit between the standard Pinarello Dogma F8 and the suspension-equipped Dogma K8-S.
It was a similar story with the tyre choices. While we expect most riders to be using at least 28mm wide tyres at Paris-Roubaix next week, the majority had stuck with standard 25mm wide tyres. Almost every team had moved away from their official tyre sponsors to use Continental Pro Ltd and FMB Paris-Roubaix tubular tyres.
However the Cannondale mechanics had been busy with a felt tip pen to colour in the tan sidewalls of the team’s FMB tyres to make them look more like Mavic tyres.
Cannondale also had an interesting approach to keeping the team’s Garmin computers safely in their mounts on the rough surfaces, wrapping the mount in insulating tape to stop it from vibrating too much.
And the final interesting piece of tech was seen on Lars Boom’s bike, with the Dutch rider using a Ceramic Speed optimised chain, a modification that will apparently save him 2-5 watts.
We’ll have to wait and see next week if the teams make more extreme modifications for Paris-Roubaix.