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Watching Zipp make wheelset history

RCUK editor not shown…

2010 was the year Zipp finally cracked it. In their view, that is. What previously left them dissatisfied? Take a look at the video embedded in the Zipp 303 tubular wheelset web page and all becomes clear. When Fabian Cancellara won Paris-Roubaix on the Zipp 303 wheelset back in April 2010, he achieved a feat some thought impossible; winning the Queen of the Classics on a carbon-fibre rim.

My own interest in this particular video stems from the fact that I was lucky enough to be present at the test session in the Arenberg forest, referred to in the video, during which it became clear to Zipp engineer Michael Hall that some serious work was needed if a carbon rim was even to finish the race, let along carry its rider to victory.

The test session took place in October 2006 and I was sent along to write a story for Procycling magazine. Team CSC riders Allan Johansen, wearing the colours of Danish road champion, Lars Michaelsen and Fabian Cancellara did the riding and rim breaking while Cervelo’s Gerard Vroomen, CSC directeur sportif Scott Sunderland and Hall observed the mayhem.

It was a great day and not just ‘cos it was my birthday; I drove to Kortrijk to meet the crew at their hotel, watched in disbelief as they drove off at race speed through the morning traffic, eventually found them at one end of the Arenberg trench and watched carefully to see what would happen to the many carefully-prepared carbon rims brought along for the test.

A full report may be found in the relevant issue of Procycling, which I think was the December 2006 one, but basically the pros, asked to break their equipment, were only to happy to oblige. Cancellara in particular went the extra mile – or couple of lengths of the forest – to make sure that none were left unscathed.

All it took was a hole or cobblestone standing proud and the rim was toast, although none actually collapsed. Instead, a crack big enough to compromise safety would appear and another wheel would have to be drafted in. I did make one contribution; when Vroomen and Sunderland were wondering what to do about the lack of clearance under the rear brake bridge using a standard reach caliper, I was able to advise on the existence of a long-reach model that would allow the frame to be modified. Bloody tourists…

Fair pay to Zipp, though. Undeterred by the carnage, Hall and his team set to work building a rim that would survive Roubaix and they did so not with a design built to withstand nuclear winter but with one shaped and constructed to flex and absorb impacts while minimising air drag. Which is why, according to Zipp technical director Josh Poertner, Cancellara was able to attack 40km from the finish rather than having to wait until 20km to go. There’s luxury for you.


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