No race places more scrutiny on a rider’s equipment than Paris-Roubaix.
The 257km of the Hell of the North serves up more than 50km of brutal pavé which rattles bike and rider to within an inch of their lives.
It’s a race like no other and sees teams pull out the stops to ensure their men arrive at the finish at the sharp end of the peloton, while mechanics have their own tricks of the trade to help cushion the ride. Tyre choice and pressure is also critical to a rider’s success – in
part two we dissect the rubber of Roubaix.
But, for now, here’s the race tech we spotted at the start of the 2014 edition of the Queens of the Classics in Compiègne, from the new Lapierre Pulsium ridden by FDJ.fr to Fabian Cancellara’s Trek Domane, and cyclo-cross brakes to custom satellite shifters.
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LaPierre's Pulsium has clearance for up to 32mm tyres, a world away from the tight clearance on most standard race bikes
The Classics are, along with the Tour de France, one of professional cycling's most important shop windows for bike manufacturers, with machines designed to take on the pavé popular with club and sportive riders in search of increased comfort, clearance for wider tyres and a more relaxed riding position.
As a result, we've become used to seeing Classics/sportive/comfort/endurance bikes (call them what you want) break cover at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. The Lapierre Pulsium, which uses a 'shock absorbing elastomer ring' on the toptube, is 2014's entry.
The Pulsium has a more relaxed geometry than the Xelius normally used by the FDJ.fr team, with a headtube that's 15mm taller. That doesn't necessarily appeal to professional cyclists, however, and some, including Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling) and Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) use frames (Cannondale and Specialized respectively) with a custom geometry. Arnaud Demare doesn't get that luxury and the Frenchman, who went on to finish 12th, had to remove the headset cover to achieve his desired position.
The Cannondale Synapse Hi-Mod was unveiled ahead of the 2013 Classics season and the American brand's 'endurance race' bike remains the weapon of choice for Peter Sagan on the cobbles.
There was nothing new about Boonen's Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL4, however. Boonen rode the tried-and-tested frame, which features 'Zertz' elastomer inserts on the fork and seatstays, to victory in 2012 and finished 10th while helping team-mate Niki Terpstra to the win on the same model this time out.
Cofidis have been riding the LOOK 675 through the cobbled Classics season. The French firm's striking integrated headtube helps achieve an upright riding position while maintain an aggressive aesthetic. LOOK also say the frame strikes the right balance between the stiffness and comfort required for taking on the cobbles.
Canyon's two sponsored WorldTour teams, Katusha and Movistar, used the Ultimate CF SLX at Paris-Roubaix. This bike belongs to Luca Paolini.
Canyon don't yet have a Classics-specific machine in their range but the Ultimate CF SLX has clearance for 28mm tyres. Movistar arrived at Paris-Roubaix from the Circuit de la Sarthe stage race and that meant a busy day for the team's mechanics ahead of the race to build bikes for those riders who normally use Canyon's Aeroad model, which doesn't have the necessary clearance for 28mm rubber.
It's not difficult to spot Fabian Cancellara's machine among Trek Factory Racing's fleet of Domanes for Paris-Roubaix.
Riders like to attack Paris-Roubaix's pavé sectors with their hands on the top of the handlebar. Luca Paolini was one of a number of riders to use a bar-top mounted cyclo-cross brake to provide quick access to the stoppers. Some riders used both brakes, while Paolini only had a rear brake rigged up.
Double bar-top brakes for this Europcar rider on a Colnago Prestige cyclo-cross bike.
Lotto-Belisol's mechanics added small strips of super-sticky Lizard Skins handlebar tape to Jens Debusschere's levers to help the Belgian stay in control over the bumpy cobbles.
Other Lotto-Belisol riders preferred to have grip tape added to their levers for the same reason.
The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that lever is part of Campagnolo's new flagship mechanical groupset, Super Record RS. The new group, unveiled last month, uses an alloy front derailleur cage and revised chainring profiles said to improve shifting performance. Fresh graphics, which include the Italian tricolore to represent Campagnolo’s Italian heritage, help distinguish RS from the regular Super Record groupset.
Not all teams were on top-of-the-range gear for a race as hard on equipment as Paris-Roubaix, however. Astana are also sponsored by Campagnolo and were using mid-range Chorus transmission components with Record brakes.
Most riders ask for double handlebar tape to help take the sting out of the cobbles. Here's Team Sky mechanic Thomas Kousgaard adding a second layer to Luke Rowe's Pinarello Dogma K.
But if you needed anymore evidence of Fabian Cancellara's status as a Classics hardman its in the Swiss rider's preference for a single layer of tape.
We spotted a large number of riders on Shimano-sponsored teams using the Japanese firm's handlebar-mounted satellite shifters. Most had the buttons, which provide quick gear changes when attacking the cobbles, facing backwards, but Team Sky's Bernhard Eisel preferred to access the shifters from the front of the bar.
The satellite shifters' two buttons move the rear mech up and down the cassette. Arnaud Demare prefers to have individual buttons on either side of the stem so FDJ.fr's mechanics stripped two satellite shifters down to a single button each to create this bespoke solution.
Lampre-Merida used Merida's updated Ride SL. The revised frame uses skinny seatstays, flattened chainstays and a narrow seatpost to help cushion the ride out back, while each fork leg has an elastomer insert.
The Cervelo R3 has pedigree at Paris-Roubaix, having been ridden to victory on three occasions (by Fabian Cancellara, Stuart O’Grady and Johan Vansummeren) since its introduction in 2006. The Garmin-Sharp team rode the 'Mud' version, which has additional tyre clearance, in this year's edition of the race, with Sebastian Langeveld piloting this machine to eighth.
We're used to seeing lengthy stems on bikes in the pro peloton so Langeveld's 110mm stem is decidedly, well, normal.
David Millar averages things out, however, with this frankly outrageous 150mm stem.
Reliability trumps weight at Paris-Roubaix so most teams swap their regular carbon fibre cages for metal cages to provide a better grip on bottles when bouncing over the cobbles. These stainless steel Arundel cages belong to Langeveld.
Elite Ciussi cages are popular throughout the peloton at the Classics. They have a rubber tap on the inside for added security.
Paris-Roubaix is virtually pan-flat so almost every bike we saw had the regular 39-tooth inner chainring swapped for something larger. Most riders went for 44 or 46-teeth, but Fabian Cancellara opted for a slightly smaller chainring with 42-teeth.
Team Sky duo Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins, seventh and ninth respectively, both used a Fizik Arione saddle with additional padding to help soften the blows served up by more than 50km of pavé.
The Dogma K is Pinarello's Classics bike but the differences between it and the Dogma 65.1 are more subtle than most 'comfort' bikes. The geometry has been tweaked a little to relax the handling, while the Dogma 65.1's wavy rear-end has been replaced by these thinner, sweeping seatstays to soften the ride.