Five points on the tech side ahead of this Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix race. The Tour of Flanders has pavé but things are a lot worse in Paris-Roubaix, these roads are simply brutal and unlike any other race on the pro calendar.
Tip and tricks from years past are reapplied. Mechanics spend days, if not weeks, getting ready for just this one race. Unique equipment is used, even team cars are adapted. Here’s a look at five things related to the tech side.
This varies a lot depending on the conditions. If it’s wet then it’s “as low as you dare” with 4.5 bar /65 PSI not uncommon, especially since many riders are on wide 28mm section tyres. If it’s dry then more air is added to ward off the “snake bite” puncture caused by a sudden impact against an object that presses the tube flat between the edge of the hostile object and the rim. The race does actually pass through the village of Saint Python after all.
The mechanics are the unsung heroes of this race. They have a lot of work for one race. There will be eight riders with their eight bikes of course. But typically a team will follow with 16-24 spare bikes, with up to eight racked onto one car where possible to ensure riders get cover. A team leader might have two spare bikes waiting for him on the roof of the lead team car. Maybe 60 spare wheels are brought. Some of these are old and are given to team helpers who are posted at key points in the race. If a rider punctures he will often try to ride on for a short while in order to get a wheel from one of these helpers.
This is one race where the neutral service is essential to cover the moments when team cars can’t be there. Cars are detoured around some cobbled sections and at other times the cars can’t get past the riders spread all over the cobbles. More often than note the Mavic guys attend a race and are never needed. This time their problem is being in demand too often.
They’ll be present this Sunday with four cars, four motorbikes as well as a roving van to supply the motorbikes with extra parts along the way. In total they will bring 200 wheels, some of which are quite old. In 2007 Stuart O’Grady punctured in the Arenberg section and tool a spare wheel from the neutral service and rode this to the finish to take the win. The wheel in question was from 1986.
There’s a lot of hype about special bikes. I suppose I’m contributing to this but in actual fact riders don’t need radically different bikes, just a few modifications go some way to making it more comfortable. As mean as the cobbles are, the majority of the racing is on wide and flat tarmac, you’d lose out if you went too far towards an offroad bike. In the past we’ve seen riders use suspension and other convoluted ideas, today we see special frames.
Much of this is driven by sponsors keen to show alternative products as “race ready”, that if a bike can survive this race then it’s ready for the wider consumer market. For example the Pinarello Kobh has slacker geometry and apparently improved crash resistance making it suitable for the race… but it’s a frame really aimed at weekend riders thanks to it it’s more easygoing position.
Finally, don’t forget the cars. The roads are rough for four wheels too. You wouldn’t normally take a family car on these roads and that’s just what a team car is. If you did venture on the cobbles, you’d probably try to pick your line and creep forward very slowly at times. But if you’ve got a rider up the road with a puncture, it’s full gas for the car, maybe the race is at stake. As such cars get the cobble-proofed too. The oil sump is usually the lowest part underneath the chassis and it can get a protection plate to prevent damage. Suspension is tweaked. Alloy rims are swapped for plain steel ones, even the tyres might be changed. And don’t forget the roof-racks where sometimes a toestrap or two comes in handy to keep valuable assets even more secure. Indeed just as some new bikes get showcased, some teams will also use 4×4 or offroad versions from their vehicle sponsors for the day.