Sign up for our newsletter

Six tech observations from the opening Classic of the season

News
3 Mar 2020
Advertisement

Words and photography David Arthur

Racing might have started in sunnier climes but the windswept and grey Belgian landscape marked the traditional season opener with the Omloop Het Nieuswblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne double-header.

We prowled around the team buses to get a closer look at the bikes and equipment being used in the cobbled races and picked out a few trends that are emerging in the professional peloton this season.

1. Disc brakes are the new normal

 

It wasn’t so long ago that debate was heated about the acceptance of disc brakes in the professional peloton, and after a few topsy turvy years, disc brakes now outnumber rim brakes amongst the WorldTour teams.

Deceuninck-QuickStep really led the charge by making the wholesale switch to disc brakes in 2019 and this year many teams have followed in their footsteps.

It seems issues around weight, aerodynamics and wheel changes have been sidelined in an apparent rush to embrace disc brakes.

Some teams like Quick-Step, Trek-Segafredo and even smaller ProConti teams like Arkea-Samsic and Circus-Wanty Gobert give their riders no options: it’s disc brakes or nothing.

 

Some other teams have a more open attitude with Team NTT and Team Sunweb allowing riders to choose disc or rim brakes. Spotting rim brakes is getting hard in the professional peloton, but the biggest team of them all, Team Ineos, are sticking with rim brakes and show no sign of making a change to disc brakes anytime soon. 

2. Tubeless tyres are getting more popular. But tubs are still king

 

I’ve long talked about how tubeless is going to make bigger inroads into the professional peloton, and despite a few glimmers of hope that it would happen, tried-and-tested tubulars have continued to be the favoured choice.

And that was very much the case at this first cobbled race of the season. But there’s change in the air, with Team NTT and Education First giving riders the choice of tubulars or tubeless, and some riders were opting for the latter.

 

One team we had expected to be riding tubeless, but was riding tubulars, was Deceuninck-QuickStep. The Belgian squad has been trialling and even winning with Specialized’s new S-Works RapidAir tubeless tyre, but the entire team was on Specialized S-Works Hell of the North 28mm wide tubular tyres for this race. Sometimes the tried-and-tested approach prevails in the Classics.

When it comes to tyre choice, Continental and Vittoria have the lion's share of the WorldTour peloton, with the Competition ProLtd and Corsa Control respectively. Several lab tests have shown the Vittoria to be one of the lowest rolling resistance tyres currently available.

3. Shimano dominating the power meter scene

 

For many years if you wanted a power meter, SRM was the gold standard. Then we entered a gold rush and loads of companies popped up selling power meters with the professional peloton a key proving ground and marketing channel.

It looks like the battle for supremacy and market share is slowing down and far and away the most popular power meter in the WorldTour this year is Shimano with its Dura-Ace crank-based power meter.

That Shimano should so rapidly come to dominate the power meter business in pro racing is no surprise when you consider how many teams are already using its groupsets.

Adding on a power meter is easy and we’re sure Shimano is making it very appealing for teams to choose its system. It does remove the benefit of competition but it underlines how powerful Shimano is in professional cycling.

4. Aero bikes are regularly raced on the cobbles

 

Aero bikes have come a long way from the harsh riding experiences of the first generation bikes. with the latest offering unforeseen levels of comfort and tyre clearance that they’ve quickly become a regular sight in the Cobbled Classics.

We used to see all special bikes being used in these races, and while they still will for the brutal pave of Paris-Roubaix, for the cobbled roads and helligen of the Flanders region, an aero bike with 26-28mm seems right for the job.

 

It also highlights how important aerodynamics is to racers and a reminder that while the cobbles define the nature of these races, their distance is outnumbered by smooth roads where an aero bike really is a benefit. So a little less comfort on the cobbles but a lot more speed on the road is the logic behind choosing aero bikes.

Jasper Stuyven proved this point by riding his Trek Madone to victory in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad at the weekend.

5. Despite advanced technology, race notes taped to stems are still standard

 

Technology in cycling has come on leaps and bounds. We now have wireless gears, hydraulic disc brakes, power meters, GPS computers and Bluetooth, but when it comes to race route notes, you just can’t beat a bit of tape with the key sectors stuck on the stem.

With a race like Omloop Het Nieuwsblad featuring multiple cobbled roads, climbs and feed zones, it can be useful to know when they are coming up, especially if there is a race strategy a rider needs to follow.

The quality varies from hand-drawn notes to colour-coded printouts.  Some race notes are so long they run out of space on the stem and must use the top tube! 

6. Tyre pressure is still a closely guarded secret

 

The access you get to poke around team bikes right before a big race is incredible, and the mechanics are surprisingly open to answering questions about bike setup to disc brakes, and tyre choice to gearing.

But ask them what tyre pressure a rider is using and suddenly they lose their command of the English language. Or if you try and point a camera at the pressure gauge, out comes the clipboard or shoulder to get in the way. 

The last job the mechanics do before the start of the race, other than clipping on race numbers and slotting GPS transponders into their carriers, is to check tyre pressures so it’s a good chance to try and get a sneak at the pressure gauge, but not always successfully. 

Tyre pressure certainly won’t make or break a race-winning ride, but it’s something riders and mechanics take very seriously and keep the exact pressures close to their chests. Fact is they’re all probably running the same ballpark pressures. 

The lowest pressue spotted was 80psi and the highest was 97psi, but we overheard one rider calling for 110psi. It seems where tyre pressure is concerned, riders have their own view on what is best and some have embraced the latest research that shows lower pressures are often faster.