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103rd Paris-Roubaix - PT
France, April 10, 2005
The bikes of Hell - the weird, the conservative and the 'courageous'
Part three - Credit Agricole
No other race hammers bikes like Paris-Roubaix and no other race showcases the inventive solutions that manufacturers and mechanics come up with to try and help their riders get across the line in the Roubaix velodrome. Gerard Knapp takes a look at the almost-stock Look bikes of Credit Agricole.
'Le Viking' to rampage on standard kit
Of all the bikes that will roll out on Sunday, the Credit Agricole riders are using perhaps the most 'standard' of all.
Each rider has spent the past few days - and racing at Gent-Wevelgem - on 481SL framesets fitted with 10-speed Dura-Ace.
After all, it is a French race, and it seems the French bike-maker has just the machine for one of its most famous cycle races. The relaxed geometry and compliant nature of this signature Look frame - continually evolving from the 381i famously used by Laurent Jalabert - is considered perfect for the 'Hell'. In fact Cyclingnews currently has a 481SL on test and your correspondent certainly wishes he'd had this bike on Saturday morning. Courtesy of German tyre maker Continental a group of journalists 'enjoyed' a morning bash on the cobbles to try out Continental's new 'Competition' 25mm tubulars, also fitted to Credit Agricole's Looks - but our 481SL was back at the office.
Credit Agricole has made just one modification - if you can call it that - to the standard 481SL, replacing the super-light, sub-300 gram HSC-5 all-carbon fork with an HSC-4, all-carbon fork that uses aluminium tips (rather than the composite tips of the 2005 version).
Is there anything else special about the Paris-Roubaix bikes? The Look spokesman scratched his head. "Hmmm … no. They are normal. The longer top-tube makes them better to handle the parcours."
A longer wheelbase is generally considered a good thing for Paris-Roubaix, but rather than having to build special frames with extra-long seatstays, the Credit Agricole mechanics simply slid the adjustable rear drop-outs - a feature of the 481SL - to maximum extension, effectively adding another 10mm to the wheelbase in less than a minute.
One of Credit Agricole's big chances in Paris-Roubaix will be resident Viking, Thor Hushovd, whose bike can be recognized by the 'Le Viking' decal on the top tube, signifying the reigning Norwegian road champion's machine.
Some of the CA riders are using the new Look KeO pedals, while others opt for the Shimano SPD-SL. But all are using otherwise completely standard Dura-Ace groups.
For all other racing and training, the CA riders roll around on the relatively-new, sub-kilo 585 frameset, but for surviving the Hell of the North, the French manufacturer has one of the most appropriate bikes designed for hours in the saddle on less-than-perfect roads offered as a standard machine that is available in the shops.
Once again, Paris-Roubaix showed how it can keep manufacturers honest and force them to continue to build bicycles that are suitable for professional and serious recreational riders alike.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Gerard Knapp/Cyclingnews.com