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Race Tech: Paris-Roubaix, April 13, 2008

The cobbles take their toll even before the racing starts

By James Huang in Compiègne, France

And you thought your local roads were rough?
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Riders obviously have to be careful
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The Liquigas team checks out the conditions.
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Français des Jeux riders have experimented
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Race favorite Nick Nuyens
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The curved rear end
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Agritubel and Saunier Duval-Scott riders
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Agritubel rider Emilien-Benoit Berges
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Box-section rims are the norm at Paris-Roubaix
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Vittoria's 24mm-wide Pavé tubulars
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As expected, teams and riders arrived days in advance of Sunday's Paris-Roubaix to reconnoiter the critical sections of the course for the last times. However, the test sessions also served as a last-minute shakedown of the team's bikes and equipment and not everything fared well.

Now in its 106th edition, there is little about the course and potential conditions that aren't well-known at this point but team sponsors continue to push the limits with their machines. Some bikes were little more than slightly beefed-up road machines while others were somewhat bizarre hybrids of road and 'cross. As a result, complete bike weights ranged from around 7.5kg (16.5lb) all the way up to 8.5kg (18.7lb).

As riders returned from scouting missions on Friday and Saturday, though, it was clear that not everything would make it through unscathed. Team pits were awash in the smell of tubular glue as punctured tires were replaced and mechanics were almost universally found adding extra layers of bar tape to help cushion the blows for the far more punishing demands of race day.

Some mechanics were also replacing frames, though, particularly for the larger or heavier riders among the peloton or teams that apparently opted for ultralight equipment for their scouting rides. Our quick scans already yielded no fewer than two broken bikes and Sunday's race pace (and possibly horrific weather conditions) will most certainly produce more.

Readers should also keep in mind that the heavily crowned cobblestone roads will not just be hard on the bikes and riders, but also on team vehicles. Stories about hopefully crippled vehicles are mostly based on truth and the aggressive pace of the race caravan must also be matched with driver skill.

How bad could it be, you wonder? As we chased riders around the parcours on Friday, we had to pay particularly close attention so as not to bottom out the undercarriage of Cyclingnews' own Peugeot 308 rental car. Someone else apparently wasn't so mindful, though, judging by the giant streak of fluid left down the center of the pavé courtesy of a pierced oil pan.


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Images by James Huang/Cyclingnews.com

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