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Race Tech: Paris-Roubaix, April 17, 2008
Update on Boonen's winning machine and more bikes from Paris-Roubaix
By James Huang
Whoops! Boonen's machine anything but standard
We had previously reported Tom Boonen's (Quick Step) Paris-Roubaix-winning bike as a "surprisingly standard machine" but, as it turns out, it was anything but. After finally catching up on some long overdue sleep and taking a closer look at our images (not to mention getting a flood of reader mail!) we have some more additional information on the bike that won this year's queen of the classics.
Boonen's Specialized S-Works may have been unlike any bike currently in the company catalog but it does blend aspects from production models. The front end bears strong resemblance to his usual custom Tarmac SL2 with its giant-sized down tube and chain stays, slightly curved top tube and the tapered and oversized 1 1/8"-to-1 1/2" front end. To soften the blows of the cobbles, though, the Roubaix SL-like seat stays include the now-proven Zertz elastomeric inserts which are also found in the fork.
The frame was also likely reinforced with additional carbon plies as is usual for Boonen and the frame geometry appears to reflect the longer and lower front end that Specialized made just for the Belgian superstar last season to accommodate his sensitive back and longer physique.
"As we did last year for the Tour we worked with Boonen to get him the bike that he wanted for Roubaix and it clearly worked," said Specialized PR man Nic Sims. "It is good when we can work together and get it right: last year [with] the [Tarmac] SL2 and the green jersey at the Tour, now work on Roubaix technology and win [Paris-]Roubaix.
"He had previous ridden the old [Roubaix SL] but there were issues with fit for him. He liked the slightly forgiving ride it gave him but he wanted the usual stiffer frame so we went with him in the off-season to develop the best of both worlds and that is the bike that he rode at the weekend."
While it would easy to dismiss Boonen's machine as merely an amalgamation of existing frame parts (an idea also supported by the 'Roubaix SL2' badging on the chain stay), the Zertz-equipped fork and seat stays are clearly unique items that required new molds to be cut.
Sims wouldn't say whether or not the Roubaix SL2 would eventually be available to consumers as a production model but we have a hard time imagining that Specialized would limit the concept solely for team use. The idea of a bike that blends the responsiveness of the Tarmac SL2 with some of the ride characteristics of the Roubaix SL certainly sounds enticing to us.
More team bikes from Paris-Roubaix
Paris-Roubaix is renowned for its brutal cobbled sections (this year there were 28) but when it comes down to it, those sections still only account for 52km of the 259.5km total. True, those 52km played pivotal roles in determining the final outcome of the race but the vast majority of ground covered was still pavement. When combined with the surprisingly pleasant weather, few teams cracked out the truly special creations that, ultimately, were apparently only intended for a truly ugly day in the saddle.
We were expecting otherwise, but Agritubel riders did head out on their standard ultralight Kuota KOM carbon frames and it looks like they all survived race day intact. Likewise, the Saunier Duval-Scott team was found aboard similarly feathery Scott Addict full-carbon rigs but they all appeared to opt for the standard non-integrated seatpost version, presumably for the slightly softer ride.
Both teams were equipped with SRAM Red groups with the odd Rival crankset tossed in to accommodate the longer-legged riders. For whatever reason, though, all of the Agritubel and Saunier Duval-Scott bikes we spotted were also fitted with Force rear derailleurs; some also used Force front derailleurs instead of Red. Box-section aluminum rims were still the general rule of thumb.
Perhaps the only people disappointed in Sunday's dry conditions were Shimano engineers. According to rumors circulating amongst the pits, they were supposedly looking forward to some particularly demanding real-world conditions to test their upcoming new Dura-Ace electronic group. Most of the teams and riders that had previously been spotted testing electronic drivetrains (either from Shimano or Campagnolo) reverted back to the tried-and-true mechanical ones for Paris-Roubaix but a few Skil-Shimano riders served as test dummies for the day.
For sure, wet, cold and muddy conditions mixed with the extreme vibrations of the Paris-Roubaix cobbles would have served as the ultimate test bed for the new technology. Unfortunately (at least for them), Shimano engineers never got their chance to see just how their creation would have performed. For the sake of the rest of us, though, let's hope that it would have passed with flying colors as we expect to see the stuff introduced for public consumption late this year.