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Race Tech: Ronde van Vlaanderen, April 7, 2008

Bring on the cobbles!

By James Huang in Brugge, Belgium

New version of electronic Campagnolo Record group spotted

Campagnolo surprised us
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The rear derailleur appears mostly unchanged
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Just when we were pretty confident that Campagnolo had nearly finalized the design for its own electronic group, a new version showed up at the start of this year's Ronde van Vlaanderen. The derailleurs looked to be essentially unchanged from what we'd seen prior but the levers were wholly new items and the battery housing looks to have received some minor tweaks to allow the use of a standard bottle cage instead of the integrated carbon unit.

Relative to the modified Ergopower test mules we're used to seeing, the new levers bear an all-new shape with longer and curvier carbon brake lever blades. The significant length of lever blade on top of the pivot location suggests to us that adjustable reach might also be incorporated here (now a virtually required feature courtesy of SRAM's new Red levers).

The lever body is bigger, too, with a more pronounced and inwardly canted peak that provides a perfect place to hook your thumbs when you're dropping your elbows and getting low. Despite the dramatically different appearance, though, the new shape actually feels quite similar to standard Ergopower levers as the primary contact surface locations are mostly unchanged.

This latest iteration also boasts a functional change as the inboard thumb paddles have disappeared in favor of shrouded push buttons. A second button paired with the shift button is apparently used to operate the associated Ergobrain computer.

Even though this is the first time we're aware of that the new levers have made a public appearance, they look surprisingly close to production items save for the somewhat rough fit of the hoods. If these were true prototypes we would have expected the bodies and lever blades to be made using typical small batch procedures such as CNC machining, SLA (stereolithography) or SLS (selective laser sintering), yet the composite body and carbon lever blades indicate that final, or nearly final, molds have already been cut.

Slipstream saves Paris-Roubaix bikes for the big show

Slipstream's Magnus Backstedt
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Save for the special paint and Swedish national champion graphic
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The Ronde van Vlaanderen is littered with stretches of cobbles but their somewhat milder surfaces (?!) apparently didn't warrant the use of one-off machines in the same manner as what we usually see at Paris-Roubaix. In fact, 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt (Slipstream-Chipotle) left the start in Brugge with his usual Felt F1 Sprint, complete with a Zipp 303 carbon tubular up front and a slightly deeper Zipp 404 in back. Save for the custom paint to commemorate his Swedish national champion status, there was little to distinguish his bike from those of the rest of the squad.

Slipstream does have Paris-Roubaix specials, though, and those bikes did still made it out on course; however, they were mounted atop the team cars as spares for the day. The current Belgian weather promises to make this year's 'hell of the north' a decidedly messier (and thus, more typical) affair than last year's uncommonly hot and dry running and from the looks of those 'spares', Slipstream riders should be ready to go.

The Paris-Roubaix Felts utilize a mix of F1 SL and F1 Sprint materials for extra strength and stiffness without too much added weight. Kevlar patches are also applied to the top tube for additional impact resistance from errantly spinning handlebars.

As is typical for the genre, there is also more tire clearance all around courtesy of longer fork blades, rangier seat stays and chain stays that are slightly indented right where the tire passes through. Unique rear dropouts decrease the bottom bracket height a bit for more stability. A 50mm-rake carbon fork offsets the longer rear end to maintain overall weight balance and also yields a longer and more stable wheelbase.

Longer-reach Shimano R600 brake calipers are used to accommodate the increased clearances but it looks like the rest of the componentry (save for the wheels, of course) will be standard team issue come next weekend.

Tried-and-true is the rule of thumb for classics wheels

The 'Limited Edition' badging on Astana's Bontrager tubulars
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Saunier Duval-Scott ran box-section tubulars, too.
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Mavic is a team sponsor so we weren't surprised to see these…
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Deep-section carbon wheels have come to dominate the scene in most road events but the vast majority of riders and teams have opted for more traditional hoops for the spring classics, including Quick Step's Stijn Devolder who soloed in for victory in front of his home crowd.

For example, Astana riders departed on Bontrager 'Limited Edition' wheels built with box-section tubular rims, DT Swiss hubs and 32 Sapim stainless steel spokes front and rear along with more rarely used brass nipples. Saunier Duval-Scott team members headed off on similarly configured wheels with Mavic box-section rims, some of which have long been out of production.

Tire selection was critical as usual and some teams cracked out some unusual selections for the Ronde van Vlaanderen to go along with their robust wheels. Durability was clearly a high priority for Crédit Agricole who used 25mm-wide Continental Pro Limited Competition ProTection tubulars with double Vectran breaker plies and Snakeskin sidewall protection. Milram, on the other hand, opted for a standard 23mm width but a deeper and more aggressive tread. The brand name on those tires was blacked out but the remaining text suggested they were Paris-Roubaix models from 'cross tire icon Dugast.

Clinchers were in the minority here but still made a few key appearances. Michelin-sponsored Bouygues Telecom riders used the new Pro3 Grip model in a 700x23c size for better traction on the uneven surfaces. As compared to the standard Pro3 Race, the most obvious difference is the addition of a slight file tread on the shoulders but we're guessing a softer compound is in use as well.

Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) made history a few weeks ago with his Het Volk victory on Hutchinson's Road Tubeless system. We didn't catch his race bike before he headed off in the morning but most of the team's spare bikes were again outfitted with Shimano Dura-Ace WH-7850-SL wheels and Hutchinson Fusion 2 Road Tubeless tires. We'll have to wait and see if the team opts for the Road Tubeless rubber come Paris-Roubaix.


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Images by James Huang/Cyclingnews.com

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