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Race tech: Ronde van Vlaanderen, April 6, 2009
Kinder weather keeps the special machines at home
By James Huang in Meerbeke, Belgium
Cervélo's new cobble-specific RS
As compared to the veritable minefields of Paris-Roubaix, the Ronde van Vlaanderen's relatively less punishing cobbles saw most of the Cervélo TestTeam riders aboard their standard S2 aero frames -Thor Hushovd was on an S3 - at the start instead of the new cobble-specific machine based on the RS that we recently previewed. In fact, the only rider using it today was Roger Hammond, who may have been partially using the day to iron out any last minute bugs before next weekend's big show.
Some may question the platform switch as Cervélo have enjoyed an enviable record about their existing modified R3 framesets (two wins at Paris-Roubaix plus one second place finish) but the stock production RS closely mimics its special geometry as is, including the 1cm-longer chain stays and longer-rake fork for a longer and more stable wheelbase. In addition, the RS' slightly curved seat stays presumably provide an even more compliant ride and the slacker head tube angle lends even more security on slippery cobbles.
Changes from the stock RS appear to be limited to additional tire clearance courtesy of a raised bridge out back and longer blades on Hammond's modified 3T Funda Pro fork. Unlike the old modified R3s, though, long-reach brake calipers are used at both ends.
Sunday's more demanding parcours will likely see more of the team using the new frames and we'll hopefully have more detailed information by then.
New Zipp 303 carbon rims take to the cobbles
Several riders at this year's Ronde van Vlaanderen - from teams Cervélo TestTeam, Garmin-Slipstream and Saxo Bank - set off from the start in Brugge aboard a new version of Zipp's versatile 303 carbon tubular rim.
The new rims use a toroidal profile that noticeably bulges in width at the midsection and also appear to abandon the parallel braking surface in favor of the angled ones used on the 1080. Based on what Zipp have previously said about the 1080, the new 303 shape is presumably more aerodynamic than before and according to Zipp-sponsored 'cross rider Joachim Parbo (Leopard Cycles) - who conveniently happened to be on hand at the start and has been riding them all year - they are also much more resistant to impact damage though at this point in time it's unclear how.
Interestingly, the new 303 rims we spotted at the start were molded without Zipp's trademark aero-enhancing dimples but it's a safe bet that they'll reappear on production versions.
Carbon rims in general, however, were still the minority with just six of the 25 teams eschewing the standard-issue aluminum box-section tubulars in search of lighter weight and/or extra speed. Team Columbia-Highroad looked to be mostly on deeper-section HED carbon rims while Rabobank and Skil-Shimano were on shallow Shimano carbon hoops.
Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 offers unique advantage on the cobbles
For whatever reason, fewer teams and riders were seen using electronic drivetrains at this year's Ronde van Vlaanderen and Campagnolo's electronic group was notably absent entirely (though we admittedly may have missed it). Some Skil-Shimano riders though were not only heading to the finish in Meerbeke with the latest Dura-Ace Di2 group - they were also wisely exploiting one of its key advantages.
One of the draws of Di2 for multisport athletes is the option for remote shifters, which would normally be placed out on aero extensions to let riders maintain a tuck. Here however, Skil-Shimano mechanics installed an additional set of rear shift buttons on the bar tops right next to the stem, thus enabling the riders to shift more easily while on the cobbles.
Given the roughness of some of the sections - which we can confirm firsthand after riding the 140km route of the Touriste Ronde on Saturday - and Di2's tap-and-forget shift action, such an advantage likely proved most convenient.
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Images by James Huang/Cyclingnews.com