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Disc brakes and gearing: It’s the little things at the Colorado Classic

Only riders from two teams chose to run disc brakes for stage 2 of the Colorado Classic.

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BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado (VN) — Stage 2 of the Colorado Classic started in the town of Breckenridge and quickly punished riders with 10 trips up the leg-searing Moonstone Road climb. That meant choosing a cassette appropriate for big climbs, a chainring for the downhill sprint through downtown, and reliable brakes to counter the threat of rain throughout the day.

Despite the roiling clouds on the horizon and hairy descents down Illinois Gulch, only riders from two teams chose to run disc brakes. Kiel Reijnen and Greg Daniel from Trek-Segafredo along with Lawson Craddock from Cannondale-Drapac were all spotted on disc-equipped bikes.

“Disc brakes I think are the future of the sport and we’re really fortunate to be on them this year with Cannondale,” Craddock said. “A course like today, the descents are pretty sketchy with turns and fast descents. I’m the only one on the team fortunate enough to be running discs today.”

Reijnen agreed. He rode Trek’s newly-redesigned Emonda, which is so light (665 grams for the disc-ready frame) that even after adding disc brakes the bike still manages to hit the 6.8-kilogram weight limit enforced by the UCI. “This bike’s at the weight limit,” said Reijnen. “The modulation on a disc brake is superior, and this is a technical course. Having the disc brakes is definitely an advantage, and when the bike can be at the weight limit, there’s no reason not to run them. I rode them at Cascade Classic in two stages.” And while Reijnen was enthusiastic about hydraulic stoppers, he still echoed a sentiment shared by much of the peloton: “I’d love more information from the industry on safety. But it seems like it’s less of an issue than we initially thought.”

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In preparation for the 7,000 feet of climbing on the 64-mile course, riders chose a mix of forgiving gearing in the rear with a little extra up front. “I’ll run a 30-tooth cog in the back, and a 54-tooth cog up front. I don’t know if I’ll make it to the sprint, or if there’ll be a sprint, but it’ll be nice to have the extra gear,” Reijnen said.

Brent Bookwalter’s BMC Teammachine was also equipped with an 11-30 cassette. Like Reijnen, many other riders chose a 54-tooth chainring up front in case the finish came down to a sprint. The finishing straight in Breckenridge’s downtown slopes slightly downward, so riders wanted all the gear-inches they could get.

Domestic races also afford the opportunity to spot combinations of gear not commonly seen at the WorldTour level. Axeon-Hagens Berman riders, for example, used previous-generation Specialized S-Works Tarmac Pro Race bikes with Zipp 454NSW wheels. (WorldTour riders for Bora-Hansgrohe and Quick-Step generally ride Roval wheels, though Team Astana rode Corima wheels on its S-Works Tarmacs in 2016.)

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The budgets for UCI Continental and Pro Continental-level teams are much smaller than those for WorldTour squads. Thus, the equipment they have at their disposal isn’t always the most current product iterations. This is especially true on the women’s side, where teams like Amy D. Foundation Racing only have a few bikes on hand to supply to riders. Many riders simply supply their own personal bikes. Steve Donovan, Amy D. Foundation’s mechanic, is used to working with a composite team.

“We don’t have a big budget where all our wheels are the same, all the frames are the same,” Donovan said. “Our riders are on personal bikes, so I’ve got to be ready to work on all sorts of equipment from electrical to mechanical, more spare parts. Most of the riders show up with their bikes in good shape, but the riders don’t always know who’s going to show up as a mechanic, so riders take a fair amount of responsibility for their own equipment.”

Because the race bikes are personal bikes and not team issued equipment, the gear may not always be the most up-to-date. It’s one of the challenges a mechanic faces on a small, budget-strapped team. “Out of my six girls this week, two are on 10-speed and four are on 11-speed. All the bikes that the girls are riding are their own racer-owned bikes.”

It’s not ideal. Yet the level of competition does not suffer based on equipment choices.