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VN Awards: Gear moments of the year

The good, the bad, and the sketchy.

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Close up of van der Poel's broken handlebar

Oh, snap!

In March, Mathieu van der Poel snapped the handlebar on his Canyon Aeroad in the closing kilometers of Belgium’s Le Samyn while riding in a breakaway. Instead of stopping for a bike change, he continued on, the right shift lever and broken end of the bar dangling limply.

And instead of simply fading back and finishing anonymously at the back of the bunch, van der Poel continued racing and, when caught by the bunch, helped set up his Alpecin-Fenix teammate Tim Merlier for the win by riding on the front, squarely in view of the cameras.

Van der Poel hadn’t just broken any handlebar, of course, but the expandable carbon bar that had just recently been launched. Using bolts underneath the tops, the new Aeroad bar could expand or contract in width.

At first blush, it appeared as if this expansion piece had failed. It hadn’t. Instead, it was the carbon under where the lever clamped on that had cracked.

Canyon subsequently issued a recall on the bars, and the Alpecin-Fenix team reverted to riding old Aeroad bikes without that integrated bar. Later in the year, however, van der Poel returned to the new-style integrated setup.

Speeco skinny bars
(Photo: Courtesy Speeco)

So long, supertuck. Hello, skinny bars?

The date was April 1. It was not an April Fool’s joke. After talking about new rider safety enforcements last winter, the UCI announced on February 4 that two rider positions would be banned beginning on April 1: the supertuck, and forearms on the bars.

Typically, UCI bike regulations govern the gear itself — TT bike length, minimum bike weight, etcetera — not how the rider uses it. But will these two new bans usher in new gear?

Some have speculated that dropper posts could pop up on road bikes to help riders lower their bodies (and thus CdA numbers) similar to the supertuck, but the additional weight and compromise in ride quality have thus far negated any such move.

Narrower handlebars, however, might be used more by domestiques and long-range attackers who can no longer slump down on their bar in the “invisible aerobar” position. Enve’s road bar for a couple years has already narrowed the hoods section relative to the drops for a more aero position when riding with the hands on the hoods.

The most drastic option, however, is Speeco’s Aero Breakaway handlebar, designed and used by Jan-Willem van Schip, who has long favored ultra-narrow 32cm bars. Besides being narrow, the Speeco bar features a short stem and a super long reach of the bar itself, allowing riders to lay their forearms flat on the extensions almost like a mini aerobar.

In June, however, van Schip showed up with these bars to the Baloise Belgium Tour and was subsequently kicked out by the UCI — as his bars were deemed to violate the latest ban by using the forearms as a point of support.

Shimano wireless shifter diagram
(Illustration: Courtesy Shimano)

What will we see in 2022?

Shimano cuts the cable. Well, one set.

With the fall release of its latest Dura-Ace and Ultegra components, Shimano followed SRAM’s lead in doing away with mechanical shifting for good on its top two groups.

Shimano’s electronic Di2 has dominated the WorldTour peloton in recent years, but riders worldwide had a choice to shift by pushing buttons or by pushing levers. Now, that choice is gone.

Cables haven’t gone away completely for Shimano, though, as Dura-Ace and Ultegra still have rim-brake models. While the vast majority of new bikes has moved to disc brakes, some top-end race models still come in the lighter rim-brake version. And for at least a couple of WorldTour teams, and thus arguably Shimano, that is reason enough to keep the cables for braking.

Clinchers
(Photo: Tim de Waele / Getty Images)

Clinchers

“Clincher tires can’t be used for pro racing because…” was how many a cycling tech article started for decades. The increased chance for a pinch flat. The inability to safely ride a flat tire. The “feel” … A number of reasons were rattled off.

You won’t be reading those articles much anymore.

Julian Alaphilippe won a stage of the Tour de France last year on clichers, marking the first time in decades this had happened. This year, with both Deceuninck-Quick-Step and Bora-Hansgrohe racing regularly on Specialized clincher tires, the wins started racking up, and the novelty started wearing off. Kasper Asgreen’s win at the cobbled Tour of Flanders was especially notable. What was that about pinch flats again?

Specialized will tell you that it’s putting teams on clinchers for their lower rolling resistance and better aerodynamics than tubulars. And VeloNews has commissioned third-party tests over the years that align with these conclusions.

But perhaps a bigger validation for many riders is the fact that the pros on the WorldTour stage are now using the same tires as many everyday riders. And that’s pretty cool.

Annemiek van Vleuten celebrating when she thought she won Olympic gold
(Photo: Ronald Hoogendoorn / Getty Images)

Radio Olympics

While many amateurs race with the same bikes and gear as the professionals (sometimes even nicer!), virtually no amateurs race with one piece of equipment that is vital to modern-day sport of road racing: the race radio.

By having a radio and an earpiece on each rider, team directors can relay both information and instructions to their team in real time. Fans and indeed riders have weighed in on the pros and cons of how this affects racing, but the fact is that pro teams now rely on them.

At the Tokyo Olympics, however, race radios were banned, and the women’s road race was defined by a lack of radio communication. A breakaway containing eventual race winner Anna Kiesenhofer of Austria went at kilometer zero, and riders were slowly shed from the break. As the race entered its final kilometers, the chase group understood that all breakaway riders had been caught, when in fact Kiesenhofer was still off the front.

The dominant Dutch team continued with what it believed to be its winning tactic, setting up Annemiek van Vleuten for the win. And indeed, when van Vleuten attacked and powered alone to the finish line, she threw up her hands, believing she had won the Olympic gold medal. Alas, it was silver.

“I thought I had won,” van Vleuten said.