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Anna van der Breggen was off the front of the world championships road race for 43 kilometers — plenty of time to look closely at her bike. And what did we see? A first at elite world championships: Disc brakes, on the winner’s bike.
By now you know that the Dutchwoman crushed the women’s field at the 2018 UCI World Road Championships, taking her first title by a whopping 3:42 over second-place Amanda Spratt of Australia. And she did so on a disc brake-equipped Specialized S-Works Tarmac, making her the first rider to win a rainbow jersey on a disc-equipped bike.
She joins an elite club of disc-brake pioneers. That group includes Marcel Kittel, who became the first rider to win a Tour de France stage on a disc-equipped bike during stage 2 of the 2017 Tour. And Tom Boonen became the first rider to win a major UCI pro race at the 2017 Vuelta de San Juan in Argentina on discs.
At this point, it should hardly seem surprising to see a pro win a race on a disc bike. They are becoming common on bike shop floors and in your local group ride.
Yet Van der Breggen’s feat is notable for a few reasons. First, the Innsbruck worlds course was a climber’s race. That means van der Breggen’s bike was made to be as light as a bike with calipers. In the early days, one of the biggest disc brake drawbacks was the extra weight of rotors and hydraulics. As technology has evolved, that concern has gone away. (Specialized’s men’s S-Works Tarmac Disc in a size 56cm weighs right around 14.6 pounds out of the box.)
On the other hand, the course featured an intense, winding descent. Disc brakes would certainly be an advantage here. Disc brakes offer more power and control than rim brakes, which means riders can take corners more aggressively by braking later. And of course, at such high speeds, reliable and strong braking could mean the difference between a fast, accurate line and overshooting a corner.
And finally, van der Breggen has become accustomed to this setup. Boels-Dolmans is one of a handful of pro teams using disc brake bikes exclusively. On the men’s side, Trek-Segafredo committed to disc brakes for the entirety of the 2018 season. Boels-Dolmans and Canyon-SRAM are two notable teams on the women’s circuit using only disc brake bikes in mass-start races.
Of course, disc brakes aren’t the reason why Van der Breggen dominated the competition on Saturday. But this is one more milestone along the way as disc brakes are slowly introduced to the pro peloton.