By Fred Dreier
In preparation for its first crack at Paris-Roubaix — arguably the world’s most demanding single-day event for riders and their bikes — Slipstream-Chipotle wisely called on their team captain Magnus Backstedt for technical recommendations.
Maggy, the 2004 winner of the “Hell of the North,” keyed the team’s mechanics in to a few secrets of smoothing out the bumpy ride.
“We pretty much started with whatever Maggy wanted, and the other guys followed after that,” said Tom Hopper, the team’s Girona-based mechanic. “He’s the guy for this race, so we were pretty eager to listen.”
What kind of secrets? For starters, big Backstedt understandably told his teammates to tuck extra padding under their bars. Many of the team’s riders will attack tomorrow’s cobbles with thick gel pads made by Fizik packed under layers of tape. Backstedt himself has a layer of pipe insulation tucked under his tape on the drops, and a doubled-over layer of mousepad-like gel on top.
Backstedt also told team wrenches to ditch the 39-tooth front chainring for a 42. The front is mated to a Dura-Ace 11-21 cassette in the rear.
“The race is totally flat, so there’s no need for rings that small,” Hopper said. “Maggy had us put on a 42-tooth ring, and everybody asked us ‘what’s Maggy riding?’”
The team will ride Roubaix’s cobbles on special white editions of Felt’s Sprint frame, which the team’s wrenches simply call the “Roubaix bike.”
Unlike the bikes of other teams, it boasts a full-carbon steerer. Like the rigs of many teams, Slipstream’s Sprints boast wider forks and wider seat and chainstays. The fork also has a widened indent to accommodate the thick and supple 27mm tubulars.
The bike’s fork and chain stays are a full centimeter longer, giving the bike a broader wheelbase.
The forks proved too long for conventional Shimano Dura-Ace brakes, so the bikes have longer reach Shimano calipers, which are wider and allow for greater mud shedding.
For wheels, Zipp outfitted the squad with its special Classic pairing of a 303 front and 404 rear carbon rims mated with specialty butted aluminum spokes for greater comfort. Backstedt will ride this setup, while riders such as Mike Friedman, Will Frischkorn and Maartijn Maaskant may continue on the 202 models they rode at the Tour of Flanders.
Sunday’s forecast calls for rain, and the riders will likely keep the Vittoria Pave 27mm tires on. However if dry conditions prevail, mechanics will swap the rear tire for a 24mm model.
The rattling cobblestones notoriously take their toll on forks, seatposts and bottle cages, and Slipstream has a few tricks up its sleeve. Two weeks ago the camp held a two-day “Cobble Camp” on Roubaix’s sectors, and found that the constant jarring was causing seatpost slippage. To combat this, the mechanics have affixed metal hose clamps — the same you might purchase at a hardware store — to the base of each riders’ seatpost.
“We have them right at the collar. Yeah, it’s a pretty stock piece, but that post isn’t going to slip at all,” Hopper said.
And the bottle cages? Elite’s carbon cages proved to lose a few bottles when the team hit the cobblestones at Het Volk, so Hopper installed Elite’s traditional aluminum models to the bikes. So far the bottles are staying put.
“At the speeds these guys travel over the cobbles, bottles are just going to come out. But with the metal cages you can bend them down to put a lot more pressure on the bottle,” Hopper said.
Will one of the Roubaix bikes end up on Sunday’s podium? Stay tuned.