Paris Roubaix is a race steeped in tradition. Every chapter in the race’s history sees common threads woven throughout, and this lays the foundation for Paris Roubaix’s timeless appeal. Almost every other race in the PRO calendar has been touched by the hand of modern bicycle technologies. A look at the Tour de France reveals high-tech machines taking advantage of the most advanced technologies available to the manufacturing world—an engineer’s showcase of the thinnest, lightest, and fastest—an envelope pushed so far that the UCI has a specific rule in place in an attempt to keep things safe. br The race’s tradition extends far beyond the route, the stones, or the concrete showers, rather the tradition extends into the mindset of the riders themselves. Many understand that the race is comprised of unpredictable events and the fastest way to a win is to limit as many unknowns as possible.
A walk though the start village in Compiègne illustrates the different strategies of the teams. Some teams and riders opt for cantilever brakes, others the standard road calipers. Some go for double tape, the 23, 25, 27, 28mm tires, and suspension forks. The list of Roubaix-specific accoutrement is as long as the line at the espresso tents. However, there is one gear selection that remains almost unanimous among teams: the decision to ride “traditional wheels”.
The term “traditional” is used by many of the teams to describe the traditional, 32-hole hub, three cross spoke pattern and “low profile” rim with a tubular tire glued to it. Over the years and with all the developments in wheel technology, it is fascinating that the wheel choice for Roubaix remains a “low-tech” option.
Undoubtedly, the high-tech players are in hot pursuit of a seat at the Roubaix table. Zipp, for example, has been hard at work developing a deep section carbon wheel capable of delivering all the performance characteristics against the wind, while continuing to be able to handle the stones. Most recently, the CSC team has been spotted at Flanders with a deep section, rear wheel, and a traditional front. (BKW has spent some time speaking with the folks at Zipp; stay tuned for a future post featuring Zipp’s experiences at the Classics and the future of a deep-section carbon Roubaix wheel.)
For more information on the traditional wheel approach, we placed a call to BKW friend and PRO mechanic George Noyes. As a recap, George turned wrenches for cycling’s best and did his time in the trenches for 7-Eleven, Motorola, Cofidis, and Mapei. George has built enough wheels in his career to fill a stadium and included in his builds are wheels that carried the Lion himself to victory at Roubaix.
When speaking about the traditional wheel style with George, it becomes immediately evident that he remains passionate about wheel building and he respects the love and attention to detail so common among traditionally constructed wheels. Although the options for wheel building seem endless, the builds at Roubaix all seem to be alike.
A wheel for Roubaix needs to deliver overall durability, lateral stiffness, and the ability to absorb impact. George confirmed that in the years before deep section, carbon wheels, mechanics often built the wheels with lower spoke tension to give the wheel a softer ride. Today, however, George notes that riders prefer their wheels built with a higher spoke tension because most are accustomed to the ride quality of today’s high tension wheels.
An interesting side note regarding the wheels for Roubaix: George recalls, the mechanics always pulled the oldest wheels first. Back in those days, the traditional wheelset was the only wheelset. The Mapei team used the oldest wheels on the truck for Roubaix and, quite simply, Roubaix would be the final ride for these wheels, prompting immediate retirement upon removal from the bike. The team’s star riders would always begin Roubaix on a new set of wheels.
Here is a quick glance at the wheel builds for Johan and team:
Front Wheel Rim: Ambrosio Nemesis 32 hole Hub: Shimano Dura Ace 32 hole Spokes: Sapim or DT (Aero when available*) Tire: Vittoria Build: 3X with lower tension in spokes
Rear Wheel Rim: Ambrosio Nemesis 32 hole Hub: Shimano Dura Ace 32 hole Spokes: Sapim or DT (Aero then tied and soldered) Tire: Vittoria Build: 3X with lower tension in spokes
* Aero spokes were an expensive option and despite the Mapei budget, they were not always available to the mechanics.
Tire pressure remains as much art as science. According to George, the ideal tire pressure for the Roubaix course walks a very fine line, balancing enough pressure to keep the rider above the stones and low enough that the bike feels stable and provides shock absorption. Like cyclocross, tire pressure is considered too high if the rider doesn’t frequently bounce off the rim.
The best riders have mastered the art of riding “lightly” enough that they can run a ridiculously low pressure without puncturing. Typical pressure for the Mapei riders hovered around 5 3/4 bars (83 PSI) for the rear and a shockingly low 5 bars (72 PSI) in the front. “The lower the pressure, the more stable the bike is over the stones,” notes George.
During our talks, George laughed as he recalled Museeuw’s tendency to bleed out air prior to the start of Roubaix. This served as an outlet for nervous energy and the best were always pushing the envelope, seeking the lowest possible pressure. “I used to threaten to glue the valves closed so Johan could not change the pressure,” says George.
The traditional wheel set-up has been a part of Roubaix’s history since the first race back in 1896. Although developments in wheel design have grown exponentially in the last few years (and some are Roubaix specific), Roubaix appears to be a race where the PROs themselves fear leaving anything to chance and the fear of embracing technology comes from a traditional mindset trusting a traditional wheelset.
The wheels featured in the photos above were built by the skilled hands of George and bound for Max Van Heeswijk’s Willems Veranda’s Continental Team.
Wilfried Peeters was truly one of the hardest of hardmen in PRO cycling. A domestique of the tallest order, Wilfried was Johan Museeuw’s roommate and confidante. Whether riding along side Johan during his PRO years or serving as the voice over race radio today, Wilfried’s job is to provide the team with encouragement, tactical strategies and insight from his own experiences.
Today Wilfried serves as Director Sportif (DS) for the Quick Step team and BKW was fortunate enough to capture some of Wilfried’s time. We used the opportunity to talk about the transition from rider to DS, his love for the Classics, and that muddy Spring day in April 2001 when Wilfried launched the ride of his career through French farmland in an effort to capture the Queen of the Classics. It was on this historical day that race fans saw first-hand the power of a dedicated Classics squad and meticulous team tactics and were introduced to a new phrase in the cycling vernacular: “Getting Domoed”.
BKW: How has the transition from PRO to DS been for you?
WP: Life has changed. It’s like a new life. Here, [as DS for Quick Step] you’re working for 60 people, 30 riders…as a rider you think only about yourself. Here is a big difference, on a team with Boonen and Bettini, two leaders. One day for Boonen, one day for Bettini.
BKW: Are you saying that there is no conflict of goals for Boonen and Bettini?
WP: No, there is no problem.
BKW: Do you miss being a rider?
WP: For the first six months, now it is finished. In the beginning, it’s normal, I was 37 years old. Being with a team that is good means that every day there is something to do. That is very important.
BKW: Do you prefer the Classics to the Grand Tours?
WP: Yeh, for the Grand Tours, I did nine (9) times at the Tour De France, one (1) time Tour of Spain, I like it for working for the team. Not for myself, in the hills and the big climbs; I’m not a big climber. I was good in the Classics. BKW: And your favorite?
WP: Tour of Flanders.
BKW: Can you tell me about 2001 Paris-Roubaix?
WP: 2001 was my last year. Very bad weather. The stones were very sandy inside, in the first cobble stones we [Domo] go with the breakaway, 20-30 riders. At Arenberg, we were in the first and third position, so I go. I had one minute on the other riders so for the next 90-95Ks I go alone. I was alone until the last 13K. I didn’t have the legs for winning, but we had the best team. In the end it came together, the team was first, second, and third. I finished 5th. From the results, it was a very bad day for me. BKW: How did you feel knowing this was your last professional race?
WP: At that moment, okay. I think I can go one year more. I want to win it one time. At this time, I had the condition, it was a perfect time to come and work for the team; but it was time to stop.
BKW: What makes Paris-Roubaix so special?
WP: The roads and it is man-to-man. It is a different race.
BKW: Truly for the hardmen.
BKW: Do you feel a special honor to be a part of Paris-Roubaix history? WP: Yah, I like this race. After 10Ks, the race changes and after 100Ks, it is totally different. The strongest man is going to win this race. BKW: As DS for Quick Step, does a younger rider like Boonen stand to gain or learn anything from your experiences?
WP: Now he is 27. Pretty much…he knows the race, he’s the leader. I read the situations and he makes the decisions. That makes us the favorite for the race.
It is simply amazing that twenty years have passed since that fateful May when American Andy Hampsten rode into the books with his historic win at the Giro D’Italia.
BKW’s love for the “hardman” winning style makes it easy to admire Andy’s win, which was secured by his efforts on the snow-covered Gavia pass. Although his ride brought him over the line to second place, his finishing time netted him the leader’s jersey and eventually the overall win. Andy’s work that day and his ability to suffer has inspired countless cyclists over the years and pushed many of us deeper into the pain cave than we originally thought possible.
When cyclists think about how brutal our sport can be, we think about riders suffering on climbs through inclement weather and against the tallest of odds. Andy Hampsten’s career embodies all of this.
Posing as a legitimate cycling news agency, we managed to pin down Andy to discuss his historic feat and what it meant to be a PRO in the late 80s. We also spoke of the release of Rapha’s newest, limited edition jersey that marks Andy’s accomplishment and takes many of us back to the heyday and, for some, a return to the birth of our passion for cycling.
Speaking with Andy was an honor. I felt like he had as much fun telling the stories as I did hearing them. His recollection of his racing career is impressive and his love for cycling is evident.
BKW: So much of professional cycling comes down to a rider’s ability to suffer more than the rest. Have you ever suffered more than you did in the famous shots of you, white with snow and frozen, crossing the Gavia?
AH: Not more than that day. We had 25 kms of descending in snow and sleet, but we were well-prepared, and that allowed me to stay calm. I am glad no one told me how crazy the descent was.
BKW: How was the win received by the team’s sponsors?
AH: 7-Eleven knew it was primarily an Italian race, and people in the U.S. had no idea about it, they were eager for a Tour win. Hoonved understood the magnitude, they had twenty years of sponsorship under their belt. I gave the trophy to the owner and he was beside himself; he carried it around like a baby. Shimano was very excited, it was their first major tour win. I gave them one of my bikes and it is now in Shimano’s museum. BKW: Rapha seems to pull together all of the design elements that surrounded your place in cycling back in 1988. Does the jersey bring back some fond memories of the time?
AH: I don’t wear my pink jersey around too much, for one, it’s too small. But Rapha has done a great job of capturing the details, right down to the panel on the front. The original jersey had a panel sewn onto the front of it. The soigneurs took a mussette and cut the side of it out and sewed it onto the jersey. For this reason, it made it tough to wash. I ended up wearing the same jersey for the entire tour. As I get older, companies like Rapha make me snobby. I don’t want to wear plastic jerseys anymore.
BKW: What keepsakes do you have from your win at the Giro?
AH: I have the shoes, undershirt, and the Oakleys. I also have the bike. That is my most treasured item.
BKW: Did you have any kind of prep on your legs for the Gavia? Any warming qualities, like today’s embrocations?
AH: We used a lanolin prep on everything. Mike Neel had the foresight to advise us to use it everywhere. I had it on my back, arms, legs, butt, everywhere except my hands. We had a meeting before the race and knew we would see rain, sleet, and snow. Some riders preferred to mix the lanolin with Cramer’s for heat, some preferred the blazing hot, and others a medium. I applied the lanolin with a little bit of warming so thick to my legs that it was 3-D.
It was a pleasure to speak with Andy and it seems that he still gets a kick out of recounting the tales to cycling fans. Andy’s take was interesting. He said that following the win, there was, of course, a celebration, but it was right back to work with the team’s sights set on the Tour de France. Now, that’s PRO.
In our last installment of our interview with Dazza, we discuss inspiration, his riding and the nature of the custom bike experience.
BKW: From where do your draw inspiration?
DLM: From everywhere, from everyone, from everything around one that passes by, and perhaps something from inside me. I like to think I am a student of the world.
“Model Engineer” magazine is brilliant.
BKW: What about your own work continues to excite you?
DLM: Trying today to better what I did last week. Not just the metal work, but also all the other things that an independent framebuilder likes to do and must do. I call my work or way I express myself in my work/lifestyle my Ph.D. that will never be completed.
BKW: Where do you think you are going with your frame building and also where do you think frame building will go?
DLM: Better, more refined and a greater recognition as an alternative to the ones that are sick of 900 gram awful riding and looking breaking carbon mass-produced stuff.
BKW: Do you ride and how often?
DLM: Five to six times a week. I don’t pull the knicks on unless it is at least two hours pedaling and it must be first thing in the morning or it just does not happen. No coffee shop stuff. I reckon coffee shop riding is a lame excuse to get on your bike.
I ride, look around and think and sometimes huff and puff when I am motivated to lean on the pedals. I like the hills.
For while I stopped riding for a few years (insert extra workshop toil here) lost the need to ride, that passed and now I have to ride! Sundays is with mates over some climbs for four hours.
BKW: Do you race, tour, MTB or … other?
DLM: I did a lot of road and track racing for many years, also a few seasons in France; I loved racing on France, lots of seconds and thirds as my gallop was barely detectable by modern scientific instruments. I could scamper up a decent climb as I weighed about 60kgs. Touring, not yet, but I want to cycle tour properly, but I have to build myself a touring bicycle first. Project for next summer. No MTB here, life has been too short.
I love bush walking and camping, walk in and walk out stuff.
BKW: In a few words, can you sum up bespoke hand made frame construction?
DLM: Toil, more toil, lots of toil. More complicated than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Maybe that is why some lifetime builders struggle with the niche market that it is today.
However, it is fun, and rewarding to my soul. I would not have done it any other way. Bicycles and racing have allowed me to visit and work in 23 countries, work two Olympics as national team mechanic, travel, enjoy good times with many friends around the world. All way more than I could have expected to see and do when I kicked off in Sandgate 1979.
So the toil has a nice payoff. What do I have to complain about? I am happy.
BKW: What do you want your clients to take away when you make them a bicycle?
DLM: A bicycle that gives them many years of enjoyable riding. So with each passing year, their Llewellyn bicycle gives them greater value. Thus they Cherish their Llewellyn. That pleases me.