High Road's George Hincapie had two bike options for Sunday's Paris-Roubaix: his usual Giant TCR Advanced SL Team machine, or a modified build in case it was muddy.
As it turned out, the weather was dry enough for him to use his standard rig, and he eventually finished 9th, 5'12 behind winner Tom Boonen. But had it been wet, we would have seen him on a unique machine.
Like many bikes we spotted in the days leading up to the event, Hincapie's Paris-Roubaix special blends attributes of both road and 'cross bikes. The carbon frame strongly resembles Giant's standard TCR Composite frame but the rear end is fitted with unique dropouts that effectively yield longer chain stays. This should make for a slightly more comfortable ride that provides a bit more stability thanks to the extended wheelbase.
The carbon-legged fork is lifted straight off Giant's TCX 'cross frameset to provide some balance to the longer rear. Not surprisingly, the steerer tube is aluminium, not carbon fibre.
Both ends offer plenty of mud clearance and the longer fork blades also serve to raise the bottom bracket slightly. Wide-profile cantilever brakes are fitted all around, with the rear requiring custom-fitted mounts bonded and riveted to the seat stays. A simple cable hanger is inserted at the seat collar to accommodate the new routing requirements but instead of using a steerer-mounted hanger up front (Hincapie runs his stem slammed right on top of the headset), Team High Road mechanics have simply drilled straight through the stem.
The rest of the equipment largely reflects common trends among Hincapie's competition. Wheels consist of traditional aluminium box-section tubular rims laced to standard hubs (Shimano Dura-Ace, in this case) with 14g non-butted stainless steel spokes and brass nipples in a softer-riding three-cross pattern.
The rear tyre is a special 25mm-wide version of Schwalbe's Stelvio tubular while the front is labelled as a Schwalbe Ultremo although that's clearly not what it really is. The large 25mm-wide casing is capped with a mild tread pattern throughout but the rubber extends far further down the side of the casing than usual for increased sidewall protection and more predictable handling on uneven ground.
Gearing is also in accordance with much of the field: Hincapie's standard Dura-Ace crankarms are fitted with an aggressive 53/44T combination befitting the fast pace and relatively flat profile while an 11-23T cassette provides all the gears he needs. Typical Dura-Ace derailleurs are bolted on, front and rear, and are controlled by Shimano Dura-Ace STI Dual Control levers as usual.
In the end, this one-off bike didn't get used, but it is a good example of what lengths pro teams go to for this extremely demanding race.
Will it ever rain again at Paris-Roubaix? Maybe next year...