Whether by virtue of the surprisingly dry conditions, improving technology, or changing rider and team attitudes – perhaps all three – the 2011 Tour of Flanders saw more riders starting and finishing on carbon wheels than we've noticed in years past.
By our count, roughly three-quarters of the 25 participating teams put at least a few (and in some cases all) of its riders on composite hoops - and notably, Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank-Sungard) won the event using Zipp 303s.
Bontrager looks to have made a successful cobbled debut for its new 50mm-deep wheels and Corima's carbon wheels made an appearance underneath the Astana riders. Mavic had a carbon-infused field as well including its still-as-yet-unofficial 40mm-deep M40 carbon tubulars, R-Sys shallow-section wheels with hollow carbon spokes, and Cosmic Carbone SLRs with their aluminum rims and carbon fairings (primary M40 tester Thor Hushovd notably used these instead). Not surprisingly, Zipp-sponsored teams opted for the company's now well proven 303 carbon tubulars across the board after their impressive showing at last year's Paris-Roubaix.
Euskaltel-Euskadi riders used Orbea's latest Orca during the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Note the box section wheels.
In all fairness, most of those wheels were still wrapped in wider-than-usual tubular tires measuring 25mm and up, and there was still the rash of Roubaix-style aluminum Ambrosio and Mavic box-section rims with tied-and-soldered steel spokes used by more traditionally minded teams such as Quick Step and Vacansoleil-DCM. A smaller contingent opted for softer riding frames, too, and a handful of riders even used 'cross bikes.
In addition, some bars were also double-wrapped for additional cushioning and most teams had heavier-duty cages fitted to prevent bottle ejection while streaking across the pavé (though we still saw plenty of bottles on the ground).
For the most part, though, it was business as usual for one of the most exciting editions of the Tour of Flanders in recent memory.