Race tech: Carbon wheels reign at Tour of Flanders

A closer look at what the teams are riding on the cobbles

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.:

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. 

James Huang

Technical Editor, US
James started as a roadie in 1990 with his high school team but switched to dirt in 1994 and has enjoyed both ever since. Anything that comes through his hands is bound to be taken apart, and those hands still sometimes smell like fork oil even though he retired from shop life in 2007. He prefers manual over automatic, fizzy over still, and the right way over the easy way.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road, cyclocross
  • Preferred Terrain: Up in the Colorado high-country where the singletrack is still single, the dirt is still brown, and the aspens are in full bloom. Also, those perfect stretches of pavement where the road snakes across the mountainside like an artist's paintbrush.
  • Beer of Choice: Mexican Coke
  • Location: Boulder, Colorado, USA

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