Deep-section carbon wheels have come to dominate the scene in most road events but the vast majority of riders and teams have opted for more traditional hoops for the spring classics, including Quick Step's Stijn Devolder who soloed in for victory in the Tour of Flanders in front of his home crowd.
For example, Astana riders departed on Bontrager 'Limited Edition' wheels built with box-section tubular rims, DT Swiss hubs and 32 Sapim stainless steel spokes front and rear along with more rarely used brass nipples. Saunier Duval-Scott team members headed off on similarly configured wheels with Mavic box-section rims, some of which have long been out of production.
Tyre selection was critical and some teams cracked out some unusual selections for the Ronde van Vlaanderen to go along with their robust wheels. Durability was clearly a high priority for Crédit Agricole who used 25mm-wide Continental Pro Limited Competition ProTection tubulars with double Vectran breaker plies and Snakeskin sidewall protection. Milram, on the other hand, opted for a standard 23mm width but a deeper and more aggressive tread. The brand name on those tires was blacked out but the remaining text suggested they were Paris-Roubaix models from 'cross tire icon Dugast.
Clinchers were in the minority here but still made a few key appearances. Michelin-sponsored Bouygues Telecom riders used the new Pro3 Grip model in a 700x23c size for better traction on the uneven surfaces. As compared to the standard Pro3 Race, the most obvious difference is the addition of a slight file tread on the shoulders but we're guessing a softer compound is in use as well.
Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) made history a few weeks ago with his Het Volk victory on Hutchinson's Road Tubeless system. We didn't catch his race bike before he headed off in the morning but most of the team's spare bikes were again outfitted with Shimano Dura-Ace WH-7850-SL wheels and Hutchinson Fusion 2 Road Tubeless tires. We'll have to wait and see if the team opts for the Road Tubeless rubber come Paris-Roubaix.