Mid-week Flanders Classics race Scheldeprijs is a worthy feather in the cap for the winner for sure but it also serves as the final opportunity to shake out gear for Paris-Roubaix in a race situation. We've seen teams on a mix of special and standard equipment in the past – keep in mind the cobbled sections aren't terribly demanding here – and this year's running was no different.
Making a debut appearance was Argos-Shimano's new Felt F1, slightly modified in preparation for Sunday. Changes were similar to what Felt have done for sponsored teams before, including longer fork blades with more rake, special dropouts to lower the bottom bracket, longer chainstays and slightly tweaked seatstays. This all combines to produce a more stable and more comfortable bike than the standard F1, with clearance for 28c tires too.
Radioshack-Nissan-Trek unfortunately lost their Classics star, Fabian Cancellara, during the Ronde van Vlaanderen but three other riders still set out at Scheleprijs aboard the new Domane cobbles bike. We expect most – if not all – of the riders will be so equipped come Sunday. It looks like it's not just Cancellara who gets a shorter head tube than on the production version. If that's indeed the case, that's something we believe Trek should offer to buyers as well, as it'd make the Domane's impressively comfortable ride more suitable for racing.
Other teams breaking in frames for Paris-Roubaix included FDJ-Big Mat (Lapierre Sensium), Team Europcar (Colnago Cross Prestige), Saur-Sojasun (Time NXR), Rabobank (Giant Defy Advanced SL) and Garmin-Barracuda (specially modified Cervélo R3s).
Riders were also sussing out ways to cushion their hands. The usual double-wrapped bar tape was in full effect on several bikes but potential Paris-Roubaix winner Juan Antonio Flecha of Team Sky also sported double hoods on his Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 levers. We spotted Lizard Skins' impressively grippy and squishy DSP polyurethane tape on at least two teams as well – a brand we're not accustomed to seeing in these circles.
Top-mounted brake levers and Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 satellite shifters were rife in the peloton but Team Sky's setups were perhaps most interesting. Shimano intend those shifters to be mounted such that they're thumb-actuated but most of the team's Pinarello Dogma K bikes had them flipped around for use with the riders' index fingers. Most intriguing was Jeremy Hunt's configuration – he used sprint shifters normally intended for the drops mounted up next to the stem.