Prepare for Cobbles
Photo by Kristof Ramon
Ben Spurrier, Head of Design at Condor, has ridden the cobbled sportives umpteen times and shares his experience of getting the bike ready for the cobbles.
Flanders requires fewer actual modifications to the bike and kit than Roubaix, but if you are going for Classics Week then you may as well do both, and in fact many of the tweaks will be of value to you and your bike in tackling a UK winter/spring.
Something sturdy is the first obvious answer, though I'd steer clear of anything too heavy as the Pavé sections in Flanders tend to be crowded climbs that often require coming to a track stand before starting again. If your wheels are too heavy then you may struggle to get going again.
Bigger is better, but similar to the wheel issue; if you go too big you'll compromise rolling resistance. We favour 25mm. The extra width will help prevent your tyres from slipping down into the troughs between the cobble stones. The larger carcass will give a bit more cushioning and make pinch-punctures less likely.
The Rapha Condor Team use the Continental Grand Prix 24mm, which is taller than normal without being too wide, and I'll be using these on my bike.
Some people may opt to run tubular tyres for these events (like the pros) because you can run a tubular at a lower pressure without so much puncture risk. Tubeless UST systems would present a good option but variety of products is still small.
Whatever system you run, you will want to have slightly less pressure in the tyres to aid traction and boost comfort a little. Another tip is to put talcum powder between the tube and tyre, which helps the two to shift around and give less risk of pinch punctures. You can sprinkle talc on your inner tubes and rub it into the tube or purchase pre-talc'd inner tubes.
Double-wrapped bar tape
Double-wrapping your handlebar tape will help to absorb some of the battering from the cobbles. Roubaix is worse because the secteurs are mostly flat and go on for much longer than in Flanders, so you take more of a beating. The fatter bar tape gives a greater contact surface area to hold, which is also easier on the hands.
You can use the Fizik gel inserts under the bar tape, which dissipate the initial force before reaching your hands. If you never normally ride with gel inserts and plan to remove them after the ride, placing them between the two layers of bar tape saves time.
Tape everything down: pumps, computers and saddlebags will all bounce off onto the cobbles if left unattended. Alloy bottle cages are better than carbon as you can bend them to keep the bottle in place throughout the ride.
A saddlebag that attaches via large Velcro straps is a wise choice as bags with plastic mounts can snap or bend.
Sitting on a bike for a long time is tough. A new saddle, slight rubbing on the palms and new riding positions may seem fine on a short spin. The rough cobbled roads will magnify everything. Double wrapped bar tape takes a bit of getting used to and for some smaller hands can seem uncomfortable, so try it all on a long ride before you take on the pavé.
Rubbing cables and tightened bolts
Where the cable meets the frame the paint will begin to rub away. We've seen it where the nine hour ride from Paris to Roubaix causes as much wear as two full seasons on the road. The carbon has been rubbed to the raw weave or the cable has rubbed the right through the protective lacquer on occasions.
You can buy rubber frame protectors that slot over cable housing, or electrical tape placed at the point where the cable meets the frame works.
Not all of the bolts on your bike will need to be tightened to the same force. There will be a small number listed next to the bolts, varying between 4Nm and 8Nm. It is best to use a torque wrench to make sure you tighten bolts to the manufacturer's specification. Check the stem bolts at the handlebar clamp, steerer and seatclamp bolts.