Posted by: alastaircarr | January 31, 2012

The Cobbled Classic Wheels

Every year in early April, the pro peloton prepares its bikes for the toughest tests of the season, the cobbled classics. The Ronde Van Vlaanderen, Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix make the big spring classics across Northern France and Belgium incorporating some of the roughest sections of cobblestone roads that anyone would dare to organize a road race over. The Kemmelberg, the Koppenberg and Le Carrefour de l’Arbre,  are all sections of road that strike fear into both riders and mechanics alike.

For generations, the frame and wheel builders of the cycling world have searched for the most effective and strongest way to tackle the stretches of Pavé used year after year. All kinds of unorthodox methods have been employed with varying degrees of success. 1994 perhaps saw the most extreme methods being implemented. Andrei Tchmil rode a Rock Shox Paris Roubaix SL to victory, using a short travel front suspension fork. The same year Johan Museeuw, the Lion of Flanders and 3-time winner of both Roubaix and Flanders, used a dual suspension road bike built for him by Bianchi. He eventually threw his bike into a ditch although his frustration was mainly due to his pedals, which, like the rest of his bike, were completely clogged with French farmland. Many teams have used and still use, cyclo-cross bikes due to the larger clearance to let any unsavoury mud pass through the gaps.

But breakages happen. The most recent memory was of Classics Specialist George Hincapie in a heap on the floor suffering from a separated shoulder after the steerer tube of his fork failed during the 2006 edition of Paris-Roubaix. As his handlebars come away from the frame with no way of steering the bike he veers off the road, at some speed, and somersaults over the front.

But the component(s) that takes perhaps the biggest battering are the wheels. Many methods have been tried and tested, teams these days even use carbon rims and tubeless tyres as technology advances and materials are developed. Cancellara took Flanders and Roubaix on carbon rims, as did Johan Van Summeren last year during the Queen of the Classics into the velodrome at Roubaix.

But there is one combination that has been tried and tested over and over again and is the preferred choice of Cobbles newbies and veterans alike. That being the Ambrosio Nemesis Box tubular. Here at the La Fuga office we heard a very nice pair were being built up by George the mechanic in the Sigma Sport workshop. We felt compelled to go and check them out and we weren’t disappointed.

This pair were using Ambrosio’s most recent incarnation of the Nemesis rim, which is the same as its been for many years. Why? Because it works. The rim is used by a large percentage of the pro peloton during the cobbled classics. Even when teams have deals with wheel manufacturers, they often re-sticker the Ambrosio’s in order to keep their sponsors happy.  But you can always tell an Ambrosio rim by the classic brass valve balance that adds a touch of class to the wheel. The nemesis rim bears the words La Reine du Nord rightly giving it the title of the Queen of the Northern classics.

The hubs used on this particular build are DT Swiss 190 ceramic bearing, offering the best in new technology to spin the classic hoop. DT Swiss also provide the double butted spokes with two thick ends, providing strength at the ends and flexibility towards the middle, this ensures snapping stays to a minimum. George the mechanic built the wheel using 3 cross lacing to ensure the perfect mix of suppleness vs toughness.

Finally, the thing that really rounds these wheels off perfectly (pun unintentional) are the FMB Paris-Roubaix tubular tires. FMB (or François-Marie: Boyaux) have been hand stitching the finest quality tubular tires in Plurien, Brittany, for many years. They’re the first choice for the pro peloton when it comes to cobbles. Van Summeren, Cancellara, Boonen, Hushovd; the FMB tubular has been used by all the classics giants whenever Pavé comes into the equation.

A pair such as this comes to £1,324 and are the ultimate custom wheelset if you’re looking to attack the cobbles this year.

If you fancy giving it a go, La Fuga offer two tours to cater for this very need. Our Tour of Flanders tour offers the perfect combination of riding the course and watching the event the following day, experiencing the electric atmosphere at varying points along the course. Our Paris-Roubaix Challenge weekend runs in parallel and gives you the opportunity to attack the famous parcours of the Hell of the North classic, testing you and your equipment to the limit.


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