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A former pro's insight into the equipment and technique needed to tackle the cobbles

road.cc was speaking to David Millar about a collaboration between Factor Bikes, as ridden by AG2R La Mondiale, and his own CHPT3 brand (more on that later today, once the pics have come through), and decided that we’d also use the opportunity to get a former pro’s insight into tackling the cobbles

CHPTIII_JERSEY_David Millar 393

CHPTIII_JERSEY_David Millar 393

Quick quiz: how many times did David Millar finish Paris-Roubaix during an 18 year pro career that saw him win stages and wear the leader’s jersey in all three Grand Tours?

Answer: once. But there's a bit of a story to it…

“In my final year, 2014, [Paris-Roubaix] was one of my primary objectives – to finish, that is,” says David. “257km, 28 cobbled sections totalling nearly 60km, and two laps of a velodrome. 

“I did it all, apart from the last lap. I stood in the middle of that most famous of velodromes, helmet off, knocking back a Fanta, face covered in dirt, feeling a bit of a hero. Until my wife told me I had one more lap to do. Onemorelap? That pretty much summed up my final year – it wasn't exactly a blaze of glory. Still, I love that race.”

Chpt.III Onemorelap base layer - detail.jpg

Chpt.III Onemorelap base layer - detail.jpg

And that’s why part of the CHPT3 range features ‘Onemorelap’ velodrome-inspired graphics.

“It’s about more than just doing one more lap round to the finish line; it’s metaphorical – it’s about always doing one more lap,” says David. 

Check out our First Look: Chpt. III clothing from David Millar and Castelli from last year

So how do you set up your bike for getting to that velodrome as fast as possible and in some degree of comfort?

“Everybody is scared of Roubaix but actually, if you have your bike setup perfectly, you really glide over the cobbles once you’re at a certain speed,” says David.

arenberg intro.jpg

arenberg intro.jpg

“Okay, Arenberg, no! That’s like somebody has piled a load of bricks on the road and you have to ride over them, but apart from that!

paris roubaix 2013 - fmb tyre tread

paris roubaix 2013 - fmb tyre tread

“The biggest thing is the wheels and the tyres. You need wheels that are strong enough to survive the battering and can also cope with a 27mm tyre. Most riders use FMB or Dugast tyres because those are the only companies that make really trustworthy, fantastic tubulars designed for that purpose. You can run 5-6 bar (73-87 psi) and you’ll be amazed at how much easier that makes the pavé.

“A lot of guys used to run mechanical shifting because the vibrations would trigger the electric, but I think that electric has got so much better now.”

What about your riding technique?

“The rule of riding pavé is to relax your grip – you don’t hold on tight. In order to do that you need a much wider grip – more like a tennis racket grip – so you have a bit more tape on your handlebar to make it bigger, and you strap up your wrists to stop the really small vibrations.

And that will get you to the finish line in A1 condition?

“No. No matter what you put on your hands, they’re going to get rubbed raw because having that relaxed grip means the bar is always vibrating under your hand.”

Oh!

We know of plenty of amateurs who have ridden over the cobbles wearing two pairs of shorts for the extra depth of padding… 

“If I was an amateur, I would probably do that – they might be riding 23mm tyres at 8 bar. I’m amazed that amateurs can do it because they don’t have the huge setup behind them – the equipment, the mechanics, the team support – that the pros have. If you have the proper set up it can actually be pretty comfortable.

Paris Roubaix 2016 Arenberg  - 2.jpg

Paris Roubaix 2016 Arenberg - 2.jpg

The weather can be a big factor in any bike race, but even more than usual in Paris-Roubaix where the pavé could be dry and dusty or wet and slippery. Some sectors are currently very muddy, and although the forecast for northern France is dry for tomorrow (Saturday), it could rain on Sunday.

“It’s an odd one when it’s wet in that it’s easier for the really skilled guys because a lot of the riders without the bike handling skills are immediately eliminated – they can’t handle it,” says David. “That means the race goes much slower, so it’s physically less demanding but psychologically massively more so because of the technique involved.”

Wet conditions add an extra element to the equipment required too.

Chpt.III Rocka - riding.jpg

Chpt.III Rocka - riding.jpg

“These days you can have waterproof stuff that’s also aero,” says David. “You might have staff strategically placed by the side of the road with kit to hand up to you. 

“In a race like Roubaix the big guys just throw outer clothing away after they’ve used it and get it replaced. You don’t worry about handing stuff back to your car, you just throw it to the side of the road so a few lucky spectators might hit jackpot! 

“If you’re a spectator, make sure you’re positoned just before the finale because riders will start ditching stuff in the last hour!”

Read our guide to 10 wet weather racing jerseys.

As mentioned, we'll have details on a Paris-Roubaix collaboration between Factor Bikes and CHPT3 brand later today.

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.

12 comments

Avatar
Yorkshie Whippet [637 posts] 1 month ago
3 likes

“No. No matter what you put on your hands, they’re going to get rubbed raw because having that relaxed grip means the bar is always vibrating under your hand.”

I'm sorry Mr Miller but you are wrong. I've done the Challenge ride five years on trot over all the cobble sections the pros ride and one year repeated the first 10 or 15 sections including the Arenburg and never had my hands rubbed raw. That includes no gloves, fingerless, and two different types of thin thermal spring full length. Unless you are saying your hands were rubbed on the first 100km road section?

Wrist only hurt it you allow them to drop and introduce an upperwards bend especially over the cobbles. 

Avatar
Rapha Nadal [826 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

Is this a paid advertising article?

Avatar
crazy-legs [989 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes
Yorkshie Whippet wrote:

I'm sorry Mr Miller but you are wrong. I've done the Challenge ride five years on trot over all the cobble sections the pros ride and one year repeated the first 10 or 15 sections including the Arenburg and never had my hands rubbed raw. That includes no gloves, fingerless, and two different types of thin thermal spring full length. Unless you are saying your hands were rubbed on the first 100km road section?

Just a guess here but I bet you weren't going half as fast as the pros and you did about 100km less than the pros...

It makes a slight difference.   3

Avatar
BehindTheBikesheds [1735 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

Think Davy boy is a bit out of touch, Veloflex make one of the best 27mm tubulars, funnily enough it's called the vlaanderen. 300g of tubular goodness, it's an absolutely fantastic tyre with an oh so cushy ride without losing out in the speed stakes. I have one fitted to the rear Bora50 (25mm Conti comp on the front). As a big guy I don't think I would want to go smaller at the back in future even if I shed a few more kg.

Now that the pros have suspension at the back as well as at the front end plus if you use a carbon bar that is maybe a little bit wider you really shouldn't be needing to double wrap. I have fairly small hands so a std bar is fine for me, a 35mm bar with a decent tape and a good set up should suffice.

Has anyone heard of a pro getting 'raw' hands, surely isn't that why you want to use a good pair of gloves anyway if not for the protection should you come off which is far more likely to fuck your race up than not wearing a noddy hat in an off?

Avatar
maviczap [175 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

Don't think you're really qualified to give advice on this Dave, and making the assumption that the amatuers  are riding 23mm tyres at 120psi is insulting to those who have done the Challenge. 

Most would have done their research, or copied what the pros ride, I know I would have.

Please get Magnus Backstedt to give some proper advice and leave Dave to give advice on what he does know about

Avatar
alotronic [554 posts] 1 month ago
5 likes

Yeah Millar, that effing lightweight. Third UK rider to take wins in all major tours? Bet you he did that on 23c tyres too which just goes to show what a nob he was.  I have 25c tyres so that makes me a better cyclist you know. No real talent, always looked like shit on a bike. Don't know why he bothered really.  Never spoke up for the riders, gives terrible commentary. Pffftttt....

Avatar
Vili Er [290 posts] 1 month ago
5 likes
Yorkshie Whippet wrote:

I'm sorry Mr Miller but you are wrong.

Says amateur cyclist with zero palmarès.

 

Avatar
Butty [256 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

Dave may be right.

He may be wrong.

But I doubt he cares as he got his new clothing range mentioned.....

Should have called it "l04dof0ldc0bbl3rs"

 

Avatar
madcarew [635 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes
BehindTheBikesheds wrote:

Think Davy boy is a bit out of touch, Veloflex make one of the best 27mm tubulars, funnily enough it's called the vlaanderen. 300g of tubular goodness, it's an absolutely fantastic tyre with an oh so cushy ride without losing out in the speed stakes. I have one fitted to the rear Bora50 (25mm Conti comp on the front). As a big guy I don't think I would want to go smaller at the back in future even if I shed a few more kg.

Now that the pros have suspension at the back as well as at the front end plus if you use a carbon bar that is maybe a little bit wider you really shouldn't be needing to double wrap. I have fairly small hands so a std bar is fine for me, a 35mm bar with a decent tape and a good set up should suffice.

Has anyone heard of a pro getting 'raw' hands, surely isn't that why you want to use a good pair of gloves anyway if not for the protection should you come off which is far more likely to fuck your race up than not wearing a noddy hat in an off?

And your tyres compare performance wise and reliability wise to the tyres most of the pros use? I'm sure they'd all be glad of you pointing them in the right direction.  And yep. For various reasons some pros ride with gloves, and some without. Pros tend to be very lean, which means they have a lot less padding on their hands, but as you'll well know, no gloves is more aero than gloves. And nice try with the noddy hat. Just wondering if noddy hats were made of 1.5 mm thick suede whether you'd grant them with more protective capacity than 60mm of plastic and polystyrene. Probably not, but suddenly on the hands they have a protective effect? Noddy indeed.

Avatar
madcarew [635 posts] 1 month ago
1 like
Yorkshie Whippet wrote:

“No. No matter what you put on your hands, they’re going to get rubbed raw because having that relaxed grip means the bar is always vibrating under your hand.”

I'm sorry Mr Miller but you are wrong. I've done the Challenge ride five years on trot over all the cobble sections the pros ride and one year repeated the first 10 or 15 sections including the Arenburg and never had my hands rubbed raw. That includes no gloves, fingerless, and two different types of thin thermal spring full length. Unless you are saying your hands were rubbed on the first 100km road section?

Wrist only hurt it you allow them to drop and introduce an upperwards bend especially over the cobbles. 

Well that is what worked for you. I'm sure he's not telling you you're wrong. Also at a slightly lesser speed it may have a different effect, perhaps? And I can tell you you are wrong. My wrists hurt after 15 km of pave, whether they are dropped or not. But that's just my wrists, not yours.

Avatar
hawkinspeter [1748 posts] 1 month ago
1 like
madcarew wrote:
BehindTheBikesheds wrote:

Has anyone heard of a pro getting 'raw' hands, surely isn't that why you want to use a good pair of gloves anyway if not for the protection should you come off which is far more likely to fuck your race up than not wearing a noddy hat in an off?

Just wondering if noddy hats were made of 1.5 mm thick suede whether you'd grant them with more protective capacity than 60mm of plastic and polystyrene. Probably not, but suddenly on the hands they have a protective effect? Noddy indeed.

Is it time for a helmet debate?

You're comparing 2 different types of PPE. Protecting your hands is largely protecting them from abrasion, so 1.5mm suede can do an excellent job at that despite probably not protecting against bone-smashing collisions. Heads, however require more advanced cushioning as the big problem is if your brain is "sloshed" against the inside of your skull - that's what causes the nasty brain injuries. Helmets can easily protect against abrasion but the jury is out on whether they provide adequate brain protection in a typical crash.

Apples and oranges.

Avatar
Rapha Nadal [826 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

To those of you harping on about how good you are and how you've never buggered up your hands whilst doing your sportive at half the speed of the race; have a look at Dimension Data's twitter feed.  Specifically the image of Jay Robert Thomson's hands...