If Yorkshire presented few challenges other than narrow roads, stone walls and over zealous fans, the cobbles of stage 5 pose a daunting threat that all the riders, especially the general classification contenders, will be taking very seriously.
The 155.5km stage from Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut involves nine sectors of pavé which should ensure some fireworks, if not the odd crash. Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and the other GC hopefuls will be hoping for a safe, incident-free passage through the roads made notorious by the Paris-Roubaix spring classic. You can read the full road.cc Tour de France route preview, including stage 5, here.
It's clear, from our visit to the team hotels last week and chatting to the mechanics, that most of the teams will be riding the same bikes they would for Paris-Roubaix. Stage 5 features nine sections of cobbles but they're some of the most fearsome of the Paris-Roubaix race, so despite being some way short of the 28 cobbled sections in that race, the teams aren't taking any risks.
Several teams had their full fleet of spring classics bikes ready and prepared just for stage 5. That's a lot of effort to go to, a lot of extra bikes to lug around for the first four stages of the race, but such is the importance of the most feared stage of the first week of the race, if not the entire Tour, that all teams are going to the trouble.
Team Sky, judging from the fleet of Dogma K bikes cleaned and prepared outside the team truck, will be switching from the new Dogma F8 bike for this single stage. The main reason for the switch is for the extra tyre clearance the Dogma K provides, allowing the team to fit FMB Paris-Roubaix 27mm tyres. The Dogma K also has a longer wheelbase, partly as a result of the increased tyre clearance, but also to provide greater stability and increased impact absorption.
While the Team Sky mechanic was most helpful, the one setup tip we couldn’t squeeze out of him was the tyre pressure the team would run. That’s a closely guarded secret among professional teams. We'd guess at about 5 bar (72psi), depending on rider weight.
The team look to be using Shimano C50 wheels, a 50mm deep-section carbon tubular. In years gone by most teams would switch to shallow section aluminium rims for the cobbles, but the advent of durable and reliable carbon wheels has seen nearly all teams run deep-section wheels over the cobbles.
The team also run a 46t inner chainring instead of a 39t, with the same 53t large chainring. That’s because the stage is mostly flat and the slightly larger inner chainring provides a more usable setup.
The Elite alloy bottle cages have a grippy tape to provide a little extra bottle security. All the bikes are equipped with the same Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 11-speed groupsets they normally use, with some riders choosing the optional satellite shifter pod attached to the centre of the bars. That’s handy for changing gear when riding on the tops, a position many pros favour across the cobbles.
This bike belongs to new signing for 2014, Mikel Nieve. He runs a 124mm alloy PRO stem with matching alloy handlebar, and a spacer above and below the stem.
That's an aluminium K-Edge mount for the Garmin Edge 510 GPS computers the team now use with their Stages power meters. You can just make out the optional Di2 shifter buttons on the centre of the bars here. And that looks like double wrap bar tape.
Another team that we spotted preparing special bikes for the cobbles of stage 5 was Garmin-Sharp, with a handful of Cervélo R3 MUD bikes, as the team mechanic called them, being prepared.
This one belongs to Sebastian Langeveld. It still needed some spannering when we were snooping around the team truck. You’d think the mechanics might be a bit more hesitant to let us photograph the bikes, but they’re remarkably relaxed about it. In fact, some are very enthusiastic about the bikes and happy to talk; you can tell some of them are bike racers and fans.
Like the regular R3, these R3 MUD bikes have been used for the past couple of seasons at races like Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders, the team mechanic informed us. The most significant changes are modified seatstays and chainstays and a different fork to increase the maximum tyre clearance. As a result, they can take 27mm tyres, which to our eyes look very much like the FMB Paris-Roubaix tyres that Team Sky use, despite the Mavic sticker on the sidewall.
The wheels are Mavic though, in this case Cosmic Carbone 40T, which were originally the M40 first tested at Paris-Roubaix a couple of years ago. Bottle cages are ultra reliable stainless steel Arundel cages, a bit heavier than the carbon cages they normally use, but the wings can be squeezed closer together to firmly clasp bottles.
We learned also that the frame and fork have been modified to lengthen the wheelbase over the standard R3. Some of that is a result of increasing the clearance around the fat tyres, and some is the desire for a longer wheelbase to provide extra stability, a useful trait when barrelling over the cobbles.
The R3 MUD is on the UCI’s List of Approved Models of Frames and Forks, so it carries the UCI sticker. As far as we know you can’t buy the R3 MUD in the shops - well, not easily at least - it appears to be extremely rare. We can’t see it listed on the Cervélo website anywhere. The UCI have a rule about being about to buy any equipment used in a pro race, but we need to check the rules to see if there are any limits on actually what sort of numbers they need to sell to satisfy this ruling.
A Project California sticker on the seat tube suggests the frames are made in Cervélo’s specially development and manufacturing facility that first gave us the $10,000 R5 RCA a couple of years ago.
Interestingly, Langeveld's bike was built up with a Shimano Dura-Ace mechanical groupset, while all the other regular team bikes being assembled were built up with Dura-Ace Di2 groupsets.
There are alloy 3T handlebars and stem, surely fitted to provide extra resistance to damage in crashes. The seatpost is carbon fibre and his saddle is a Fizik Aliante.
Cannondale Factory Racing had nine gleaming Synapse road bikes lined up against the team truck when we popped along to their hotel, and we promptly nabbed Peter Sagan’s bike for a few shots.
The Synapse was introduced at the spring classics last year, first in prototype guise, and it quickly notched up a few podium spots at the hands of Sagan. Since its release last May, it has been Cannondale’s go-to bike for any races taking in cobbles, so we’ll be seeing it in action on stage 5.
While most of the team ride stock frames that you or I can buy, Sagan gets a custom frame to fit his requirements. It basically takes the stack of a 54cm frame with the reach of a 58cm, it’s long and low then, the way he likes his bikes.
The Synapse, Cannondale’s ‘endurance’ bike, has heavily profiled tubes and a carbon fibre layup designed to smooth out the road. The stays are skinny and shaped in such a way to offer a bit of impact absorption.
The skinny 25.4mm (most manufacturers use a 27.2mm seatpost) and the extra exposed section of post - thanks to the seat clamp hidden inside the top tube - provide a high degree of deflection, which goes a long way to providing a smoother rider.
Plus, of course, the Synapse has a longer wheelbase and space for 25mm tyres, in this case Kenda SC branded tubulars glued to Vision Metron 40 carbon wheels. Kenda don’t list these tyres on their website so we assume they’re specially made to order for the team. The tread pattern on the tyre does look a bit like a Vittoria...
Like his regular SuperSix Evo race bike, Sagan’s Synapse is fitted with a SRAM Red groupset and Cannondale Hollowgram SiSL2 chainset, 130mm FSA OS-99 stem slammed on the headset top cap and an FSA Energy T, an alloy bar with a traditional bend.
Trek may have launched their brand new Emonda before the Tour de France, but Fabian Cancellara is sticking with the bump-taming Domane 6.9 that he helped develop, and which has brought him much success over the past couple of years. It was the Domane that Fabian rode for the first week of the 2011 Tour de France painted all yellow to match the yellow jersey. Will there be another yellow Domane for Fabian after stage 5? Probably not as he'll be sheparding Frank Shleck over the cobbles.
The Domane is Trek’s endurance bike and features the unique IsoSpeed Decoupler, which separates the seat tube from the top tube - the seat tube isn't attached to the top tube and seatstays like you'd normally expect. Trek claims this design provides 35mm of flex at the back end. The Domane also takes 28mm tyres which is handy.
We assume the team will use the same setup as they do for Paris-Roubaix, which means 27mm FMB Paris-Roubaix tyres. However, with only nine cobble sectors compared to the 28 cobble sectors of the Paris-Roubaix race, they may compromise with 25mm tyres.
The frame carries the same paint finish as the bike Cancellara rode to victory in the E3 Harelbeke last year. We don’t presume it’s the exact same frame, so Trek must have painted up a batch of the frames at the same time. The top tube has Fabian’s nickname, Spartacus, along the top complete with a decal depicting the Thracian gladiator and this theme flows into the fork and head tube. A spears and dice emblem on the stem and repeated on the top tube is a good luck charm.
He prefers a regular mechanical Shimano Dura-Ace groupset over electronic and uses an SRM Powermeter. Wheels are Bontrager Aeolus 5’s with Schwalbe One tubular tyres glued to them. He may switch to the Aeolus 3’s he rides in the spring classics.
A plain Bontrager carbon stem of 140mm length sits atop the headset with no spacers, and holds a aluminium handlebar in place. A Bontrager Team Issue saddle with titanium rails sits atop the seatmast.
The geometry of the bikes pros ride often requires specially built frames that you can’t buy in the shops, but Trek bucked that trend by launching Domane Classics Edition. This limited edition Domane shares the exact same geometry as the one Fabian rides, with a shorter head tube, longer top tube, a one-piece steel derailleur hanger and increased tyre clearance.
Previously, the Domane was available in three different fits, H1 being the most aggressive, H3 being the most relaxed. They’re all a little taller in the head tube and shorter in the top tube than an equivalently sized Madone.
Omega Pharma-Quick-Step, home of this year’s Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra, have put up a video on YouTube showing their preparations for the cobbled stage.
They will be using the same bike setup as they used in the Hell of the North: Specialized Roubaixs with wide tubular tyres and gel underneath the handlebar tape. Terpstra is looking forward to inflicting some pain on the climbers over the pavé.
Katusha have swapped from Shimano’s Di2 electronic shifting to mechanical shifting for today’s stage. If you’ve ever ridden the cobbles you’ll know that all that bumping and vibration can make it difficult to use your controls as normal. Di2 is quite sensitive – you just press the buttons for a gear change rather than sweeping them across. Some riders have found that this means they shift accidentally when using Di2 over the cobbles. With mechanical shifters you have to make a more definite movement, hence the switch.
The bikes are equipped with Mavic Cosmic CXR wheels, various different Selle Italia saddles, and metal rather than carbon cages to keep the bottles in place over the pavé.
David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.