This year’s Paris-Roubaix was a thrilling spectacle over two days. On Saturday, we saw Canadian Alison Jackson (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) make history as the first-ever North American to win Paris-Roubaix Femmes. On Sunday, the men raced over the cobbles faster than ever before, with the winner Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) averaging nearly 48km/h over the 256km route. But what made the races so quick?
There’s no question that the strong legs, good weather and race tactics can be attributed to some of the astonishing performances at this year’s Paris-Roubaix, but at no other race has equipment played such a big part in years gone by... and a bit of luck, of course, because you can do well just managing to stay upright on your bike at Paris-Roubaix.
Because of the demanding cobbled sectors, bike choices are also more varied. Before the race, our bets might be on the ones that offer more dampening - the likes of the Specialized Roubaix and Trek Domane - but then, those are not the bikes we see on the podiums…
Alison Jackson sprinted to victory at Paris-Roubaix Femmes on an aero-optimised Cannondale SuperSix Evo 4 Lab71. Following Jackson were Katia Ragusa (LIV Racing TeqFind) on a Liv Langma - a climbing bike - and Marthe Truyen (Fenix-Deceuninck) on a Canyon Aeroad.
The very same Canyon Aeroad powered Van der Poel to win the men’s race on Sunday. He was followed by teammate Jasper Philipsen and Jumbo Visma's Wout van Aert on his Cervelo Soloist. Trek-Segafredo, a team that has a very strong reputation for excelling at Paris-Roubaix, equipped their men’s team with the Madone aero bike, and the women with the IsoSpeed-infused Domane.
For mere mortals, it’d make sense to opt for comfort over aerodynamics when riding the cobbles, but perhaps with the average speeds that we witnessed this year, and with cobbles still only accounting for just over 20% of the race, an aero bike could offer a more competitive edge overall. We did see plenty of the Specialized Roubaix at this year’s men’s race, although none of the riders on that bike actually made the top 20.
It does seem as if aerodynamics are becoming the leading driver for conquering the cobbles. Last year’s men’s race was won by Dylan van Baarle on a Pinarello Dogma F, and the year before it was Sonny Colbrelli on a Merida Reacto Team-E. Both bikes are designed primarily for speed rather than damping.
On Sunday we saw what the harsh cobbles can do when Derek Gee's (Israel - Premier Tech) front tyre popped off in front of our eyes - something that brought up memories of what happened to Christophe Laporte's (Jumbo-Visma) wheel at Paris- Roubaix 2022.
Tyre pressures and tyres are core to succeeding at the brutal Hell of the North, and hence most of the advanced tech is visible there. We already had a look at some of the tech that made its debut for Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix - specifically the Scope Atmoz hubs - and now or never would be the time to check how the riders trialling the tyre pressure system fared, essentially giving them the ability to play with the psi in their tyres while riding.
The Scope Atmoz hub was used by the men’s Team DSM riders, while the women continued to race without the new tech because of “low supply and [a] different race profile”.
Nils Eekhoff and Pavel Bittner were the two DSM riders to take on the cobbles together with the tyre pressure system; but Bittner’s race ended with a DNF, and Eekhoff placed 86th. According to Scope Atmoz, its system allowed Eekhoff "to increase his tire pressure on the asphalt and make up valuable time in his attempt to catch the head of the race" after he was forced back to the peloton.
John Degenkolb, the leader of DSM, saw himself in a very strong position at the head of the race, but a crash meant that he ultimately finished seventh.
Jumbo-Visma were also testing out their own tyre pressure system, Gravaa KAPS, and one of the test pilots Christophe Laporte secured 10th place.
Wout Van Aert wasn’t using the newest technology, but bagged a third place on the podium after losing the race lead due to a puncture. Overall, the Jumbo-Visma men’s team suffered huge losses in the race with perhaps the most punctures, whereas Alpecin-Fenix secured two podium spots. Both teams used Vittoria tyres.
Increasingly, we're also seeing the winning teams racing Paris-Roubaix with a 1x setup, rocking a single, large chainring at the front. This is something we already saw Lizzy Deignan have on her race-winning Domane in 2021.
This year, both Jumbo-Visma and Trek Segafredo were taking advantage of this setup, with Van Aert reportedly riding a 54T chainring with a 10-26 cassette. Pre-race favourite (and last year's winner) Elisa Longo Borghini had a single 52T chain ring on her Trek Domane.
The reasons for this are two-fold. Paris-Roubaix is a relatively flat course, so there is not so much need for a smaller ring at the front. But even more crucially, using a front derailleur when literally everything is rattling on the cobbles... it's likely going to end up badly! That's why we saw many dinner-plate-size single chain rings paired with a chain catcher, minimising the risk of dropping a chain when shifting.
Recent innovations like on-the-fly tyre pressure adjustment and numerous 1x set-up variants mean that while we're not seeing some of the super-specific modifications in years gone by, Paris-Roubaix bike tech ain't dead yet and is still evolving.
Aerodynamics and reliability appear to be the main two things that make for a winning recipe on the hellish cobbles in the 2020s, with comfort taking a bit of a back seat (for now). Garnish that with a sprinkle of luck and a lot of watts, this is what appears to be bringing home the best results.
What were your tech takeaways from this year's Paris-Roubaix races? Let us know in the comments!
Suvi joined F-At in 2022, first writing for off-road.cc. She's since joined the tech hub, and contributes to all of the sites covering tech news, features, reviews and women's cycling content. Lover of long-distance cycling, Suvi is easily convinced to join any rides and events that cover over 100km, and ideally, plenty of cake and coffee stops.