When the history books are written, Tom Boonen's 2012 Paris Roubaix effort will be remembered as one of the most impressive wins ever.
Well, the folks up in Morgan Hill, California have done it again. For the second consecutive year, Specialized Bicycles
has rolled out a new model in race conditions and completely dominated the event. Last year it was Matt Goss winning Milano-Sanremo
on the first-time ride of the Specialized aero road Venge.
In the days leading up to this year's Paris Roubaix we'd received plenty of launch reports on some special new race bikes; among them the radical Trek Domane
, the BMC GF, and the custom Felts F1s
. It's exciting to think about actual race bikes like the Trek and BMC, both representing a new niche in "performance comfort" bikes headed to the public. And yes, as much as the bike industry shudders at the use of the word "comfort" to describe any of their high-end bikes, it is a fact that a new age of frame designs are continuing to come to market with features like taller head tubes and special energy absorbing frames.
Don't expect to see production versions of Boonen's bike until later this year.
In fact, it was just prior to the start of the Tour of Flanders when we first heard about a new Specialized
Roubaix that Tom Boonen would be riding at today's big race. And on
Friday, actual photos materialized in our in-box. The funny thing was
that while the folder we received was full of detail shots of Tom's new
Specialized Roubaix race bike, two key things were missing: 1. an
actual picture of the complete bike, and 2. any substantive
information about it.
When we politely complained that it was kinda hard to tell a story of a new bike without either a photo of it or any specs, in typical fashion, Specialized PR man Ben Delaney was kind enough to make a call to France to make it all happen. The photo of the bike came yesterday which I immediately posted. But still, any worthwhile story line was missing. But early this morning that all changed after a game of phone/text tag with Specialized's ace R&D man Chris D'Aluisio. As my day was ending, Chris' was just getting started when he called from the team car that was headed to the start of the race (my apologies to the guy in the 408 area code who I accidentally woke up after mis-dialing). Sitting here typing this up, it's a funny thing now to have been talking about the bike just hours before it would win the race in such a dominating style. And so it goes.
CHRIS FILLS US IN
Talk about access, Chris D'Aluisio has worked and ridden with the likes of Contador, Cavendish, Boonen and many other of today's top riders. In typical fashion, Chris has already traveled to Europe five times this year...and it's only April!
A former Pro racer himself, Chris is a renowned industry standout regarded as much for his technical knowledge as he is his physical prowess - he doesn't just wait for the Pro riders to finish riding before asking them questions, he rides with them to find out first hand what they think about the bikes. In his role as Specialized's liaison with all of the top riders over the past few years, Chris has been at ground zero for every major new racing development at Specialized.
Having interviewed Chris plenty of times before, I can always tell when he is
really excited about a new bike and despite the bike's rather
nondescript appearance, apparently, this flat black bike is a big deal. Truth be told, there were a few details about the bike that Chris still wasn't ready to divulge. There are new patents and technologies at work that Chris said would have a bigger impact on future bikes than just this one model.
The Omega Pharma/QuickStep bikes head out on course.
The one point that Chris was adamant making about the new bike is that for right now it is just a prototype. The bike won't see (its very limited) production until later in the year so there is no need to rush down to your local dealer in your QuickStep kit with credit card in hand.
Chris also admitted that another reason Specialized was a little less than forthcoming on all the bike spec info in the days leading up to the race was - you guessed it - their nervousness about the UCI rules that dictate that no bike can be raced unless it is also available to the public, or at least until it has been "launched" publicly. Hence the hurried soft launch of the bike on Friday. It's this rule that is partially behind so many early season (prototype) race bikes being painted black so as to avoid any detection and/or publicity.
As evidence of the category's popularity, Specialized
currently has a whopping 12 different models of the carbon framed Roubaix (plus two framesets) that range in price from $2000 to the top-of-the-line S-Works SL3 model (above) spec'd with Shimano's Di2 drievtrain that sells for a cool eleven large!
ABOUT TOM'S BIKE
After a few phone calls and emails, Specialized got us this photo of Tom's bike on Saturday afternoon. To reflect it's "not ready for prime time" status, there is no new model designation for the bike other than S-Works Roubaix. This latest version shares some of the updated frame attributes of the Tarmac SL4 which is the bike Tom used to win the Tour of Flanders. Chris said that Tom had briefly considered using the new Roubaix frame at Flanders, but ultimately felt the cobbles there weren't requiring of the damping attributes of the Zertz inserts.
The bike we're talking about is Specialized's latest incarnation of their immensely popular Roubaix bike that stands alone in the industry with the use of their proprietary elastomer Zertz inserts used in the seatstays and fork (they were originally found in the seatpost as well). For the 2012 running of Paris Roubaix, Specialized had eight riders between their three Pro teams aboard the new bike. With only a few frames at the ready, the pecking order among those lucky few chosen to ride the new frame was how close they were to riding a bike in size that was used by Boonen or his teammate Sebastian Chavanel. Boonen riders a 60cm frame and Chris said that it weighs about 150 grams more than the Tarmac SL4 that Boonen used to win last week's Tour of Flanders.
Chris also told me that the bike had of course been in the works since last year, but that it wasn't until January of this year that they began actual testing with Boonen and the QuickStep team. That testing consisted of both "outside" testing as well as many hours spent indoors on the track. Admittedly, there are no cobbled velodromes to speak of, but what the indoor velodrome provides is a much needed controlled environment that allows for a more precise analysis of how different components work.
Both indoors and out, the Omega Pharma QuickStep team put in an exhaustive effort to dial in the winning bike.
Photo: Tim DeWaele
"The days when we would rely solely on rider feedback are over," Chris says. "The track gives us a level of quantifiable test data that you can't get in the field. One of the goals was to get some real power numbers to contrast time savings on the pavement versus the cobbles. We would have Tom try a standard box rim and small tire and then switch to his (Zipp) 303s to compare speed and power output. We would even vary the amount of air in his tires to see what impact that would have on his performance. The idea was to mix and match equipment so that Tom could make the decision about what to use himself. We looked at everything from Tom's position on the bike to all the different parts on the bike."
Eventually though, the testing had to move outdoors and Chris said that that included real time on both European cobbles as well as "simulated" cobbles back at Specialized HQ near San Jose, CA.
revolutionized the use of carbon wheels on the cobbles so it comes as no surprise that their popular 303 wheels would once again be on the winning bike. Depending on the weather conditions, Tom had a choice of FMB tubulars (white, blue or green sidewalls), but chose the 27c white cotton sidewalls due to their suppleness (he used 25c tires at Flanders).
Tom ran a carbon railed Specialized Chicane saddle atop a Zipp carbon Speed SL seatpost. Up front he used Zipp's aluminum Service Course SL stem (14cm) and handlebars (44cm).
Without a doubt the ProTour has an insatiable appetite for new bikes.
Chalk up another victory for SRAM's new RED drivetrain - no batteries here! Boonen runs with Specialized FACT carbon cranks with the stiffer, solid TT chainrings and Look Keo Blade pedals.
Here's a close-up of the new Zertz design which D'Luisio says has allowed the frame to be stiffer and lighter. Chris said that while the Zertz material is the same as previously used, the attachment system has changed which allowed for significant design and performance changes with the carbon frame. For production bikes, the elastomers might eventually be color coordinated with the frame.
The significance of Paris Roubaix success can't be overstated. The annual race on Easter Sunday has created it's own dedicated arms race among the leading bike brands. It's amazing to think that after all the hours and money Specialized invested leading up to the race that Boonen's Roubaix won't be used again this year. Straight to the museum!
A special thanks to both Chris and Ben for jumping through the hoops to help put this story together when they both probably had better things to do with their time!