handbuilts for the cobbled classics. at first glance, riding over cobblestones paved into the ground doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. but pro cyclists don’t just ride over them. they race on the cobbles for relentless hours on end. so it would come as no surprise that most pro bikes rely on wheelset basics to get them rolling as efficiently, and comfortably as possible. enter the realm of the handbuilt wheelsets. let’s use the above photo as reference. movistar used campagnolo record hubs, 3 cross laced to campagnolo barcelona 92 box section tubulars with wider tires glued for extra cushion. these handbuilt wheelsets are put into rotation once the cobbled classics begin, but don’t see much daylight afterwards. appropriately, after the classics are over, they’re stashed away until the next year. there’s a certain humbling sensation about classic-specific wheelsets. pro cyclists ride on some of the lightest, smoothest riding, fastest wheelsets year round – when the cobbled classics come around early season, a majority of the carbon rims, ceramic bearings, and fancy aero wheels go away. but not completely. there are still some riders that race (and win) on carbon, but they are the exceptions to the ‘norm’.
euskatel-euskadi: the team appears to be riding on dura-ace hubs, 3x to ambrosio nemesis box section tubulars and vittoria tires. classics for the classics.
bretagne-schuller: the pro-continental team rode on ambrosio nemesis box section tubulars, too.
omega-pharma lotto: riders were equipped with spokey, mavic box section tubulars. notice the bike on the bottom left, out of the picture. this rider chose to race on mavic cosmic carbon tubulars for the race.
another exception to the ‘norm’: 2010 winner, fabian cancellara, rode on bontrager race xxx lite carbon tubulars with 27mm fmb tubulars front and rear for 2011. the wheels might be a bit of an exception, but the tires fit right into the classics.
2010: fabian cancellara won the paris-roubaix on zipp 303 carbon tubulars. zipp raved for the rest of the year about the torsional rim shape, and how it acted like a spring under load. meanwhile, all the fair-weather internet cyclists of the world claimed cancellara had a brifter controlled, seat tube based bottom bracket motor. unfortunately, he couldn’t recreate his amazing win this season.
garmin-cervélo had a slew of mavic box section tubulars. but…
johan van summeren won on prototype mavic m40 carbon tubulars anyway. granted, he was running 27mm, gumwall tubulars, but he flatted with 5km to go. and still won.
in short, rider preference rules above all. if a cyclist is comfortable riding 250km+ on carbon tubulars and chunky tires, what’s stopping him (or her) from doing so? that being said, a pro team’s wheel arsenal is never complete without classic’s specific handbuilt wheelsets!