Team mechanics have a tough job at the Tour. They have early mornings, long days in the back of a team car, and they are the last to finish at night. But for some, the 24 to 36 hours between the finish of stage 4 and the start of stage 6 could prove to be the longest.
Stage 5 will see the Tour de France 2022 peloton tackle the legendary cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix. For the runners, this means an additional complication during the stage; for the mechanics, a “Roubaix stage” is equivalent to a completely new fleet of motorcycles and a change of equipment. Or does it?
The Tour’s cobbled stage is often described as a mini Paris-Roubaix in the middle of a Grand Tour, but in reality, the Spring Monument is a whole other beast. It’s a similar story when it comes to technical preparation.
While Roubaix’s specials have dwindled in recent years as everyday road racing gear becomes more versatile, the queen of the classics remains a technological exception. The Tour stage, Roubaix’s little sister, meanwhile presents a conundrum for Tour teams: dust off Roubaix’s bikes, or stick to their proven gear?
We decided to take a look back at this year’s Roubaix tech and predict what we might or might not see on Wednesday’s Tour de France Stage 5.
While teams have a host of technological adaptations, it’s the frames that are at the heart of any bike. Once a year, WorldTour teams dust off their cobble or endurance-specific frames, like the Trek Domane and Specialized Roubaix, to name a few. But even Trek and Specialized-sponsored teams sometimes stuck with their “standard” race-day rigs for Paris-Roubaix.
While Trek-Segafredo raced the new, yet-unreleased Trek Domane in April, several Specialized-equipped team riders decided to stick with the Tarmac SL7 rather than the cobble-specific S-Works Roubaix. Additionally, Dylan Van Baarle won the Roubaix on an almost standard Pinarello Dogma F. Ineos Grenadiers staff have already confirmed to CyclingTips that the team will race on near-standard Pinarello Dogma Fs.
Still, some teams can make a change. As already mentioned, Trek has a new Domane RSL and it seems certain the team will switch to the new frame for Stage 5. Team DSM race coach Matt Winston has confirmed that the team will switch from new Scott Foil at Scott Addict, while Jumbo -Visma could deploy on Cervelo Caledonias, as they did for Paris-Roubaix.
We’ll be in the paddock ahead of Stage 5 to bring you all the exact details, but with increasingly versatile race bikes and a ‘standard’ frame taking victory over the ~50km of Paris-Roubaix cobblestones this year it seems less and teams less likely to have to switch to dedicated Classics bikes for the relatively short 19.4 km of cobbles in Stage 5.
If it’s not the frames, the tires are one area where we should see the teams making significant changes. Wider tires are commonplace now, but 28mm is still as big as we’re likely to see on any other stage of the road. For the ‘Roubaix stage’, expect to see almost every team switch to 30mm rubber, maybe even 32mm.
Beyond the extra width, most teams will hit the cobbles with tubeless tires. Jumbo-Visma ran in guts at Paris-Roubaix, but was very much in the minority. Almost every other team had most of their riders lined up tubeless. But even Jumbo-Visma has already lined up with tubeless setups for the first four road stages of this year’s Tour de France.
At the start of Stage 2, we saw Wout van Aert and others riding Vittoria’s Corsa Speed 2.0 tubeless tires. Previously thought of as a time trial only tire, the Corsa Speed was an interesting choice for road stages and shows Jumbo’s new openness to tubeless technology. If the team runs on tubeless tires for Stage 5, it could be a reaction to the numerous punctures and rim failures suffered by the team during Paris-Roubaix this year.
Tire pressure is just as important as the tires themselves on the cobblestones of Roubaix. The exact pressures runners will run with are a closely guarded secret, but expect them to be lower than the pressures used in Stage 4 and somewhere in the 50-70 psi range, depending on combined weight rider and bike.
Perhaps the biggest change for Stage 5 will be another unseen one: many teams are expected to field tubeless tire inserts. While these inserts allow riders to reduce tire pressure and protect their rims in the event of an impact, the biggest benefit for WorldTour riders might be the ability to ride in the event of a puncture. In a stage where the teams’ cars can be several minutes behind the leaders, simply keeping ahead is an invaluable marginal gain.
Electronic shifting is now ubiquitous in the pro peloton, and other than perhaps Peter Sagan, we don’t expect that to change for Stage 5. There’s more likely to be a move to 1x setups. Riders from SRAM-equipped teams have raced Paris-Roubaix on 1x setups the past two Paris-Roubaix while Team TotalEnergies’ Anthony Turgis raced Roubaix in April with a mix of Dura-Ace and XTR for a similar 1x setup .
While a 1x setup without a front derailleur is technically more aerodynamic, speaking with SRAM and the teams of the last two editions of Roubaix, it is the chain retention benefits of the narrow and wide chainrings that are more valuable on the cobblestones. Chain drop is all the more likely on extremely rough cobblestone sectors, so any extra chain retention is a welcome addition. Every team will use a chain catcher regardless of 1x or 2x cranksets, but the added chain retention coupled with a chain guide on 1x setups gives riders an extra level of chain security.
In the rear, look for teams using rear derailleurs with clutches. A clutch helps provide derailleur and chain tension over rough terrain where the weight of the bouncing chain can cause that chain to fall off. SRAM teams can rely on their standard Red Etap AXS derailleurs which include a clutch as standard, while Shimano teams can opt for GRX or XTR Di2 rear derailleurs. Campagnolo riders are out of luck without a 12-speed clutch-compatible derailleur in the Campy lineup.
Finally, pay attention to the satellite or so-called sprinter shifters, scattered on the handlebars of cyclists. Riders typically ride on the tops of the bar in rough cobbled sections and electronic shifting paired with satellite shifters at the top gives riders hands-free shifting from this top bar position.
With the major components of a bike covered, there are still a few tweaks the mechanics could prepare tonight. The double-bar tape is the classic Roubaix hack, but even that has been dying out in recent years as riders find comfort from lower tire pressures and wider rubber.
Teams often switch bottle cages for Roubaix, choosing to sacrifice a few grams of extra bike weight in exchange for better bottle retention. Expect to see carbon cages replaced with more traditional steel cages.
Don’t be surprised to see some teams also attach CO2 canisters and mounts to these bottle cages, like Alpecin-Deceuninck did for Roubaix in April. With sealant dripping inside their tires, having a CO2 canister handy could be the difference between inflating an almost deflated tire before the sealant saves the day and standing on the side of the road in waiting for a replacement wheel.
While we hope each team will dust off their dedicated Roubaix tech ahead of Stage 5, don’t be surprised to see a relatively technically boring day as the Tour tackles the cobbles. Either way, we’re on the ground checking the exact setups the teams choose to race with and we’ll have a full tech gallery after the stage.