The Brief Foray of Rock Shox in Paris Roubaix
ALLEZ - JV Araneta (The Freeman) - June 22, 2020 - 12:00am

Paris-Roubaix is without doubt the toughest race in the world. Ironically, it starts from the commune of Compiegne (75km from Paris) to the city of Roubaix, which is about 260+km long. Along the course, divided into 29 sections, are roads laid down with pavé, cobblestones, designed for carts during the medieval ages. These stones are uneven and sharp and some riders claim arthritic-like pain up to a week after the race.

To minimize the jarring effect of the pavé to the body, which can lead to early fatigue, riders were forced to roll double bar tapes, use wider tires or sometimes place fresh meat on their shorts to mitigate the effect of the pavé.

According the 5x Tour de France champion and the last French to win the tour, Bernard Hinault (PR ’81), Paris-Roubaix is, “b… s…” Sean Kelly (PR ’84, ’86), on the other hand said, “…it is the most beautiful race to win. This race is so beguiling that different winners described it differently.

In 1992, Greg Lemond convinced his teammate, Gilbert Duclos Lasalle, to use a new technology which they borrowed from the discipline of mountainbikes- front suspension. Lasalle has ridden PR12 times, and he never won it. So the team Z installed Rock Shox, the most popular front suspension in those days.

You might be wondering why a race that has been run for almost 100  years, did not think of using suspension. Yo9u see, cycling is a very traditional sport. Think about this: up until the mid-80’s you’re not supposed to eat ice cream because it contains fat but you can drink wine on the dinner table. So using Rock Shox is like eating ice cream!

But Lemond was an innovator and as what Malcomlm Gladwell describes a, “disagreeable person”. Three years earlier, he used a pair of triathlete bars to dramatically win the Tour, so he didn’t really care even if the Rock Shox look so ugly. As long as he believes it was going to make them win, Greg would gladly use it.

Lasalle would go on to win PR that year and the following year. In ’94, Andrei Tchmil would win PR with a suspension. So at this point, you might think that front suspension is now a thing in PR. Wrong.

However, as I’ve said, cycling is so steeped in tradition that common sense is sometimes thrown out of the window. For example, cycling socks should be of a certain length to be “legal”.

Anyway, Ernesto Colnago, the maker of the most legendary framebuilder and Ugo de Rosa, another famous framebuilder, would not allow suspension to alter his frames. They were making a big gamble, and they could end up as either geniuses or fools.

In ’95, Team Mapei, the most dominant classics team up to now (its called Deuceninck now) and using Colnagos, started the race without suspensions. Fortunately for Ernesto, his rider, Franco Ballerini, would win it without a Rock Shox. But he had a suspension stem installed, Alsop, that I’m sure helped him.

Mapei would go on to win and dominate PR, winning the next 4 of five and and a total of 11 in 2019, though they have stopped using Colnagos. Today, the suspension fork is just a quirky bit of PR history but suspension, although subtle addition in the design, is still being used.

It would have been interesting to learn what would have happened to the reputation of Colnago if they had lost in the next five years. Ernesto was maybe lucky, or maybe he knew the team was good. In 1996, Mapei would send 3 riders on a breakaway, all finished on the podium.

It included of course, the great Johan Museeuw. Later on, Tom Boonen would continue the winning tradition.

Finally, this years PR will on October 25. I wonder what is new.

TOUR DE FRANCE
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