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OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — Come classics season, sponsor loyalty evaporates. It takes a back seat to practicality, to simply finishing races that destroy ordinary equipment without batting an eye.
So it’s no surprise that underneath the dozen different tire badges spread throughout the 26 Ronde van Vlaanderen teams lay only six different tires, with a majority of teams spread across only four. Most are highly specialized to the task at hand, so good that teams are willing to buck sponsor obligations and pay for them outright.
Flanders, despite its own collection of hellish cobbled sections, is no Paris-Roubaix. The sectors are relatively short and the cobbles are a bit friendlier — the difficulty lies in the course’s combination of steep climbs and rough surface, rather than in the surface alone.
Most teams stuck with 25mm tubular tires, which are quickly becoming commonplace even for cobble-free road stages. Clinchers are non-existent, as usual at this level of racing.
Only 15 of the 26 squads went with a cobbles-specific 25mm tire, split between the FMB Paris Roubaix 25, the Veloflex Arenberg 25, and Vittoria’s Pave EVO CG 25. Of those 15, ten ran tires that were not sponsor-correct, some rebadged and some left alone. All three of the popular cobble-specific tires are available in larger, even tougher versions that will likely see use next Sunday at Paris-Roubaix.
Continental and Vittoria had the most success at keeping its squads sponsor-correct; all five of the teams sponsored by each brand stuck with the 25mm Competition tubulars they usually run.
The French-made FMB Paris Roubaix 25 and Italian-made Veloflex Arenberg 25 were by far the most popular non-sponsor tires; both are smaller, lighter, and slightly less robust than each company’s true Roubaix tire.
The Arenberg actually measures more like a 26mm, particularly after it’s had some time to stretch out. Claimed weight is 290 grams, and its 320TPI casing is built around a latex inner tube. A thin, supple Calicot puncture-resistance strip is built into the casing, providing a bit of extra flat protection. Veloflex isn’t a tire company in the size realm of Continental or Vittoria, but it’s no garage operation, either.
FMB, on the other hand, comes quite close to that. The names stands for Francois Marie Boyaux, translated simply as Francois Marie Tubulars. Monsieur Marie still builds his tubulars by hand in Brittany, and has built something of a mythical status within the upper echelons of road racing.
Like Dugast in the world of cyclocross, FMB has become famous for its exceptionally supple, flat-resistant yet incredibly comfortable road tubulars, capable of contouring to the rough cobbles rather than bouncing off them.
It’s no surprise, then, that Fabian Cancellara chose to ride FMBs to his victory on Sunday, and Tom Boonen won on a set in 2012. Since FMB sponsors neither riders nor teams, all five squads that rode on them paid for each tire.
Team tire selection:
FMB Paris Roubaix 25
Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank (rebadged as Specialized)
Omega Pharam-Quickstep (rebadged as Specialized)
Veloflex Arenberg 25
Katusha (rebadged as Mavic)
Cannondale (rebadged as Kenda)
Vacansoleil (rebadged as Vredestein)
Vittoria Pave EVO CG 25
Continental Competition 25
Vittoria Corsa EVO CX 25
Schwalbe Ultremo 25
Garmin-Sharp — We have heard rumors of large-casing Mavic clinchers, and the company may be working on 26-27mm tubulars as well. We can’t match Garmin’s tires within any known tread/base tape combo.