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For Wout van Aert, when you’re going to race uphill at almost 40kph, you only need one chainring.
Van Aert will line out Saturday as a top favorite for Milan-San Remo with a single 52-T chainring and a 10-28t cassette.
“I won’t need an inner chainring. Moreover, this is faster and more aerodynamic. Lighter, too,” Van Aert told Het Laatste Nieuws. “Since this year we have had that option thanks to SRAM [Jumbo-Visma switched from Shimano at the start of the season – ed]. It’s a small advantage we wanted to take.”
Van Aert shared pictures Friday of his Cervélo and its pasta-plate SRAM-supplied chainring.
“CX set-up for the longest bike race of the year,” he joked.
SRAM representatives later confirmed to Bike Radar that Van Aert will ride his big ring beast Saturday. It is unknown if Jumbo-Visma will take a spare single-ring machine on its team car.
So, why no inner ring?
For a peloton powering through a likely tailwind Saturday, the 300km Primavera could hit average speeds in excess of 45kph.
And with the key Cipressa and Poggio “climbs” mostly hovering at around 4 percent grade, few in the peloton would even consider clicking into the inner ring.
Strava shows reigning San Remo champion Matej Mohorič powered up the make-or-break 3.7km Poggio last year at a few watts shy of 37kph. It’s a big ring, big bunch ascent raced faster than a local group ride, and where differences are only made with huge explosive attacks.
Running a single chainring brings Van Aert all the gear ratios he should need Saturday.
And with no front derailleur, his Cervélo S5 is a few grams lighter, packs a slight aero advantage, and has no risk of dropped chains.
Van Aert’s single-ring setup is far from as revolutionary as when Mohorič rocked San Remo with his winning dropper-post descent last year.
The short-lived Aqua Blue team rode one-by bikes all through the season, Lizzie Deignan won the inaugural Paris-Roubaix without her inner gears, and Victor Campenaerts raced through the early season with only the outer plate and a revolutionary Classified hub.
If Van wins his second San Remo on Saturday, the single-ring move might be hailed genius. If he doesn’t, it might be forgotten.
But either way, it brings a talking point for those first six hours of MSR’s marathon.