While most of our time ogling over new bikes before the weekend’s race in the Quick-Step scrum was over Tom Boonen’s shiny new white and gold S-Works Roubaix, we did get a look at the bike of eventual race winner Philippe Gilbert. For the first of the real northern Spring Classics it has become more of a toss-up whether to go with the comfort of an endurance bike like the Roubaix or a more dedicated road race machine. Gilbert opted for the lighter, quicker Specialized S-Works Tarmac, and the choice seemed to suit the Belgian well. Like Rivera’s pretty standard Envie, Gilbert’s bike didn’t have too much modification on it. But one thing that makes all the difference racing on these cobbled roads is the tires, and his team-only S-Works Turbo tubulars in their special “Hell of the North” 28mm version seemed to do the trick…

photo by Tim De Waele, courtesy Quick-Step
finish photo by Tim De Waele, courtesy Quick-Step

Gilbert was kind enough to raise his bike overhead at the finish so we could get another good look. If you look closely you can see that it appears he is racing on a previous generation Fizik Aliante saddle with carbon rails that has been recovered with a Specialized top and several big S logos to keep the team sponsors happy more padded and traditionally shaped Specialized Chicane saddle with FACT carbon rails. Gilbert has long been a fan of more classic saddle shapes, racing on the Flite and Fizik’s modern remake the Volta in the recent past.

Like the majority of the pro peloton riding Shimano drivetrains, Gilbert is racing on Dura-Ace Di2, but is still on the previous generation 9000 groupset. He also races with an Ultegra cassette (an 11-28 here), which offers a better value of performance and durability, versus the minimal weight savings to the titanium cogs of the Dura-Ace alternative.

Part of the reason for that was that availability of the new R9100/R9170 groupset was limited until just a couple of months ago, but even now that the new gear is readily available (mostly) to the teams, mechanics and riders alike are a little reluctant to switch over to new group immediately ahead of the important Spring Classics. From talking with some teams, it seems that a few are still waiting for the new internal junction boxes, and will set more team bikes up with the new groups with time to train ahead of the flagship summer Grand Tours.

Another reason for Gilbert to stick with the 9000 group is his power meter – the dual sided 4iiii – which so far hasn’t made the leap to the new R9100 crankset either. We’re always curious to see how the different chainring setups work with each other.

Cockpit wise Gilbert has a deep traditional bend alloy handlebar from FSA and a matching FSA OS-99 forged alloy stem that gets wrapped in carbon for added stiffness. His seatpost is carbon though, a zero offset K-Force post. Out back are standard benchmark 9000 brakes and a K-Edge number plate holder.

While Gilbert and the bulk of the Quick-Step team raced the Tarmac, Boonen and fellow Belgian Iljo Keisse started the day on the more comfortable new Roubaix.

The tire:wheel combo is key in the cobbled classics. Pretty much the entire team started the day on the Roval CLX50 Rapide tubular wheelset (with nice little rubberized stickers to keep the valves from rattling), while a number of spare bikes and wheels used the lower depth CLX32 tubulars.

Gilbert races on Specialized’s handmade S-Works Turbo tubulars with their Gripton rubber compound, and started on these team-only 28mm tires that Specialized labels as the “Hell of the North” edition. At the start team mechanics were putting 6.4bar (92.8psi) into his rear tire when we caught a glimpse. With latex inner tubes and 115km (around 3 hours of racing) until the first real cobbled climb and 260km (6.5 hours of racing) til the end, racers likely end up with up to 10% less pressure by the end of the race if they don’t have any mechanicals.

Some of Gilbert’s bikes and spare wheels on the team car actually had 26mm tires on them (easily visible with their lighter skinwall), and some teammates ended up finishing on a mix of tires after replacing flats along the road.

Like we saw behind-the-scenes with Sunweb, organization is key. Each rider has a ton of spare gear off the bike, spread between two or three team cars, so a mad dash happens at the start as the staff tries to make sure everybody is well stocked for all scenarios. Here the team uses the newest edition of the Scicon rainbag to keep spare clothing and shoes organized and each to access on the road amongst all of the chaos of racing.



  1. “he is racing on a previous generation Fizik Aliante saddle”

    FIRST: if a Fizik saddle then he would chose the Volta model, not Aliante. he was not pleased with Alinte, that’s why Fizik built the Volta specially for him.

    SECOND: that is a Specialized saddle, the Chicane model. that Chicane model was initially built for Tom Boonen (he’s not using it anymore), and now Niki Terpstra and Philipe Gilbert is using it.

    wellcome 😉


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