Tyre pressures, gravel-specific components and Tom Pidcock’s race winning bike - Tech the pros use to tackle Strade Bianche

The white roads place unique challenges on a rider’s equipment, so mechanics have some important and tricky choices to make ahead of the race

While gravel riding might once have been an alien concept to many, there’s no denying that the discipline has skyrocketed in popularity over recent years. Strade Bianche could be seen as a sort of pioneer of this trend; it’s a race which sent the peloton on the white dust roads before it was cool or fashionable. The Tuscan event places interesting demands on team mechanics who have to make choices to ensure that their team’s riders don’t suffer from mishaps like punctures or chain drops as they judder over the gravel.

Speaking ahead of the 2023 edition of the race, many mechanics explained that as gravel, or all-road riding, has become more popular among the average cyclist, most brands are now creating bikes with enough compliance, flexibility and dampening properties to tackle the rough stuff which has made the job of a mechanic slightly easier when it comes to preparing for Strade Bianche. Modern bicycles that the professionals use today are robust enough to survive the bumps and jolts of off-road riding, without too many changes needing to be made. While once the bikes of professional riders might have had specific amendments which tailor them to tackle gravel, nowadays, the key choices that need to be made include tyre size, pressures and gear ratios.

Milling around the start area of Strade Bianche this year, we spoke to teams about what choices they’d made when it came to the rubber they trusted to get them through the race safely, and spotted some interesting tech on show. Here are some of the best nuggets of information we got about what professional riders use to tackle the gravel.

Peter Sagan with a Shimano GRX rear derailleur

Image: Rachel Jary

TotalEnergies rider Peter Sagan was sporting a mix-up of Shimano components on his S-Works Tarmac SL7, opting to use a Shimano GRX rear derailleur. This is likely to try and avoid chain drop on the bumpy gravel, – it has a clutch it in which will help keep more tension in the chain. It’s also worth noting that Sagan is still riding the older, 11-speed version of Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 which is what makes this mash-up of Shimano componentry possible.

Pidcock’s winning weapon

Image: James Startt

Tom Pidcock rode his usual Pinarello Dogma F to victory Strade Bianche, seemingly trusting Pinarello's claims that the bike is an all-rounder which can be used for varying terrain and conditions. He also used a MOST bar and stem combination, a Fizik saddle and a Garmin headunit. His tyres were 30mm Continental Grand Prix STR.  Interestingly, the majority of the Ineos Grenadiers riders were on the shallower version of the Dura-Ace carbon wheels, opting for the C36 model.

Image: James Startt

Pidcock’s bike featured the latest R9200 groupset with a 53-39 chainring combination paired with a Shimano Dura-Ace 12-speed cassette. He also looks to surprisingly be using the older Shimano Dura-Ace 9100 power meter rather than the most recent version. Mechanics had used a piece of innertube to keep Pidcock's Di2 cable from being caught in the event of a crash.

Lotte Kopecky’s new Roval handlebars

Image: Rachel Jary

While Kopecky has been spotted riding this new integrated bar and stem combination from Roval for a couple of races now and during her winter of training, they still are yet to be released to the public. The Belgian rider seemed to be the only person on Team SD Worx using this combination, with the others opting for a separate bar and stem – presumably to help dial in a specific fit.

UAE Team ADQ’s weird Wahoo mount

Image: Rachel Jary

Seemingly causing much interest among the UAE Team ADQ team staff as well as the general public, UAE Team ADQ’s bikes featured a 3D-printed mount which is made specifically to fit a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt. It features a rotating plate underneath which is how the device slots in and should have made the rider’s head units far more secure throughout the race, avoiding any risk of them coming off when the riders jolted over the gravel roads.

Is this a prototype Schwalbe Pro One tyre?

Image: Rachel Jary

Team mechanics wouldn’t give much away when questioned on Canyon//SRAM’s tyre choices, but we did spot a ‘prototype’ logo on the women’s team’s Schwalbe Pro One tyre. We can only guess that this 30mm tyre is perhaps a more durable version with stronger sidewalls for harsher road conditions.

Under (tyre) pressure

Each year, there is plenty of discourse at Strade Bianche surrounding the tyre pressures that each team decides to go for. This is largely because having your tyres pumped up too low, or too high, can increase the risk of punctures on sharp stones or potholes, something that could ruin a rider’s chances of getting a result. Some teams were more coy than others on revealing the pressures they were running – both Jumbo-Visma and the Ineos Grenadiers mechanics refused to disclose this information when asked.

Image: Rachel Jary

Team SD Worx’s mechanic was more open, however, explaining that all riders would be running their S-Works Turbo Cotton tyres at 4.5 bar (equating to roughly 65psi.) The women’s Team DSM, on the other hand, were running their Vittoria Corsa Control tyres between 3.9 to 4.2 bar (around 56 to 60 psi.) The TotalEnergies team mechanic said that the likes of Sagan would run 5.5 bar (79 psi) on the front wheel and 5.8 bar (84 psi) on the rear.

AG2R Citroën Team’s mechanic was kind enough to share the entire team’s tyre pressures which varied from 4.9 (71 psi) to 6 (87 psi) bar depending on the rider. Greg van Avermaet had 5.8 (84 psi) bar on the front and 5.5 (79 psi) on the rear, while the team’s smaller climber, Valentin Paret-Peintre had 5.2 bar (75 psi) on the front and 4.9 bar (71 psi) on the rear. The majority of teams appeared to be running either 28 or 30mm tyres.

It’s for the ‘feeling’

Image: Rachel Jary

This trend of varying tyre pressures for different riders even extended into tyre brands for the women’s UAE Team ADQ. The team was using three different tyre brands on different bikes, ranging from Pirelli P-Zero tyres, Vittoria Corsa Control Graphene 2.0 tyres and Continental 5000 S TR tyres. When we asked the team’s mechanics why this was, they simply replied “it’s for the feeling.”

Smiley stem notes

Image: Rachel Jary

Many rider’s stem notes featured pretty bland numbers and race profiles, but Mathieu van der Poel’s were a little more fun. The Alpecin-Deceuninck rider had smiley faces printed at different kilometre points, as well as reminders of when to eat and drink. We weren’t able to find out what the smiley faces meant, but looking at their positioning on the stem notes it looks like it could have been potential moments to make his attacks. It wasn’t Van der Poel’s day in the end and he didn’t look to be smiling during the race, though.

Blips ahoy

Image: Rachel Jary

The women’s Trek-Segafredo team appeared to be making use of the new wireless blips that SRAM now offer, with rider’s having them placed on various positions on the handlebars. Image: Rachel Jary

Amanda Spratt had them taped to right in the top and centre of the handlebars, while Elisa Balsamo had them set up in a more traditional sprint shifter position on the inside of the drops.

Sandpaper bottle cages

Image: Rachel Jary

A handy hack that some of the pro teams seemed to be using was a layer of sandpaper in bottle cages, presumably to try and stop bottles from flying out of the cages as riders bumped over the gravel roads.

Cover image: James Startt

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