Monumental challenge inspires innovation
In cycling parlance, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix rank among the few races known simply as “Monuments.”
For these one-day classics, Flanders on Sunday and Roubaix on April 8, the Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team and Team Saxo Bank will take to the cobbles riding Zipp 303 wheels.
Until recently, traditional aluminum rims were the go-to choice for these iconic races. Carbon wheels, according to conventional wisdom, were not durable enough to absorb punishing impacts from the ancient stones.
The 303’s journey from an engineering dream to a wheel that’s been ridden to victory in Paris-Roubaix and twice in the Tour of Flanders is a testament to the power of persistence and data-driven innovation. The 303’s next step came last year as the wheel was completely redesigned as Zipp’s third entry in the Firecrest® series, after the 404 Firecrest and 808 Firecrest.
Initial tests of carbon rims on the famed Arenberg Forest cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix quickly left Zipp engineers with a pile of cracked prototypes. Setbacks, though, proved to be fuel for innovation.
Back in Indiana, Zipp® engineers went to work. They mounted stone-sized metal “bumps” onto the spinning drum in the test lab to simulate, as best they could, riding cobbles at race pace. They used a high-speed camera to dissect the cause of pinch flats and cracked rims.
Those efforts resulted in the 303’s wider rim – which ultimately served as the inspiration for the Firecrest design – and Zipp’s exclusive Carbon Bridge™ technology used to protect and strengthen Zipp rims.
And wheels aren’t the only story. Zipp’s Service Course® SL bars, stems and seatpost as well as Zipp’s carbon SLSpeed seatpost – used by Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team and Team Saxo Bank -- for the first time are being ridden in the UCI WorldTour, the pinnacle of professional cycling.