To win a race, you need to finish with good time. Having a mechanical in a grueling race like Paris-Roubaix will obviously take a huge chunk of time out of your advantage. So smart wheel choices seem the way to go. The norm for the Queen of the classics are strong, traditional box section rims with tubular tires, anywhere from 24 to 27mm in casing width.
George Hincapie and Magnus backstedt both lost their wheels. Amazingly, George made it in 9th place but Backstedt wasn't so lucky this year.
Backstedt's Wheels : ZIPP 404
Backstedt wrote this on his website : "One hundred meters in to that section, I heard a big bang underneath me. I knew straight away what had happened. Only carbon fiber makes that noise. Then a couple of hundred meters later I heard the same noise again. I looked down and the wheels were all over the place. I was going slower and slower at the same time as I was trying harder. By the time I got out of that section, the race was more or less over for me."
Hincapie's Wheels : HED Stingers
Second in 2005, but missing from the winning break this time, was an unlucky George Hincapie (High Road). The tall American said he was strong enough to have been with the winners until he ran into trouble. He was riding at the front on the Bersée section of cobblestones, 53km from the finish, and racing as well as he has ever ridden in the Hell of the North, when his rear wheel broke. "I had great legs," Hincapie said, "but there was nothing I could do." [VeloNews]
The questions linger. What were they both thinking when they decided to take deep section carbon wheels? Does sponsor pressure trump rider comfort? In other words, is there a subtle but selfish need on the sponsors side to get some air time on T.V in one of the biggest races of the Pro season that overwhelms sensitivity to rider needs.
Or did the riders, looking at the fine conditions that day (since it wasn't wet, there's lesser dirt and mud to be clinging onto deep rims), decide to 'gamble' anyway and get some aero advantage (which I don't think makes much sense since much of the race is on cobbles and cross winds can be an issue).
The other idea may have been that deep section wheels may be more 'comfortable' in the bone jarring 200 km ride than aluminum, or just a stupid thought that you'd look more cool in aero gear. It is my belief that any or most "perceivable" comfort is in the tires since that is way more flexible that the rims.
Cycling Fans Anonymous ran a post today about a ZIPP engineer addressing the latest durability concerns on Bike Forums. The engineer seems to be dodging the idea that ZIPP wheels are the culprit. The bad 'luck' argument cannot play in since Backstedt broke both his wheels!
My other big question is this : Were Hincapie and Backstedt the only riders in the peleton with deep section wheels? I wouldn't think so...
It may be far too early to investigate the exact nature of the failure and its cause but it'll be interesting what ZIPP has to say more about this. CFA's blogger remarks, based on Backstedt's comments, that racing on ZIPP wheels given the manufacturer's seal of approval & 'confidence' means nothing and is basically just playing with dice.
Choose equipment for your race and for your poundage.