The old adage tells us that it’s not about the bike but the rider who pilots it, and to an extent, there’s truth in it, there aren’t any truly bad bikes at the WorldTour level. Thanks to the industry’s continual push for faster, lighter, more aero and more compliant, there are certainly some better than others, but the differences are small enough that our sport remains on a level enough playing field. As a result, we can be confident that when a rider does win, it’s based on their performance on the day, not the work of scientists and wind tunnel engineers two years prior.
However, luckily for the tech nerds among us, component choice and spec can still make or break a rider’s day. With that in mind, we got hands-on with the bikes of the fastest three riders at the Elite Women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Annemiek Van Vleuten, Demi Vollering and Lorena Wiebes, to compare everything from framesets to cassettes.
Of course, much of the tech on show here will be sponsor mandated, but the specifics of bike model choice, tire size, chainring combination, tire pressure, cassette size and more will come down to the rider, and it’s these small differences that can make all the difference on race day.
In order of the podium, Van Vleuten’s Movistar team is sponsored by Canyon, and so she used the brand’s aero bike, the Aeroad, complete with newly fixed handlebar issue. Vollering’s SD-Worx is sponsored by Specialized, so used the brand’s S-Works Tarmac SL7, while third place Wiebes used her team sponsor’s Scott Addict RC.
Of the three, Van Vleuten’s is the only true aero bike, although while both of the others are most closely associated with the best lightweight bikes, they have been given a heavy dose of aero considerations in recent years.
Both Van Vleuten and Vollering were running Zipp wheels. Notably, Van Vleuten was actually using a lower-spec option, the 303 Firecrest rather than the 353 NSW. Meanwhile, Wiebes’ bike was fitted with Shimano’s new C36 wheels, launched as part of the new Dura-Ace groupset in 2021.
Interestingly, all three riders had made the switch to tubeless tires. Van Vleuten’s Zipp wheels were shod with Continental’s GP5000 S TR tires, in size 28c. Vollering meanwhile was using the new S-Works tires that we highlighted in our recent story about the new tubeless Roval wheels. These were smaller, in size 26c. Wiebes was also running 28c tires, in the form of Vittoria’s Corsa TLR Graphene 2.0 tires.
While SRAM failed to gain a spot on the podium in the men’s race, the brand’s day was redeemed with its RED eTap AXS groupset achieving a one-two in the women’s race. Shimano’s newest Dura-Ace groupset picked up the third spot courtesy of Wiebes.
This is where things get a little personal, and gives us an insight into the preferences of the riders and how they planned to tackle the day. Van Vleuten’s preference is clearly that of lower cadence and higher torque, with the 52/39 chainset being paired with a 10-30 cassette. Vollering, meanwhile, goes entirely the other way with a 48/35 chainset paired with a 10-33 chainset. Wiebes ’choice lends itself to maximum range, ideal for a sprinter who needs to get over climbs. Her 54/40 chainset is the biggest of the trio, while the 10-34 cassette should provide an easy enough gear to spin up the steeper slopes.
As has become the norm in recent years, all of the three Dutchwomen were using disc brakes, and as per the groupsets, it was SRAM for both Van Vleuten and Vollering, and Shimano for Wiebes.
All three of these bikes offer an element of cockpit integration. Van Vleuten’s Canyon was fitted with the three-piece integrated cockpit that offers adjustable width – she had it at its narrowest setting at just 37cm wide. Vollering’s S-Works Tarmac eschews the standard-issue Roval aero handlebars in favor of a more traditional bar from Zipp, the alloy Zipp SL80. Wiebes’ cockpit is the Syncros Creston IC bar, which comes fitted to the Scott Addict RC.
Taped onto almost all riders’ stems these days, you’ll find notes to explain what’s in store that day: when the climbs are, where the feed stations are, and so on. Each team has their own method for these notes. Some are printed, while others are handwritten. Some are taped into place, while others use labels. And some are easy, while others use symbols and a series of codes that we can almost never decrypt.
Van Vleuten’s notes take a simple approach of hand-writing the note onto some tape, however, the notes themselves are a little more complex, we believe the numbers are counting down to the finish, although the order is a little mixed. The shapes usually resemble climbs, cobbles or other, and we believe the letters are shorthand for the name of the sector – for example, BB would be Bosberg, and BD would be Berendries.
Vollering’s notes are a little more straightforward to read. A symbol for cobble or climb, a number for when it arrives in the race, and the word explaining which sector or climb it is. These were hand-written onto paper and then taped into place.
Wiebes’ notes were also handwritten on paper and taped into place, and they represent minimalism at its finest. A number for how far into the race the important feature occurs, and a symbol for climbs and cobbled sectors. The only additions to this are an exclamation mark to highlight the Berendries and the letter H next to the cobbled sectors of Holleweg and Haaghoek.
Van Vleuten’s computer had been removed by the time we got our hands on the bike, but the owner Canyon out-front mount would usually be fitted with a Garmin Edge 1030 Plus computer. Vollering, meanwhile, was using the Edge 530, while Wiebes is the odd one out in this regard, using the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt.
Van Vleuten has opted for the Fizik Vento Argo saddle with braided carbon rails. Wiebes is using the Pro Stealth, while Vollering is the only one using a saddle specifically designed for women, in the S-Works Power Pro with Mimic.