7 Tips - How to Ride Cobbles in The Spring Classics

The cobbled Spring Classics races are notoriously hard to ride. I interviewed World Champion, Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders winner Johan Museeuw. These are his top tips for riding on cobbles, and taking on the Spring Classics.

Johan Museeuw was World Champion in 1996, he won Paris-Roubaix three times, and he won the Tour of Flanders three times. With this incredible parcours, he is undoubtedly one of the best riders to share his advice on riding the Spring Classics, whether you are a racer or a sportive rider.

I caught up with Johan in Mallorca ahead of the 2018 Spring Classics, and this was his advice...



Tip 1 - Tyre pressure and size for riding cobbles

"Normally, everyone is riding with a tyre pressure of 7 to 8 Bar (100-110 PSI). But, for the Spring Classics and Paris Roubaix, depending on your weight, this changes: we ride 5 to 6 Bar (70-85 PSI)."

A lower tyre pressure allows the shocks of the cobbles to be absorbed, and for better grip on the uneven surface.

"For tyre geometry [size] for the Spring Classics and Paris Roubaix, you go bigger. In my time, it was 25c rather than 23c. Now, everyone is riding 28c tyres for the cobbles."

The larger tyre size reduces the chance of pinch flats on the cobbles, and provides greater comfort because the greater volume of air in the tyre provides more cushioning.



Tip 2 - Body position on the bike for the cobbles

"You have to move back on the bike, so your body is behind the bottom bracket. It means there is more pressure on the rear wheel; this reduces the weight on the front wheel, and lets the bike go where it wants to go. This is very important: you let the bike go where it wants to go..."

"The set-up of the bike is the same as your normal race bike, but your position on the bike changes. Some riders struggle with this: Sagan, for example, is a great rider at a very high level; but on the cobbles, he puts too much weight on the front. He is bumping and jumping on the front wheel, and this is why he might not be a specialist on the cobblestones."

Body position is a crucial part of riding on technical terrain, just as it is on mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes.



Tip 3 - Know the cobbled roads and train for the hills

"For Flanders, you need to be ready for the hills. In my training, I used to do a lot of 10 to 15 seconds full gas: this builds the explosive power. The hills in Flanders are 'explosion' and that is why riders like Boonen are good, because he used to be a sprinter and has a lot of explosive power"

"Always ride in the middle of the cobbled roads, especially at Roubaix. This is where the road surface is better, and there is less chance of punctures."

Like with any race, knowing the roads and training specifically for them is a key part of preparation. The short steep cobbled sectors of the Spring Classics are particularly challenging.



Tip 4 - Ride a higher gear than normal

"On the cobblestones, push a higher gear than normal. You don't want a high cadence bounce. It is better between 75 and 85 RPM. A lower RPM is better."

"I used a 52T in the front, and a 48T inner ring. This keeps the tension on the chain."

The lower cadence and higher gear ensures that you don't bounce on the bike. Bouncing in the saddle because of a high cadence only adds to the inefficiency created by bouncing on the cobbles.



Tip 5 - Do not stand up on the cobblestones

"It is very dangerous to stand up on climbs like the Koppenburg. If you stand up, you slip. Do not stand up on the cobbles"

In order to keep the weight on the back wheel, it is far better to try and do slippery cobbled climbs seated in the saddle. There are some climbs like the Koppenburg where this requires a lower gear ratio than normal, in order to remain seated on the steep gradient.



Tip 6 - Clothing and kit choice

"In the Spring Classics, it is best to begin a bit warm, and then take off clothing. Layering is important."

"Short mitts are also a good choice. It provides extra comfort. For me, it is always better with the gloves; it provides more protection when riding, and if you crash. I like the GripGrab Aero TT model - I like the long cuff, because it gives you more protection and balance in your wrists."

"I did not use double wrapped bar tape. Some riders do it, but for me it was very important that you have the same position on the bike. Even changes like bar tape can affect your position"

Bike modifications and kit choice are very personal things. Layering up clothing adds versatility in changeable springtime conditions, and using short finger gloves will certainly aid comfort.



Tip 7 - Make sure you drink enough

"I used to use normal metal bottle cages for the Classics, so you can bend them in to hold the bottle securely. You really don't want to lose a bottle in the Classics. You need to drink a lot, otherwise you get cramps; especially if it is a dry Paris Roubaix."

Basic metal bottle cages such as the Elite Cuissi Gel Bottle Cages are the most effective for holding bottles on rough terrain.



These 7 Tips are great advice for the tough conditions faced during a Spring Classic.

Johan Museeuw is a legend of the sport. Hopefully these invaluable insights into riding the cobbles will make your experience of riding events like the Paris Roubaix or Tour of Flanders Sportive even more enjoyable.


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