Israel-Premier Tech will ride gravel bikes at Paris-Roubaix

It might sound odd, but an aero-optimised gravel frameset could offer increased control without a trade-off for speed

Clock10:00, Saturday 6th April 2024
The Ostro Gravel is claimed by Factor to be "the most aero gravel bike on the market"


The Ostro Gravel is claimed by Factor to be "the most aero gravel bike on the market"

The team of Israel-Premier Tech will be riding Factor’s Ostro Gravel frameset for Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, in a move that has surprised some. The increased comfort and compliance of the frame won the team over in early season testing ahead of the race, meaning they'll be diverging from the aero bike norm followed by the majority of teams.

What appears to be a strange decision at first may actually make perfect sense. Here's why.

More stable and planted: enough to provide an advantage?

The Ostro Gravel, as the name suggests, is Factor's gravel bike, built for racing over unpaved surfaces. Although the Ostro Gravel shares its name with the brand's aero race bike, this is where the similarities end. Both the frame and the fork have been designed specifically for the requirements of gravel riding with a longer front centre, slacker head angle and a longer overall wheelbase. In theory, these alterations make the Ostro Gravel more composed on rough and loose gravel surfaces.

The more relaxed geometry and longer wheelbase provide a more stable and planted riding platform over the cobbles. If nothing else, this could be enough of a mental advantage to allow riders to enter the cobbles in confidence, which could allow them to maintain their fluidity on the bike.

It doesn’t take all that much imagination to be able to draw comparisons between gravel riding and the cobbled sectors of Paris-Roubaix. With tyre clearance for up to 45mm tyres, Isreal-Premier Tech will certainly not be struggling for clearance around the 32mm tyres they will be using, even if rain does affect the state of play.

Factor Ostro: A gravel bike with aero credentials

Bucking the general trend of the peloton, which is arching towards the use of out-and-out aero race bikes, might not be as outlandish as it first might seem. Upon the Ostro Gravel’s release, it was claimed to be "the most aero gravel bike on the market". Even with the wide-stance fork legs and flared seat and chainstays, the frame's silhouette states its aero credentials. The frameset was certified for use in road races by the UCI upon its release back in June last year, potentially signifying the brand's intentions for the bike.

Interestingly, even though the Ostro Gravel can accept a 45mm tyre, the team are sticking with the seemingly standard 32mm tyre width for Sunday’s race. This choice raises further questions as the Ostro VAM aero bike can also accept a 32mm tyre, as was seen with the team’s spare bikes spotted atop the team cars.

In regards to tyre choice, the team's head mechanic Gary Blem said, “It is not necessary to go wider than a 32mm tyre because anything wider than that will compromise aerodynamics.

“With the 32mm tyre, they are already more comfortable than a 28 or 30mm tyre which we use in all other races.”

With the tyres being used not the leading determiner in the swap to Factor's Gravel framset, the decisions appears to have been led by the geometry and how the framset feels on the pavé. The team have not made this call without first testing the thory.

“The team did testing after Opening Weekend to compare the Ostro VAM and Ostro Gravel on both the pavé and the tarmac. Riley Sheehan and Tom Van Asbroeck both finished the first testing saying what a difference the gravel bike was on the cobbles.”

“The Ostro VAM is extremely reactive which is exactly what you want in a normal road race but on the cobbles, comfort outweighs the reactivity. With the Ostro Gravel being so aero, in our opinion there is no difference in the speed on the tarmac.”

Paris-Roubaix weather won't alter plans

As it stands, the weather for Sunday looks uncertain but the chance of rain remains a possibility, at least ahead of the race getting underway. Even though the Ostro Gravel can accommodate wider tyres than the 32mm Continental GP5000S TR the team are set to use, the plan regardless of the weather is to stick to the same set-up.

Blem said: “If there is rain on Sunday, there won’t be any difference to our setup. The tyre pressure that we are running is still optimal for wet and dry conditions.”

What do you make of the decision to run a gravel bike for Roubaix and do you think other teams would be better off following suit? Let us know your thoughts in the comments, for more tech news head over to our dedicated tech news page.

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