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Cycling: 35th Tour of San Juan 2017 / Stage 2 Arrival / Tom BOONEN (BEL)/ Specialized Bike / Disc brake / San Juan - San Juan (128,8km)/ Etapa del Oeste/ Vuelta A San Juan / ©Tim De Waele

Lee’s Lowdown: Boonen Takes The Disc!

Lowdown: The big question has reared its ugly head again and Belgium’s No. 1 son, Tom Boonen, has put his self behind the use of disc brakes in pro cycle sport. Lee Rodgers has ridden both and has the Lowdown on the best stopping system and has the argument to back it up. Agree or disagree, the facts according to Rodgers are quite persuasive.

San Juan - Argentina - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme -  Tom BOONEN (Belgium / Team Quick Step - Floors)  pictured during  Vuelta a San Juan 2017 - 35th Edition - 1st stage San Juan - San Juan 142,5 km - photo LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2017Tom Boonen is riding disc brakes at the Vuelta a San Juan at the moment – and winning!

“It’s the biggest improvement I’ve seen in my career on bikes, so it would be stupid not to use it,” said Tom Boonen in a recent interview with CyclingNews.

“Are you talking about motors in the downtube, Tom?” CyclingNews definitely did not ask but I wish, just for the craic, they had. No, Tom was in fact sticking his head up above the parapet – again, as it happens – in support of the most contentious issue currently facing the sport of bicycle racing (doping schmoping, move on folks!) – yep, you guessed it, disc brakes.

The opprobrium hurled Tom’s way by many of the knowledgable and worldly-wise readers of said cycling website must have made Belgium’s second-favorite son wish he’d just not bothered.

Blemcooper skipped right over the ‘safety’ issues of disc brakes and chose instead to focus on the thru-axle system that accompanies disc wheels.

“Imagine Boonen at Paris-Roubaix, gets a puncture in a critical secteur [sic] of cobbles, the wheel change on the disc brake bike goes awry because neutral service had to figure out which “standard” axle and rotor fit his bike, costing him tens of seconds. Bye bye historic fifth win, bye bye happy talk about how great discs are for road racing (at least until the manufacturers settle on a set of standards and everybody is on them all at once and their positives outweigh the negatives).”

Roubaix - France - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme -  Tom Boonen (Belgium / Team Etixx - Quick Step) pictured during Paris - Roubaix 2016 World Tour Cycling race  - photo Marketa Navratilova/Cor Vos © 2016Disc and rim brake wheels both have punctures

A chap called Swampy though was quick to offer this in reasoned response: “You mean like in 2011 where he had to wait over 2 minutes for support in the Arenberg forest and his race was done. He was on rim brakes and those didn’t help… I’m sure after 15 years of Pro racing Boonen has a clue about pros and cons of using them in races.”

Others accused Boonen of selling out to Specialized, convinced that he’d been handed a wedge of Euros and that he was “getting ready for his post-race career as a Specialized spokesperson!!”

In letting us know that he has decided to race disc next year, Boonen, to be fair to Blemcooper, did kind of run through almost the whole of the Specialized’ road bike range.

Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media | brakethroughmedia.comTom Boonen’s Specialized Venge disc bike

“I had a Tarmac with discs at home last year and trained on it a lot,” said Boonen, “still with quick release, then I had the new Roubaix with the thru-axles, then at training camp in December I was for the first time on the Venge – the real race bike – and I decided to go for it.”

And why has Tom decided to go for it? “They work better, they’re easier to control, they lock out less fast than normal brakes. Of course I can control normal brakes but with disc brakes you have so much more feeling. It’s the biggest improvement I’ve seen in my career – I don’t know what all the hassle is about.”

See, Tom’s actually tried disc brakes on his bikes. And guess what, he likes them, so much so that he considers them to be the biggest advancement in technology in the sport since he’s been involved in it. Back the baying mob at CyclingNews, I do wonder how many of them have ridden, for any considerable duration and in all weather, disc brakes?

Breda - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme -  Tim Kerkhof (Orange Cycling Team Roompot) shows his bike with disc brakes  pictured during  Stage -2 ENECO Tour 2015 from  Breda to Breda, the Nerherlands - photo Davy Rietbergen/Cor Vos © 2015The Roompot team were one of the first to rice with disc brakes

I’ve ridden them and I am with Boonen, they offer such an improvement in braking ability and responsiveness – especially in the wet where they are infinitely superior to traditional brakes – that anyone who races and chooses not to use them to me is missing out on a huge advantage. You can descend faster as you can brake later, and you have much more control in tight spaces, such as a peloton or in a sprint.

Sure, they make the bike slightly heavier but that is not the huge issue most make it out to be, unless you’re climbing the Angliru, and in any case the advantages in descending do, in my opinion, nullify any drawbacks in climbing.

Those opposed to disc brakes in racing will point to the safety issue, citing the injury to Fran Ventoso at last year’s Paris-Roubaix. However, Ventoso’s blaming of that injury on a disc brake was contentious. Of the riders on the two teams running disc brakes in the race, Lampre-Merida and Direct Energie, none of them witnessed the accident.

Fran Ventoso at the side of the Roubaix road

Ventoso was having none of it though, and wrote an open letter to the UCI after the incident, saying that disc brakes “are giant knives, machetes when crashing against or crashed by them at a certain speed.”

The manager of Lampre-Merida, Brent Copeland, was unconvinced. “I’m not so convinced that a disc brake caused Ventoso’s injury because it’s on his left side,” said Copeland at the time. “The disc would’ve had to have been horizontal to make it possible, and Ventoso said that he didn’t even fall, but rammed into the back of the rider. To do that sort of deep cut you would have to fall hard.”

Cycling: 35th Tour of San Juan 2017 / Stage 2 Arrival / Tom BOONEN (BEL)/ Specialized Bike / Disc brake / San Juan - San Juan (128,8km)/ Etapa del Oeste/  Vuelta A San Juan / ©Tim De Waele“I won on this!”

I kind of wonder where the debate was when pro riders switched over from aluminum to carbon. Have you ever touched the sharp ends of a cracked frame or seat post? Those shards are vicious, but no one seemed to kick up a fuss about them.

Riders I feel are so immune to the dangers of our sport that already exist – including road furniture, rocks, slick roads, oil spills, sprinting, very very hard tarmac and other delights such as oncoming cars and riding off a cliff and into a ravine – that they tend to get hysterical when something comes along that means change.

If you’re unconvinced by me saying disc brakes are not a danger to riders, listen to Baden Cooke’s reasoning. Though Cooke says he prefers to use traditional brakes, he slams the argument that disc brakes are in any way dangerous.

“But I don’t think they are dangerous. I think that’s bullshit,” said Cooke. “For amateur riders – I think this whole thing has been blown out of proportion. If you are in a race where the UCI rules don’t apply, it wouldn’t be dangerous at all. I simply wouldn’t use it because it don’t think it’s advantageous. If anyone else wants to use it, go ahead.”

Boonen obviously agrees with Cooke on the danger point, and disagrees with him on the issue of them being advantageous, because, well, he’s going to be racing on them this year. I feel that when riders using disc brakes start winning races and staying upright for longer in big races, you’ll see a rather interesting change of mindset in the peloton. Who knows, even you might be on discs before you know it…

Hamme Zogge - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Tom Boonen (Belgium / Team Etixx - Quick Step)   pictured during   Derny Criterium in  Hamme Zogge - photo Cor Vos © 2016No disc there Tom


Lee Rodgers is a former professional road racer on the UCI Asia Tour circuit now racing MTB professionally around the world. His day job combines freelance journalism, coaching cyclists, event organizing and consulting work. You can keep up with his daily scribblings over at www.crankpunk.com.


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