Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne are the first opportunities for northern European fans to check out the new hardware.

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Mechanic’s tool tray.

Our trawl always starts on the Friday evening at the Holiday Inn, Ghent where F des J, Cofidis and Rabobank (now Belkin) set up shop for the first ‘real’ races of the year.

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F des J mechanic plugs on.

It seems like the dream job, working on gorgeous carbon creations every day – but the reality is different.

Cold car parks, rain, water and power hook up hassles then do it all again the next day.

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Cofidis mechs get the cars washed too.

And don’t forget to wash the team cars…

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The buffet dinner sign reminds the Belkin mechanic he’s not eaten yet.

And whilst the name on the bikes may be different, it’s the same gig whether you’re French or Dutch.

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A somewhat ‘raw’ prototype.

But for bicycle obsessive fans there’s always something interesting to see – like this new, still raw carbon Lapierre suspension set up.

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MTN’s Treks.

It’s harder to bike skek up at the Het Nieuwsblad start these days, but we like the new Treks.

The US firm have moved on from the early Lance days and their bikes have ‘the look’ nowadays – but our jury is still out on that under-the-bracket rear brake location.

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Rotor’s Q Rings.

The Spanish firm Rotor are making big in-roads into the transmission market on road and track with their cranksets and ‘tuneable’ chainrings – you can alter the ring position for climbing/TT/sprinting.

Non World Tour teams generally don’t get cranksets with the groupsets they receive/buy at a subsidised rate from Campag/Shimano/Sram – that’s why you’ll see them on Rotor or FSA cranksets.

If you want to break into the massive Sportive market then you have to have your product on the pro’s bikes…

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Topsport-Vlaanderen’s lovely Merckxs.

Eddy is no longer the owner of the company but they maintain their long association with the team which is now part of Flemish cycling culture.

We like the mean matt black look and no nonsense ‘pro bike’ set up.

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The plain celeste Androni Bianchis.

Coppi and Gimondi rode the same colour scheme but it’s still super cool; we like it best with no stripes or fades – just plain ‘celeste’ with that nice matching tape.

These are the Androni bikes and Bianchi are the bike supplier to the Belkin team too.

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CCC are on Guerciottis.

More known for their cyclocross bikes in recent years with the likes of Daniele Pontoni; Guerciotti sponsored teams ‘back in the day’ with Gibi Baronchelli and Giovanni Bataglin both winning on Guerciottis.

They’ve gone down the Trek route with under the bracket rear brake – and you certainly won’t miss them in the dark.

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A Lapierre needing a wash.

The bikes take a pounding in these races and the mechanics have to start all over again to get their carbon babies back to their shining glory.

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The sculpted fork on the Lapierre.

And very nice the French frames are, too – we like the sculpted forks to accommodate the front brake.

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No messing around with bucket refills here.

That’s what you call a bucket of water – but that Flemish Ardennes mud is tenacious.

We’re not sure on the new Looks with those massive stems ‘built in’ to the top tube – but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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The new Pioneer meter hides away.

The power meter market has exploded with Japanese giant Pioneer entering the fray.

Ironically, many riders will tell you that eventually they go back to old school ‘feel,’ especially in a time trial.

Your coach and the metres may say ‘397’ – but maybe your legs would be happy at ‘402?’

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Belkins’ Bianchis. Photo©Callum McGregor

Nice but not as nice as the Androni Bianchis, to our eyes; we like plain – but we’re dinosaurs.

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Tomeke’s Specialized. Photo©Callum McGregor

As a national champion Tom’s Specialized has to have the obligatory custom paint job – it’s a tad too unsubtle for our eye.

But it gets the shutters clicking and here are we mentioning it – so job done.

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Garmin’s Cervelo. Photo©Callum McGregor

With the UCI putting the brakes on ‘weight wars’ the marketing guys have to think of another avenue of approach to shift bikes.

We can see that if you’re on a solo breakaway (rare in pro racing, these days) or a single pace line then aero makes a difference.

But most of the time you’ll be in the peloton where the air is ‘dirty’ – and that’s before we mention big daft feeding bottles or battery boxes clamped unceremoniously onto airfoil sections…

But like we say, you have to hit those sales targets.

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Team Giants’ Giant Propels. Photo©Callum McGregor
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The proprietary rear caliper on the Giants.

Those smooth lines around the fork crown still take a bit of getting used to and the bikes are certainly ‘clean’ with the rear brake tucked away, too – but does it really make that much of a difference?

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Europcar’s Colnagos. Photo©Callum McGregor

And a pro race without Colnagos?

Unthinkable.

Whilst Old Ernesto has been telling us lug construction is the best way to assemble a carbon frame – a la C59 – Europcar ride a mix of C59’s and the new M10, which is a – monocoque.

I guess it’s a legendary frame builder’s prerogative to change his mind?

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What’s a little mud anyway?

And we’ll go out on a less glam picture – there were quite a few rear mechs dangling in the breeze after the race – but it’s not as if that Campag electronic equipment is expensive…