Sidi & Sonny Colbrelli Score Paris-Roubaix Win 

06 October 2021

By Nicki Giles

Sonny Colbrelli raises his arms in victory as he wins Paris-Roubaix 2021

Sidi’s Wire 2 Carbon road shoes have conquered the Hell of the North’s ferocious cycling equipment testing ground and topped the podium.

There’s a reason that Paris-Roubaix is notorious within cycling circles – if ever there was a race demanding all-round cycling prowess, this is it. Along its 275km length contenders must tackle paved roads, rough farm tracks and 30 stretches of cobbles adding up to 55km of bone-rattling riding, then summon their faculties for a sprint finish on the smooth concrete of the Roubaix Velodrome.

Add in the prediction that 2021 would be the first wet course in 19 years, and a special kind of rider – not to mention a special kind of road shoe – was needed to secure victory this year. 

The Queen of the Classics is born

Paris-Roubaix was never intentionally designed to be one of the most taxing, tricksy and unpredictable competitions in the whole of the cycling calendar. It was conceived by two textile manufacturers to draw attention to the fine new Roubaix Velodrome they’d helped construct, with the help of Paris-based sports newspaper, Le Vélo, hence the position of the start and finish lines.

And why cobbles? Paris-Roubaix is one of the oldest professional road cycling races, having begun in 1896, and since tarmac roads only reached France in 1852 there were a lot of cobbled roads still in existence in the rural areas that the course travelled through.

That said, the Cycling Editor of Le Vélo, Victor Breyer, was not impressed with the quality of the roads he encountered when he cycled from Amiens to Roubaix and nearly called the whole thing off as being too dangerous. But, after a feed and drinks with his Roubaix-based collaborators, he thought better of it. So, the exceptional Roubaix hospitality can be blamed for the discomfort pro cyclists have endured ever since.

What kind of cylist wins Paris-Roubaix?

As with most cycling events, form plays a part at Paris-Roubaix, so the bookies and pundits look at recent race results when predicting the winner. Since it traditionally takes place in mid-April, that means the Gent-Wevelgem and E3 Saxo Bank Classic in late March, followed by the Tour of Flanders in the first week of April.

This year, though, with the race having been moved to October, predictions largely rested on the results of the Benelux Tour, the Tour of Britain and the UCI World Championships. Thus, Jumbo-Visma’s Wout van Aert and Alpecin-Fenix’s Mathieu van der Poel firmly topped the bookies’ list for the men’s race.

Winner Sony Colbrelli kisses the Paris-Roubaix cobblestone trophy

Normally, the previous edition of Paris-Roubaix would be taken into account, making Philippe Gilbert a favourite too. He wasn’t, for two reasons. First, Covid 19 meant Paris-Roubaix 2020 was cancelled, so with the move this year it was two-and-a-half years since the last run. That’s a big gap, and Gilbert himself admitted to Cycling News that his team, Lotto Soudal, had had a disappointing interim period.

Second, the aforementioned predictions meant all bets were off. With no rain for 19 years, the peloton had no experience of tackling the devilish cobbles in the wet. The bookies therefore had to consider who had experience of mastering adverse conditions. Again, this put Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel in poll position, as winners of the silver and gold medals at the UCI world cyclo-cross championships.

Cyclo-cross riders are at home riding in thick mud and driving rain, used to taking slippery corners at breakneck speed, adept at hopping over and around potholes, and well-practiced at stopping and starting suddenly to avoid a crash or recover from a holdup. Riding well, though, is only part of the challenge of surviving the Paris-Roubaix. To make it to the end, pro cyclists need first rate equipment that won’t fail.

Why are tech choices critical for Paris-Roubaix?

The terrain that riders cover in the Paris-Roubaix is very different to that they encounter in the Grand Tours. There are no huge hills, so that weight becomes less of an issue. However, there’s also less grip to the road surfaces. Grit and stones take the place of smooth tarmac and potholes abound, which means durability tends to be prized over aerodynamics, although there are some speedy sections – such as the velodrome finish.

So, heavy disc brakes, with their protection from the elements, stopping power and sensitivity, are favoured over lighter rim brakes. Double wrapped handlebar tape is a must to try and reduce the impact on hands, wrists, elbows and shoulder joints. Chunky tyres with a width of over 30mm provide better cushioning against jolts than slimmer models, while also gripping the potentially slippery, slanted tracks better and shedding mud more easily.

Punctures are expected during the race, as Gianni Moscon will testify. Tubular tyres used to be king, since there’s less risk of getting pinch flats, but this year tubeless setup was practically universal. This is because tubeless tyres can run at a lower pressure, facilitating a more cushioned ride, and there’s the fact that the sealant inside can plug small holes before they have any effect.

The frame is a more difficult choice. An aero model could see a rider pull away from the peloton or win the sprint finish, but an endurance model with more compliance and relaxed angles will stand up better to the impacts of the course. Then again, as Silca’s Josh Poertner once told us, the right tyre pressure can make more of a difference than the frame. In the end, it comes down to a team choice, as both options have pros and cons.

Closeup of Sidi Wire 2 Carbon road cycling shoes

Apparel also affects the riders’ abilities – not just protective garments, like Castelli’s renowned Gabba and Perfetto, but their choice of shoes, too. As racers know, stiff soles mean more power.

Utter rigidity, though, will do Paris-Roubaix contenders no favours. With stretches of cobbles lasting up to 15 minutes at a time, by the time the sprint finish comes the wearer’s feet will have been battered into numbness. Wise cyclists will favour a little compliance in a sole that generates power while dampening the vibrations. 

How did Sonny Colbrelli win out?

Perhaps surprisingly, nobody had Italian Sonny Colbrelli pegged for the win, despite him just missing the podium at Gent-Wevelgem and winning the European Road Racing Championships in mid-September. But then, he is known as a sprinter, not as a cyclocross champion or for being especially strong in wet, muddy conditions.

Still, that didn’t stop him from riding a perfect race, staying out of trouble from the start and forming part of a Van der Poel-led chasing group tailing leader Mascon. He helped to slowly reel him in, then sped into the velodrome as one of three sprinters, outpacing Van der Poel and deftly foiling Vermeersch’s attempt at an early sprint finish.

Colbrelli, Van der Poel and Vermeersch sprint to the finish line Paris-Roubaix

Plastered from head to foot with greyish mud, the Bahrain Victorious rider held his bike aloft in euphoria after he secured Italy’s first win at Paris-Roubaix in 22 years, then dropped to the ground laughing and whooping.

In the end, this year’s result defied prediction. Each podium position went to a debutante, which goes to show how very different a wet, slippery and mud-caked course is from the dry one this peloton – and the pundits – had become accustomed to.

Even Colbrelli’s bike was somewhat surprising, being largely off the rack. He did sport large 32mm tyres and was running tubeless, but other than that his Merida Reacto aero race bike with a Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 electronic groupset had few cobble-friendly adaptations. So, once again, there are few who could have predicted his win on the strength of his equipment.

Putting his best foot forward with Sidi

His shoes, though, will have contributed to the win. Many of the pro peloton favour the Sidi Wire 2 Carbon road shoe, known for being a premium racing model. Its sole, to be sure, is made from stiff carbon fibre, which will have been a great asset to him in helping to generate power for the final sprint. However, it also designed to offer instep support and allow a degree of toe flex that prevents undue stress on the foot – really important on cobbles!

So too is keeping the foot firmly in place, when maintaining forward momentum on a slippery surface is vital to prevent the wheels from sliding out. The Sidi Wire 2 Carbon shoe has Sidi’s patented heel cup and in-built heel retention system to combat any movement during hard pedalling, along with a central Techno 3 Push dial closure system to ensure a close fit.

Close up of the Techno 3 closure system of the Sidi Wire 2 Carbon road shoe

The stiff, lightweight upper is made from resistant TechPro material that will have gone some way towards keeping Colbrelli’s feet dry, even in such extreme conditions. The fact that both upper and sole are ventilated may not seem like an immediate advantage in rain, but their breathability will have aided drainage to help avoid puddles building up inside the shoe and chilling his feet.

Certainly, it’s been a good year for Sidi, with its shoes making the podium during many a Grand Tour stage and adorning the feet of Egan Bernal as he took gold in Milan at this year’s Giro. Scooping the win at Paris-Roubaix is still quite something, though. After all, it’s known as the hardest testing ground in the road racing, and the best showcase for the riders and kit that excel there.

If the Sidi Wire 2 Carbon can make it over the cobbles, it will be equal to any challenge you care to throw at it!