Roger de Vlaeminck – 6hr 11min 26sec
Aldo Gios prepared bikes especially for Roger De Vlaeminck. He rode one of them in 1977 to win the last of his four Paris-Roubaix victories. In August last year, Aldo decided to resurrect the famous blue machine Roger used in ’77.
At the very moment I stepped into his shop, I could see that classic ’70s steel frame hanging on the rack. Gathering the original componentry and wheels, Aldo talked while re-assembling this iconic Italian design ridden by the great Belgian.
How did you prepare for Paris-Roubaix?
"A week before the race, I scoured the course studying the pavé, checking for the presence of mud, imagining what the weather would be like, and how to avoid the bloody punctures and, consequently, the delays.
"De Vlaeminck punctured three times in his 14 Roubaix, and the first time was only in 1979 when he was no longer in our team. In fact, many racers punctured much more often in just one edition.”
Is that due to luck or good bike handling?
"A bit of luck is always necessary and his great technique from cyclo-cross helped him to find the best lines, often along the edge of the unpaved country roads, avoiding holes or sharp stones. I also had a secret which I jealously guarded: I kept the tyres with the wine in the basement, in total darkness, because light weakens the tread, and I wanted a hard and more resistant rubber which would be more suitable to rough ground.
"They had to be ventilated and turned over so they wouldn’t warp. We actually had some spare bikes in case there were any mechanical breakdowns or punctures, but I never needed them.”
Who built the frame? Did it have any special features?
"I made it myself. All in all, it was a normal race frame but with one special feature that Roger and I had developed especially for that race: the fork was forged slightly forward, enough to overcome bumps and stones.
"Obviously this feature was especially designed for rough terrain and was completely useless on paved roads. Roger also asked me to mount the brake levers just a couple of centimetres lower than normal to adapt them to his very low riding style. Also, he always asked me to put protective rubbers on the gear levers, which would help avoid bruising when sprinting, as he shifted the gears with his knees without moving his hands from the handlebar. Other than that, he had no other requests.
"Actually, no – I remember that he also didn’t want the Allen key seat clamp. In fact, in those days they were a little fragile. I assembled the seat clamp with a nice bolt, maybe a little ugly, but stable and safe. He kept repeating that he didn’t want to risk losing the race because of that little bolt.”
I see the front tyre is different from the rear. Was that common?
"I do not know if it was that common but this was how we did it. When it rained we mounted a tyre with a slick tread so it could easily penetrate, while the rear was embossed to get a better grip on the cobbles and mud.”
It’s a beautiful blue. Have you always used this colour?
"The blue Gios was born in 1972 when Giorgio Perfetti, then president of Brooklyn chewing gum, was so dazzled by our bicycles on display at the Milan Cycle Show that the following year he decided to sponsor a professional cycling team. That’s when we got involved. Until then, we had only used orange and blue, so we kept the blue. It has been our distinguishing colour ever since then.
Was a bicycle’s appearance more important then?
"It was very important, much more than nowadays. The graphics remained simple right up until the early ’80s. Also, cycling jerseys were made in line with the bicycles’ graphics before they became, with some exceptions, just a bunch of scribbles in every size and colour.
"But that was in the old days when business was not so important. I could easily go to Roger and ask him to wear our cap during the race, as you could do among friends, and he would wear it; that would be impossible now.”
Did you have a good relationship with De Vlaeminck?
"Yes, he was definitely a great racer but also a great personality. He trusted me and we worked well together. His brother Erik, seven times cyclo-cross world champion, once woke me at four o’clock in the morning asking me to fix his bike before a race, even though I wasn’t his mechanic. The trust between rider and mechanic was, and I believe still is, essential.”
He was a prolific winner. Were many of his victories on Gios bikes?
"Yes. Among the most important are the three Roubaix, Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, the two Tours of Lombardy, the cyclo-cross world championship, the five Tirreno-Adriatico and the tour of Piedmont and many stages of the major tours.”
How much has new technology changed cycling?
"Let’s say there have been two innovations that have significantly changed cycling: clipless pedals and ergopower shifters. The rest is questionable. For example, this bike has the shift cables passing over the bottom bracket and the chainstay. This avoids the build-up of dirt, and having a slightly shorter cable keeps the right tension. Plus, the rear shifter cable works as a chainstay protector. But I think that many innovations are dictated more by commercial demands rather than actual efficiency.
Would you still like to work in racing?
"After more than 35 years in professional racing, I have chosen to continue the tradition of building frames in Italy and to only sell them here in my shop to maintain and guarantee the high quality of our bikes.
"The economic commitment needed to follow a professional team is so high that I would have to produce or buy lower quality frames in order to sell them at higher prices. This certainly doesn’t fit with my philosophy.”