The rain lashes the cobbles of the 1994 Paris-Roubaix, making an already brutal parcours treacherous. It has rained for nearly a month in the build up to the race and seasoned observers describe the conditions as the worst for 25 years.
Franco Ballerini steers his machine home in a creditable third place. It is unlikely to please a man who would complete his career as a two-time winner of the most feared of the Northern Classics, but given the conditions, to finish on the podium, a single place behind his position of the previous year, is something. It is by any stretch an improvement on his fortune of three years earlier when punctures in the closing kilometres caused him to trail home (by his standards) a distant 11th place.
Ballerini’s upturn continued a year later, when, after riding clear with 30km remaining, he led home Andrei Tchmil and Johan Museeuw to finally claim the cobbled trophy. At Vittoria, Ballerini’s triumph is also regarded as a mission accomplished. His Pavé tubulars had, after all, been developed to perform in the most extreme conditions, the direct result of his puncture-hit run in 1992. Paris-Roubaix had supplied the impetus and the test ground. Ballerini did the rest.
Most brands claim a link between the product they hope to sell to the paying customer and the unremitting demands of top-level racing. Vittoria, however, has significant justification in citing the most ferocious of all professional cycling’s engagements in its development of the aptly-named Pavé CG tyre.
The Italian firm has a long and distinguished history, most recently supplying the rubber for Bradley Wiggins’ successful Hour Record attempt, but the Pavé CG might be considered its flagship product, given the severe conditions in which it has been designed to thrive: the Northern Classics. The vibrant green tinge at the edge of the tread was chosen deliberately as a colour that could be recognised in bad conditions.
More desirable is the completely black Pavé CG, released ahead of the 2015 cobbled campaign. The development of Vittoria’s new cover is not limited to aesthetics, however. The tyre – available in tubular and ‘open’ form – has been through several iterations since Ballerini’s victory at the 1995 Roubaix, with several advances to its compound and casing.
Three years ago, Vittoria introduced the ISOgrip compound across its range, one intended to improve grip in wet conditions. The story of the Pavé CG’s development encompasses more than just the compound, but the challenge of creating a rubber with the flexibility to “fly across cobblestones” as Vittoria put it, while offering the rider sufficient grip, is no small task.
The Pavé CG’s strength does not lie in its compound, one used by Vittoria across its Corsa range, but comes instead from a yarn in the casing: a derivative of Kevlar known as Aramid. The casing, Vittoria believe, is the most important part of the Pavé CG.
It’s fair to say that the Italian firm sets out its stall on the quality of its casings. The suppleness of a tyre increases in almost direct relation to the number of threads per inch. At 320TPI, the Pavé CG must be among the most flexible of road tyres.
Its casing is constructed from a mix of cotton and Aramid fibres, woven in a ratio of 2:1, both for the 25mm and 27mm options. The principal benefit of its Kevlar-strengthened casing is the ability to run the tyre at lower pressures without fear of puncture, further increasing suppleness.
A cursory analysis might lead to the conclusion that tread is the most important aspect of a tyre for the pavé. Grip must be everything when riding cobbles, right? Wrong. Vittoria maintain that flexibility is of greater significance; not that they have paid only scant regard to the tread, which is cut in a diagonal profile either side to drain water, and in a diamond pattern in the centre for grip.
Vittoria subscribes to the prevailing wisdom that “wider is better”: essentially, that a broader profile offers all the advantages of greater grip and comfort, without the penalty of a higher rolling resistance. The Pavé CG comes in 25mm and 28mm options and Vittoria are “developing and testing even wider tyres”.
The peloton, frequently a conservative environment at odds with the desire of manufacturers to push the envelope, has embraced the philosophy. For Vittoria, supplier to Giant-Alpecin and LottoNL-Jumbo, test data has removed any argument. The facts, they maintain, have spoken for themselves.
Both teams used the Pavé CG in Spring for the Strade Bianche and the Northern Classics, and both will use the tyre again for the cobbled fourth stage of the Tour de France. A victory in La Grande Boucle would be one for Vittoria to place alongside Ballerini’s triumph at Roubaix.