Race Tech: Tour of California, February 23, 2007
Today's stage 4 was one of the most difficult segments of the 2007 Tour of California as the peloton wound its way down the Pacific coast along Highway 1 from Seaside to San Luis Obispo. In addition to being the longest stage at 213.4km (134 miles), the route also covered three KOMs along the way with steadily undulating terrain interspersed throughout.
Uncertain weather added to each team's concerns as the day began under heavily overcast skies and intermittent heavy rains, which threatened to make for a very unpleasant day at the office for the 130 starting riders and their equipment. Team mechanics were seen slathering viscous grease on chains in an effort to keep them lubricated in the event of a deluge (which, thankfully, occurred only once about 20km from the start), and derailleur housing ferrules equipped with o-ring seals were used on a number of machines to maintain crisp shifting.
The day's rolling terrain would seemingly have favored a lighter shallow-section wheel what with the frequent accelerations and decelerations in addition to the crosswinds coming off of the sea. However, a majority of riders left the starting line rolling on deep-section carbon fiber wheels from a variety of manufacturers, including Reynolds Cycling, Bontrager, Zipp, Shimano, and Campagnolo, as superior aerodynamic performance was deemed more important for a successful day.
As a general rule, higher speeds tend to downplay the importance of minimal weight and, as it turned out, the riders proved to be particularly eager to get to the finish line. The day produced a very high average speed of over 41km/h (26mph) with significant surges as the field worked to chase down the seven-man breakaway on the approach into San Luis Obispo that more than justified most riders' choice of rolling stock.
The fastest bikes of the day may not have necessarily been the lightest, but with the current UCI weight limit of 6.8kg so easy to achieve, intelligent weight 'budgeting' has replaced weight reduction at all costs, and riders have proven time and again that speed is still most important.