Race Tech: Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, June 17, 2007
The interim aluminum frame that Specialized provided for its Quickstep-Innergetic superstar Tom Boonen made another appearance at the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré… only this time it was relegated to spare duty atop the team car. Specialized not only made good on its promise of building Boonen a new carbon frame with a longer geometry (supposedly to alleviate his aching back, although we may never know the true reason for the change), but went a step further by providing him with an all-new machine wholly different from the standard S-Works Tarmac SL it replaces.
The new frame, apparently dubbed the S-Works Tarmac SL2, appears ideally suited for a powerful sprinter like Boonen with an altogether stouter construction. As compared to the Tarmac SL, the SL2's top tube, down tube, and chain stays are substantially larger in diameter, and the seat stays abandon the S-bend in favor of a straight shot from the seat cluster down to the dropouts.
Just as significant, however, is the newly oversized and tapered 1 ⅛"-to-1 ½" steerer tube on the new Specialized fork. The concept of a larger diameter lower steerer tube is hardly new (Ridley has used it for years, and Klein pioneered a similar system long before then), but now that such high-profile manufacturers as Cannondale, Trek, Pinarello, and now Specialized have adopted the concept, the idea that the configuration may very well become the new standard for high-performance machines becomes a much more likely possibility.
Unfortunately, we were only able to snap one image before Boonen ran off for the start this morning, but we'll do our best to get some additional pictures in the very near future.
Otherwise, Shimano's somewhat mysterious electronic Dura-Ace group made another appearance on the bike of Gerolsteiner rider Ronny Scholz. The individual components were still very clearly one-off prototypes, but those hand-made bits were distinctly different from the ones spotted at last year's Paris-Nice. Shimano may still be mum on the group's future, but the development phase is obviously still in progress.
The previous lever's single toggle switch behind the brake lever has been replaced by two individual paddles analogous to the standard STI Dual Control setup (the brake lever is fixed like Ergopower). Shift lever throw, however, is hugely reduced relative to the mechanical version; merely nudging either lever about 2mm is enough to initiate a shift. As before, small LCD screens located on the top of each lever indicate the current gear selection and battery condition.
Interestingly, the Scholz's prototype rear derailleur actually looks less like a finished product than what we saw last year, but the front derailleur is looking decidedly more polished. In addition, Shimano has also moved the (now larger) battery to a small down tube-mounted pack. We can only speculate as to the reasons behind the changes for now, but we'll continue to keep you posted as we get additional information.