Race Tech: Challenge Volta a Mallorca, February 13, 2007
Although usually a fairly relaxed traditional early season stage race, this year's Challenge Volta a Mallorca hosted a surprisingly well-stacked field. Eleven ProTour teams appeared on the start list, including Discovery Channel, Rabobank, Astana, Quick-Step Innergetic, Saunier Duval-Prodir, and Gerolsteiner. An incognito stroll through the start village revealed mostly the usual cast of standard framesets, wheels, and components, but a handful of early-season prototype equipment was also subtly tucked into the mix.
Most notable were significant updates to both of Shimano's carbon fiber wheelsets. Shimano only recently introduced its WH-7801-Carbon and 50mm-deep WH-7801-Carbon50 Dura-Ace models, but the Osaka-based giant has already seen fit to replace the somewhat controversial hub-located nipples with a more traditional configuration on both sets.
Relatively large red-anodized aluminum nipples now rest solely in the rim, and a standard straight-pull spoke head lies at the other end. Overall spoke counts of 20 in the rear and 16 up front remain unchanged for both. Likewise, the lacing pattern has carried over, as well as the star-shaped rear hub flanges, but the new hub shells now wear an edgier look and are also reported to be slightly lighter than last year's versions.
According to one Rabobank team mechanic, the riders find the new wheels to be noticeably stiffer, and the standard nipple placement surely makes the wheels easier to true as well. We didn't spot the new hoops in the Gerolsteiner area (also sponsored by Shimano), but the team had already been running standard Dura-Ace hubs with conventional J-bend spokes and nipples laced to the company's carbon rims for presumably the same reasons.
As previously noted on multiple occasions, power meter usage in the ProTour has steadily grown over the past few years as teams have found the UCI-imposed 6.8kg weight limit increasingly easy to beat (and in some cases, difficult to satisfy). In contrast to lead weights and other forms of 'dead' mass randomly affixed to down tubes and whatnot, power meters can often add the necessary grams as well as provide supremely useful data. Each of the T-Mobile race bikes hit the start line equipped with standard SRM models but with some interesting sensor and wire routing.
SRM's power and cadence sensor can be notoriously difficult to mount on some carbon fiber frames, but T-Mobile and/or Giant have apparently come across a rather novel internal solution. Although it wasn't visible, the sensor is presumably mounted inside the driveside chainstay. The sensor wire is then routed up the seat tube and forward in the top tube, eventually exiting through a pea-sized hole near the forward brake housing stop. Chances are that Giant won't endorse its general consumers to do the same (as it would surely void the warranty), but it's an interesting technique nonetheless.