Race tech: Tour de France, July 8, 2008
A green bullet in red and yellow
One of this year's top favourites is Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) who won the first stage into Plumelec and earned the first yellow jersey of this year's Tour de France. To go along with his new maillot jaune, Valverde's team also equipped him with a specially finished Pinarello Prince FPX.
Technically speaking, there is nothing unique on Valverde's bike as compared to those of his Caisse d'Epargne teammates. However, it couldn't be more different visually with its bright yellow and red paintjob to match his national flag and the words, 'Don Alejandro' and 'Prince of Spain' boldly emblazoned on the top and down tubes. The Treviso company even supplied a yellow version of its MOst Talon integrated bar and stem, as well as a red-topped carbon MOst Tail seatpost. Campagnolo joins the party with yellow-finished Record D-Skeleton brake callipers and Elite has also chipped in with a matching pair of red-trimmed carbon Patao bottle cages.
It's difficult to say whether his new bike makes Valverde go any faster, but when viewing the race for stage one's finish line in Plumelec this week it certainly made him easier to spot.
Even before donning the maillot jaune, though, the recently crowned Spanish champion was already wearing special colours. Unlike previous champions of his nation - such as team-mate Jose Iván Gutiérrez - the Bala Verde's jersey is not simply a Spanish flag with sleeves But rather more closely resembled a standard team jersey trimmed with Spanish stripes. The design - approved by the Spanish Federation - was apparently intended to be a little more stylish and elegante.
Special jersey or not, if Valverde and his Caisse d'Epargne team have their way he won't be wearing it again until after this year's Tour de France wraps up in Paris. No rider has held the lead from start to finish since Jacques Anquetil in 1961 but the team said they plan to change that this year.
More bike bling
Current ProTour leader Damiano Cunego (Lampre) - as an Italian man - likes to look good. Although he won't be wearing the white jersey at this particular race, he has had his new Wilier Triestina Cento Uno painted to match. To emphasise that the white, black and silver colourway is a total one-off for the Piccolo Principe, it also bears his name on the top tube. Sure, everybody has their name on their bike, but this is no decal or sticker: the word "Cunego" sits proudly beneath the surface lacquer.
Garmin-Chipotle sprinter Julian Dean is also riding a uniquely finished Felt F1 in this year's Tour, this time in a contrasting black and white finish to celebrate his status as champion of New Zealand. The black and white argyle on his frame also nicely compliments the black and white silver fern on his chest.
Dean's teammate David Millar is also champion of his respective United Kingdom (in the time trial discipline) and conveniently, his Felt DA time trial rig provides a far bigger canvas for a little artistic freedom. The frame is standard-looking enough but plastered on the rear disc and deep-section front wheel are enormous Union Jacks. Even if you aren't astute enough to recognize Millar's distinctively fluid form and style from afar in the upcoming time trial, the swirling red, white and blue will leave little question as to who's approaching.
Perhaps the prize for most beautiful frame should go to Filippo Pozzato of Liquigas. Pippo's Cannondale SuperSix carries another paintjob by Barza Designs - the Como company that has been blinging-up the peloton for many years now, most recently putting the gold and rainbox stripes on the frames of Olympic and World champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step).
The Cannondale's tubes are coated in a two-tone metallic green, which changes colour depending on the way the light hits it and carries a set of gold graphics that commemorate this year's Tour de France. We managed to get it to one side for a few minutes - although we sadly had to give it back - so look out for a full Pro Bike feature in the coming days.
More subtle touches by riders to personalise their bikes are in evidence all over the peloton. Perhaps one of the nicest is the stars on the seatpost and rear monostay of Alessandro Ballan's Lampre Wilier Triestina Cento Uno. These are put there by Ballan to celebrate his daughter, Stella (Italian for star). Awww.
Custom kicks abound in France
An increasingly popular method of personalisation in recent years is to have a custom pair of shoes made. Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) has cranked the Aussie handle a couple more turns with his new Gaerne G.Air Kangaroos that feature a bunch of the silhouetted marsupials hopping across a yellow background.
Alternatively, David Millar and Silvain Chavanel (Cofidis) both have their footwear provided by Specialized and both have a pair of the company's S-Works Body Geometry shoes in custom designs: Millar's are a rather nice blue with a Union Jack heel detail, but Chavanel seems confident about his chances in this race with a yellow pair - instead of his previous pink ones.
National champions have flags on their shoes in abundance as usual: Nicolas Vogondy's (Agritubel) Adidas shoes have tricolore straps - Christophe Moreau's Shimano shoes do, too, even though he lost the jersey to his teammate last month.
It takes a lot to beat Pippo in any contest related to style, though. He grabbed our attention earlier this year with his special Milano-Sanremo pair of flowery Sidi Ergo 2s. This time, Sidi has provided him with a slightly more subtle pair in iridescent green to match his frame. Nice one, Pippo.