After a one-year forced hiatus, Alberto Contador (Astana) is back at this year's Tour de France seeking his second overall victory. Two years ago he used a then-new Trek Madone to secure his win but for this year's running Trek has provided the Spanish climber with yet another rendition of its top-end machine, the 6 Series Madone.
Key features have been carried over such as the integrated 90mm-wide bottom bracket, extra-wide down tube, tapered front end and novel no-cut seatmast design but further refinements have yielded 150g of total weight savings and 17 percent additional torsional rigidity, according to Trek. In addition, an increased level of integration such as Shimano Dura-Ace Di2-ready internal cable routing and a slick optional chain stay-mounted wireless speed and cadence sensor make for a notably cleaner appearance as well.
Be that as it may, two things in particular distinguish Contador's Madone from ones that consumers can purchase for themselves: the custom paint scheme on both the frame and the SRAM Red components plus the extra special touch of his personal mechanic, Faustino Munoz.
At first glance, Contador's Madone looks to be dressed in a fairly simple white and black with gold, pink and yellow accents – presumably to symbolize his wins in each of the three grand tours. But also subtly hidden within the black panels are faint silver patterns depicting Contador's signature pistol victory salute. In some sense, the total package is the ultimate contrast to the showier graphics treatments of teammate Lance Armstrong but the end result is no less distinctive.
The special finish may provide the visual flare but it's the work of Munoz that actually helps Contador go a bit faster. Munoz's thirty-plus years of experience as a professional team mechanic comes through in the impeccable manner with which Contador's bike is prepared but the consummate perfectionist also pays particularly close attention to bearing friction.
The ProTour is no stranger to ceramic bearings – most teams have been using them for years, well before they became popular amongst consumers – and Munoz is no exception, employing Enduro's speedy ZERØ hybrid cartridges. Supplemental detail work done in conjunction with sponsors Trek and SRAM, though, reduces friction further with even the crankset displaying that telltale 'pendulum' effect when the chain is disengaged.
Even the chain isn't ignored: after a fresh and through cleaning, Munoz first applies Sapim's mid-weight Race Oil then seals it in with a light coat of grease. The result is one of the silkiest drivetrains we've ever encountered and one needs no precision instrumentation to discern the significant improvement over a stock setup.
As befitting a climbing specialist, Contador's Madone is pretty and smooth but also light – but not too light. As pictured here with Bontrager Race XXX Lite carbon tubulars, a Trek Incite computer and two Bontrager Race X Lite bottle cages, actual weight is a spot-on 6.80kg (14.99lb), right in keeping with the UCI's mandated minimum figure.
In the event that any of the Astana bikes are below weight for whatever reason, however, the team has devised a cleverly elegant solution. Instead of the common 'chain links in the seat tube' or stuck-on bits of metal, a special lead plug can be inserted into the bottom bracket spindle when needed. The modular configuration lets Munoz add or subtract bits to hit the target weight and the wedge-type design (similar to an old quill stem) means it's locked in securely. Moreover, the weight is in the optimal position on the bike – close to the ground – and has almost no rotational inertia.
When all is said and done, Contador's new Madone may not be the absolute stiffest or flashiest bike in the peloton but just as with his Astana team, it's virtually purpose-built for stage racing with a proven pedigree. Now that the tensions between Contador and Armstrong have (supposedly) been resolved, the team can now rally around a sole leader and if all goes according to plan, team general manager Johan Bruyneel – and Trek – may add yet another Tour de France victory to its palmares.