Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) received his Specialized McLaren Venge just before Milan-San Remo and in the past two months it's become his bike of choice. On stage 2 of the Giro d'Italia, he finished second to Alessandro Petacchi of the Lampre-ISD outfit on it.
While the McLaren engineered, Specialized built frame and fork are standard and available for purchase — albeit at a high price and in limited quantities — it’s the build that sets Cavendish's bike apart from that of a non-sprinter. Everything is purposefully chosen for stiffness and power transfer in the final meters of racing.
Cavendish’s bike is heavy at 16.86lb (7.65kg), especially when other racers are adding upwards of a pound to their bikes just so they meet the 6.8kg UCI weight limit, but it’s the choice that he makes in single-minded pursuit of sprint victories.
This focus is most obvious at the front end of the bike. Here Cavendish opts for a stout looking PRO Vibe Sprint carbon stem that's been adapted for his signature line from PRO’s Vibe carbon track stem. The 7000-series handlebar is also built to be stiff, without great concern for weight; PRO’s Vibe Sprint uses internal reinforcing to reduce flex, so much so that the tops are double wrapped with handlebar tape to offer some comfort.
The sprinter also adds a bit of weight to the already hefty Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 group by adding on the SW-7972 ‘Sprint’ satellite shifters, which allow lightning fast shifts at 50kph with just the flick of his thumb. He also makes good use of the Di2 levers' reach adjustment, dialing them in considerably — offsetting the natural angle of the levers when mounted so high on the handlebar — so that they’re always at his fingertips.
A Shimano-armed SRM power meter is also part of the drivetrain, and is fitted with a chainring spider to mount — and match — Shimano's super-stiff 53-tooth Dura-Ace 7900 hollow outer chainring. For climbing, Cavendish uses the standard 7900 39-tooth inner ring. Cavendish turns over the crankarms with a custom set of Shimano PD-7900 pedals made with special longer axles that add roughly 2cm to the overall Q-factor of the bike. Optimal Q-factor is dependant on a rider’s body; Cavendish feels his natural stance is wider than that of the standard crank and pedal system, and that he can create more power with the wider stance.
Another modification to Cavendish’s Venge is the use of a custom Shimano made battery for the Di2 groupset that's fitted within the bike’s seatpost; other riders on the team have batteries mounted to the down tube of the Venge, just forward of its bottom bracket. Speaking of the seatpost, Cavendish has lowered his seat height by roughly 2cm since he started riding the new bike. Gary Blem, one of HTC’s mechanics at the Giro, didn’t have an explanation for the drastic drop, other than: "He’s always changing his position. He may even change it again before the stage.”
The final customization to this sprinter's Venge is the wheelset, which has been built to be above all things, stiff. Starting with Shimano’s 7900 Dura-Ace hubs, team mechanics lace Sapim’s thick, round-butted Race spokes – 18 front and 24 rear – using radial and two-cross patterns to a set of Zipp 360 rims, as used on the popular 404 wheelset. The heavy gauge spokes, stout hub axles and angular contact bearings make for a base that’s both stiff and durable, according to mechanics. In the end though, the components are what Cavendish personally requested his wheels be built from.
For stage 2, the sprinter chose an 11-25-tooth cassette to deal with a short, but sharp climb 30km before the finish and with the hopes of keeping his legs as fresh as possible for the final flat run into the finish. Once the mountains start, HTC mechanics said that most of the team will switch to compact cranks and, on the steepest stages, will use 12-28T cassettes. In contrast, many SRAM equipped riders are expected to use WiFLi long cage derailleurs (Rival level, but branded as non-series components with just a SRAM logo) and cassettes with low ranges up to 32-teeth.
This article first appeared on Bikeradar.