Saxo Bank's special machines for Cancellara and the Schleck brothers

Possible portent of future SRAM technologies, too

Saxo Bank riders are keeping team sponsor Specialized awfully busy at this year's Tour de France. While many teams have perhaps just one or two riders aboard custom painted machines (if any at all), Saxo Bank has three – early race leader Fabian Cancellara and general classification contenders Andy and Fränk Schleck – and don't forget about the spares, either.

Cancellara's S-Works Tarmac SL3 is fairly straightforward being finished in a monotone bright yellow. Adding to the theme are Zipp wheels with matching yellow decals, SRAM's special Red LTE (Limited Tour Edition) transmission and brakes with black anodized aluminum bits and yellow graphics, and yellow brake hoods that were swapped in literally minutes before the start of Stage 1.

Otherwise, it's his standard race machine including the Specialized S-Works Pro-Set stem, FSA bar and seatpost, Prologo saddle, Speedplay Zero pedals, Veloflex tires, Specialized carbon crank with integrated SRM power meter, Tacx bottle cages, and of course, his Roman-inspired shield on the top tube inspired by his 'Spartacus' nickname.

Cancellara would be riding a special machine if he wasn't in yellow, though, as even his standard team-issue bike still sports subtle accents to commemorate his status as Olympic time trial champion. Gold graphics decorate his SRAM Red rear derailleur and DoubleTap levers, chainring bolts and Nokon aluminum housing bits are anodized gold, Prologo provides a gold-accented Scratch TR saddle, and Speedplay even gets in the game with gold pedal end caps.

All things considered, Cancellara's yellow Tarmac was fairly easy to get together as Specialized supplies each of its teams with a collection of appropriately painted framesets to build up as the need arises. The far more ornate finish of the Schleck brothers' bikes took a bit more work, though.

Both identically painted Schleck bikes proudly display the brothers' Luxembourg heritage with a gleaming dark chrome-like base coat plus lion-theme graphics similar to what's found on their national flag. Finishing things off are a few touches of red, white and light blue, blue cable end caps, and the custom Prologo Scratch TR saddles made for the brothers last year.

Finally, all three riders also share a propensity for Wolfgang Berner's unique rear derailleur modification, which comprises a longer pulley cage and oversized 13T/15T upper/lower pulley wheels spliced on to an otherwise standard SRAM Red rear derailleur (the Schlecks use it on their road bikes; Cancellara only uses it for time trials along with Team Radioshack's Lance Armstrong).

Why the fuss?

The theory is that the larger pulleys require the chain to bend less as it makes its S-shaped path back up to the cogs, thus creating less friction. SRAM road sports manager Alex Wassmann admits that the company is looking into the possibility of using the concept in production somehow but also that instrumented testing thus far has been inconclusive – guess that means we'll have to wait and see but we wouldn't be surprised to see it as part of a 'Super Red' group we've heard rumblings about for 2012.

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