Race Tech: Tour of California, February 19, 2008
German rider Fabian Wegmann of Gerolsteiner tackled the first road stage of this year's Tour of California riding his usual Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL2 but with a version of Shimano's electronic Dura-Ace group that looked decidedly closer to a finished product than what we'd spotted previously.
Unlike earlier iterations that were rife with CNC-machined aluminium bits, this one relied heavily on what looked to be aluminium forgings. Forging is a process more typically associated with mass production than CNC machining (not to mention that it usually produces stronger parts) and forging dies are quite expensive which suggests that designs have likely been nearly finalized.
In particular, the rear derailleur has lost its once-chunky appearance and instead looks almost elegant. Plastic bits were also clearly moulded, not machined, and the polished finishes were in keeping with what we've come to expect from commercially available version of Dura-Ace, too.
The front derailleur bore similar updates. Earlier machined aluminium bits have been replaced with smoother and highly polished ones (forged, we'd imagine) and the composite covers are notably more finished-looking. Even the cage bears a more refined look with deeper plating and more rounded edges. The battery looks largely identical to earlier version, but we'd guess that Shimano probably figured that one out quickly enough given that it doesn't have any moving parts.
Every aspect of the integrated brake/shift levers also suggested that this group is very close to production. The aluminium lever blade shape wore the same forged-and-polished appearance as on the rear derailleur and the overall aesthetic was far more refined that what we've seen before. Shift paddles have been fitted with highly detailed cut-outs and textures and each lever is equipped with the now-familiar tiny LCD gear and battery life indicators. More telling, though, is the subtle texture moulded into the rubber hoods that virtually screams 'production' (along with the logo on their side that had clearly been filed off).
Wegmann's bike was also equipped with PRO's Stealth Evo one-piece integrated carbon fibre bar and stem. That is hardly groundbreaking news in and of itself but the bar's internal cable routing does suggest that the group's electrical lines are easily detachable for such situations. We'd also be surprised if there weren't some sort of easy way to trim the lines to length if need be.
Saunier Duval-Scott readies for the week ahead
Some lingering injuries have forced Saunier Duval-Scott rider David Cañada to make some rather unorthodox modifications to his Scott Addict. Cañada is reported having some issues gripping the bars while in the hoods or drops and is currently spending far more time on the tops than usual. As a result, he wouldn't normally be able to quickly reach the brakes when riding in that position but team mechanics have fitted his bike with supplementary top mount levers that we normally see in 'cross. His bars have also been heavily wrapped for an easier grip and to provide some additional cushioning.
Cañada's bike otherwise looks to be inline with what his team-mates are also using although each bike was equipped with deep-section Mavic wheelsets that are no longer in production. The now-defunct Cosmic Carbone Pro use full-carbon 40mm-deep tubular rims roughly similar to what is used on Mavic's top-end Cosmic Carbone Ultimate.
That Cosmic Carbone Ultimate is normally built with co-molded carbon fiber spokes and hubs, though. In contrast, Saunier Duval-Scott's wheels were built with conventional nipples and stainless steel spokes laced to aluminium hubs along with 16 front/20 rear spoke counts.
So what is Rock Racing riding today?
Rock Racing's remaining group of five was far more consistent in terms of equipment as compared to yesterday's hodge-podge of time trial gear. Mario Cipollini took off on his own special carbon machine but the remaining four riders were on stock DeRosa King 3 carbon frames, fully resplendent in fantastically showy iridescent green Rock Racing livery. Much as some would hate to hear us say this, these are easily some of the best looking bikes in the peloton this year.
Finishing kit was consistent as well, including Campagnolo Record componentry, Cole Products wheelsets and Stella Azzura bars and stems. Team bikes were also fitted with custom-covered fi'zi:k saddles and Look KeO pedals, although based on the experience each of those companies has reputedly had with Rock Racing in the past we'd guess that the team simply purchases those items on its own.
Speedplay has the numbers in California
When Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC) stormed across the line to take out the opening prologue of the Tour of California, he kicked off a great start of the American stage race for his team and especially one of its equipment suppliers, the California-based pedal manufacturer, Speedplay. Then again, Speedplay does have the numbers in its favour at this year's Tour of California as there are more professional cyclists riding its Zero pedals than any other brand in the race.
Speedplay-equipped teams include reigning Pro Tour champions Team CSC, as well as the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar (NRC) champions Health Net/Maxxis. Team Bissell (formerly Priority Health) also has a long-standing relationship with Speedplay and is joined at this year's event by BMC, Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast and Jelly Belly. Included among the other teams that will race on Speedplay pedals this year are Team Type 1, Jittery Joe's, Sean Kelly Cycling Academy Team, Team DLP, Cervélo/Life Force and Webcor Builders.
"We are extremely proud to be represented by so many world class professionals racing on our pedals. Since Speedplay only makes pedals, it is especially gratifying to have these teams single us out as their pedal choice," said Speedplay's Sharon Worman.