Race tech: Tour de France, July 10, 2007
Stage 2 of the 2007 Tour de France started in Dunkerque on the northern coast of France after a short transfer across the English Channel (which can also be made via ferry from the picturesque white cliffs of Dover). With the prologue now but a distant memory, teams were now fully focused on claiming stage wins during the flat first week.
The day's forecast called for rain, but that didn't keep Cofidis riders Staf Scheirlinckx and Stéphane Auge from setting off equipped with the latest generation of Campagnolo's electronic group. Although rarely seen or spoken of, the group's development has been far from secret; we first spotted it in 2003 at E3 PrijsVlaanderen and Campagnolo has openly admitted that it has been a work in progress since around 1994. Increasingly refined versions have been periodically seen since then, but this latest iteration is decidedly more polished, suggesting that it might not too far off from production.
Campagnolo had previously stated that fitting the system's required battery in a suitably elegant fashion was among the most difficult challenges the company faced. Earlier versions incorporated a small battery 'stick' located on the seat tube near the front derailleur, but this latest iteration integrates the power source into a proprietary carbon fiber bottle cage.
This version is arguably cleaner-looking than before but is noticeably bulkier than the 'stick'. The larger size format and the peculiar inclusion of a 12-pin connector on the side, however, suggest that Campagnolo may have also included some additional electronics into the package for programming or customization capabilities (a simpler and smaller 2-pin or coaxial connector could have been used if it were just for charging purposes).
Speaking of electronics, Campagnolo may have developed an analogous Ergobrain for use with the new system as wires originating from the shifters clearly fed into a previously-unseen computer head. Interestingly, there were no traditional buttons to be found on the unit's exterior. Instead, a multi-directional 'joystick' on the unit's face appeared to control all functions and was paired to a large LCD panel (sorry, there was nothing on display to show when we shot the images and Cofidis mechanics were not too keen on us tinkering with team bikes just prior to the start).
The updated front derailleur is somewhat tidier than before as well, but other components appear largely identical to what we've seen before. The electronic Ergopower levers still bear striking resemblance to their mechanical brethren and there were no changes to the rear derailleur that we could see (the design has been rather stable for the past several years as far as we can tell). Naturally, other non-affected components such as the crankset and brake calipers were standard-issue Record items.
The rain also didn't keep Gerolsteiner's Ronny Scholz from continuing to evaluate his electronic Shimano Dura-Ace group which looks to have received no changes since we took a look at it at this year's Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. Scholz is obviously keen to the system these days (or at least used to it): not only did he race on it today, but his spare was so-equipped as well.
Shimano's prototype carbon fiber crankset also made another appearance, but not on the bike of Gerolsteiner rider Stefan Schumacher as we saw in this year's Tour de Suisse. We spotted three riders using it for Stage 2: Schumacher's Gerolsteiner teammates Bernhard Kohl and Markus Fothen, and Michael Boogerd of Rabobank.
It's clear now that Shimano has borrowed the updated Hollowtech II arm attachment from M970 XTR for this new crankset, but the bearing adjustment ring now bears a simple knurled pattern for easier hand operation. Unfortunately, though, we still have no word on whether or not the arms are hollow (although we'd bet they are), how much it weighs, or if it's even slated for production, but we'll continue to feed you information as we get it.