Astana team leader Alberto Contador received an unwelcome surprise just two days before the final time trial of the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal: according to a release sent out by press agent Jacinto Vidarte, the International Cycling Union (UCI) has banned his Specialized Shiv time trial bike for use in competition.
"Last night, I was told that I can not use the TT bike because the UCI has said it does not follow the rules, and in the end, I do not know what bike will ride on Sunday," said Contador in the press release. "That's what worries me.
"The bike has an insignificant piece that does not fulfill the regulations, and therefore I can not compete with the bike with which I have been training."
The focus of the issue is apparently the Shiv's aerodynamic nosecone, which is bolted on to the bottom of and extends below the stem, thus effectively increasing the aspect ratio of the head tube beyond the allowable 3:1 and reducing drag relative to a conventional head tube. Up until now, Specialized (and others such as Trek, Giant, Felt and Look) bicycle manufacturers have avoided reprimand from the UCI since the deeper section results from two structures instead of just one.
However, regulations also dictate that any aerodynamic frame section be a necessary structural member and for this reason Specialized designers mechanically joined the bottom of the nosecone to the fork crown via a 'carbon strap', saying the assembly was required to maintain adequate strength and stiffness to the otherwise minimally supported stem.
Apparently, the UCI feels differently.
Astana had earlier proposed to the UCI that it be allowed to race the bike without the nosecone section while a more permanent solution was developed but in light of this latest development, the team has now had to scramble with seven older-technology Transition framesets reportedly arriving at the team hotel earlier today – and all eight of them must be built, sized, tuned and fully race-ready by Sunday.
Even those frames, though, may require further modification before being allowed to enter the start house.
"Banned by the UCI, whose final communication was received yesterday evening, the Astana team and Specialized are planning to use the 'Transition' model in Sunday's time trial. Seven of those frames arrived today at the team hotel to be modified and assembled. On these bikes it is possible to cut the two small pieces that, according to the latest interpretation of the UCI, not fulfill 2010 rules even after making the necessary changes required in advance on the 2009 model, declared illegal for this season," continued the press release.
The press release does not explicitly state which "two small pieces" are to be removed by the team mechanics but the logical conclusion is the two small fins on the underside of the down tube, which are intended to smooth airflow coming off the back of the fork crown.
"The UCI has raised concerns regarding compliance of the Shiv and Transition bikes with rules pertaining to UCI sanctioned time trial competition," said Specialized global marketing manager Nic Sims. "This is a highly technical issue and in no way pertains to safety or performance of these bikes, so production and sales will continue.
"We are actively working with the UCI to find a solution, but in the meantime Team Saxo Bank and Astana Cycling Team riders will not compete on Shiv bikes," he continued. "We are providing riders with modified Transitions."
Specialized may not be the only team equipment sponsor to be affected by the UCI's latest round of technical crackdowns, either. Although Trek team liaison Ben Coates confirmed that its Speed Concept had received explicit UCI approval, Giant global communications manager Andrew Juskaitis suggested that the Rabobank team's new Trinity Advanced SL design may also be impacted.
"We have not been contacted by the UCI in any sort of official manner," he said. "But we are looking into the possibility of making modifications to our bike to ensure [any future regulations."
Juskaitis declined to comment further on what, if any, changes might be made moving forward but according to the Contador press release, Specialized is now planning to build yet another new prototype for the upcoming Tour de France. Sims, however, later issued a statement to refute this, saying that that was incorrect and that plans for a new prototype are not currently underway.