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More aero gear for road stages at this year's Tour

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Deep-section aero wheels have been a staple

Deep-section aero wheels have been a staple
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…but now even climbing-specific wheels

…but now even climbing-specific wheels
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The Oval Concepts R910 Aergo bar

The Oval Concepts R910 Aergo bar
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CSC-Saxo Bank has long used Cervélo's aero road frames

CSC-Saxo Bank has long used Cervélo's aero road frames
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Garmin-Chipotle has a new aero frame

Garmin-Chipotle has a new aero frame
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The bulge at the top of the seat stays

The bulge at the top of the seat stays
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The internal routing and complex frame shaping

The internal routing and complex frame shaping
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…and above the giant bottom bracket shell.

…and above the giant bottom bracket shell.
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Deep-section rims are no longer used just for time trials.

Deep-section rims are no longer used just for time trials.
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We're not sure how much of a difference

We're not sure how much of a difference
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Whoops!

Whoops!
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Ridley supplied its star sprinter, Robbie McEwen,

Ridley supplied its star sprinter, Robbie McEwen,
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…and the fork to reduce pressure (and drag)

…and the fork to reduce pressure (and drag)
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The deep-profile integrated seatpost

The deep-profile integrated seatpost
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Deep-section aero wheels have been a staple for years now as Liquigas' Filippo Pozzato shows…

Deep-section aero wheels have been a staple for years now as Liquigas' Filippo Pozzato shows… (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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…but now even climbing-specific wheels get some aero treatment as well such as the dimpled surface on these Zipp 202 rims.

…but now even climbing-specific wheels get some aero treatment as well such as the dimpled surface on these Zipp 202 rims. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Garmin-Chipotle's Julian Dean even goes with an aero handlebar…

Garmin-Chipotle's Julian Dean even goes with an aero handlebar… (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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…as does Silence-Lotto's Dario Cioni (although given he doesn't run an aero frame these might be more for comfort).

…as does Silence-Lotto's Dario Cioni (although given he doesn't run an aero frame these might be more for comfort). (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The Oval Concepts R910 Aergo bar doesn't give much for the wind to look at.

The Oval Concepts R910 Aergo bar doesn't give much for the wind to look at. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Even the cables are routed internally to maintain the slippery shape.

Even the cables are routed internally to maintain the slippery shape. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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CSC-Saxo Bank has long used Cervélo's aero road frames such as this latest SLC-SL iteration.

CSC-Saxo Bank has long used Cervélo's aero road frames such as this latest SLC-SL iteration. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The hourglass-shaped head tube is designed to minimize frontal area.

The hourglass-shaped head tube is designed to minimize frontal area. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Garmin-Chipotle has a new aero frame from team sponsor Felt called the AR.

Garmin-Chipotle has a new aero frame from team sponsor Felt called the AR. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The down tube shaping is very similar to that of Felt's time trial/triathlon-specific DA.

The down tube shaping is very similar to that of Felt's time trial/triathlon-specific DA. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The seat tube employs shaping that is normally reserved only for races against the clock.

The seat tube employs shaping that is normally reserved only for races against the clock. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The down tube is positioned very close to the front wheel to help smooth airflow and the fork is well-integrated for the same reason.

The down tube is positioned very close to the front wheel to help smooth airflow and the fork is well-integrated for the same reason. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The bulge at the top of the seat stays is intended to help direct airflow around the brake caliper.

The bulge at the top of the seat stays is intended to help direct airflow around the brake caliper. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Naturally, the seatpost is aero-shaped, too.

Naturally, the seatpost is aero-shaped, too. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Given how much material is here we're guessing the AR is stiff, too, although that also means it's noticeably heavier than Felt's non-aero F1.

Given how much material is here we're guessing the AR is stiff, too, although that also means it's noticeably heavier than Felt's non-aero F1. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Derailleur housings are fed into the top tube right behind the stem where the air is already 'dirty'.

Derailleur housings are fed into the top tube right behind the stem where the air is already 'dirty'. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The internal routing and complex frame shaping also means that Felt's designers had to get somewhat creative in regards to cable routing both below…

The internal routing and complex frame shaping also means that Felt's designers had to get somewhat creative in regards to cable routing both below… (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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…and above the giant bottom bracket shell.

…and above the giant bottom bracket shell. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The seat tube is shifted rearwards slightly in order to shield the rear wheel and still meet UCI frame guidelines, meaning the front derailleur mount had to be shifted forward a bit.

The seat tube is shifted rearwards slightly in order to shield the rear wheel and still meet UCI frame guidelines, meaning the front derailleur mount had to be shifted forward a bit. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Even the team's PowerTap rear hubs are fitted with bladed spokes.

Even the team's PowerTap rear hubs are fitted with bladed spokes. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Deep-section rims are no longer used just for time trials.

Deep-section rims are no longer used just for time trials. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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We're not sure how much of a difference this stem faceplate can possibly make but it probably doesn't hurt any.

We're not sure how much of a difference this stem faceplate can possibly make but it probably doesn't hurt any. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The new Felt AR uses carbon dropouts, too, which are molded in one piece together with the corresponding seat stay and chain stay.

The new Felt AR uses carbon dropouts, too, which are molded in one piece together with the corresponding seat stay and chain stay. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Garmin-Chipotle was among a number of teams that were outfitted in Shimano's new Dura-Ace group.

Garmin-Chipotle was among a number of teams that were outfitted in Shimano's new Dura-Ace group. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Whoops! This lever is already missing its cover plate.

Whoops! This lever is already missing its cover plate. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Ridley supplied its star sprinter, Robbie McEwen, with this ultra-trick and aero-enhanced Noah.

Ridley supplied its star sprinter, Robbie McEwen, with this ultra-trick and aero-enhanced Noah. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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There's a lot of material here so the new Noah isn't super light but it is claimed to be super fast.

There's a lot of material here so the new Noah isn't super light but it is claimed to be super fast. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Ridley integrates Oval Concepts' JetStream technology into the seat stays…

Ridley integrates Oval Concepts' JetStream technology into the seat stays… (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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…and the fork to reduce pressure (and drag) around the neighboring wheels. The raised and serrated decals on the leading edges are said to make the frame even more aero.

…and the fork to reduce pressure (and drag) around the neighboring wheels. The raised and serrated decals on the leading edges are said to make the frame even more aero. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The deep-profile integrated seatpost probably doesn't provide the smoothest ride but McEwen likely isn't going to care much about that.

The deep-profile integrated seatpost probably doesn't provide the smoothest ride but McEwen likely isn't going to care much about that. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)

Race tech: Tour de France, July 19, 2008

The UCI's minimum weight limit of 6.8kg has had a number of interesting effects on bikes used in the pro ranks: as frame weights have plummeted over the past few years, teams and riders have become more thoughtful on where to add the grams back. While power meter use has clearly surged as a result, another distinctly growing trend is the proliferation of aero equipment, even on road stages. Once thought to be just important for time trials, riders are now realizing that saving a few watts can mean hitting the finishing climb a little fresher, staving off threatening attacks by keeping the pace that little bit higher, or even squeezing out that last little bit of top-end speed in the last 50m.

Deep-section wheels once reserved solely for races against the clock have now become de rigueur for all but the most demanding climbing stages and rims as deep as 100mm are relatively common, especially for domestiques who are often charged with pushing the pace at the front of the peloton.

Light weight has always been among the primary concerns for climbing wheels but aerodynamics is now coming into play there, too. Even on box-section hoops, non-bladed spokes are about as common as wool jerseys (Mavic's tubular carbon fiber spokes on its R-SYS model notwithstanding) and perennial aero innovator Zipp has even added its second-shaving dimples to its shallowest 202 rims, claiming it can match the aero performance of a deeper rim without the extra weight.

Other components are also getting the aero treatment. For example, Garmin-Chipotle's Julian Dean and Silence-Lotto Dario Cioni have taken to Oval Concepts' radical-looking R910 Aergo road bar, and some Garmin-Chipotle riders have even adopted Oval Concepts' wedge-shaped stem faceplates. Castelli has even supplied some of its riders with tighter-fitting clothing that leaves little extra material to flap in the breeze.

Frames and forks are arguably the hottest front in the war against the wind. Team CSC-Saxo Bank has long used Cervélo's slippery frames for road stages (the latest iteration being the sleek and light SLC-SL) with well-known success and other companies such as Felt and Ridley have more recently gotten into the game.

Felt outfitted the Garmin-Chipotle riders with its new AR1 which takes some of the lessons learned from its time trial/triathlon-specific DA and adapts them for use on the road. Borrowed features include the aero-profiled head tube and seat stays, a well-shielded rear wheel and an aero-shaped and dropped down tube that helps smooth airflow off the front wheel. Naturally, there's an aero seatpost and a well-integrated aero fork, too, and even the internally routed cables enter the frame behind the stem where the air is already 'dirty'.

Likewise, Ridley has supplied its riders with an optional new Noah that takes the usual aero shaping one step further by directly integrating Oval Concept's unique JetStream technology. The split seat stays and fork blades are said to pull air away from the churning wheels, thus leaving them with a lower pressure area to operate in so they can spin faster. Moreover, Ridley has also fitted key leading edges of the frame with raised and serrated surfaces at key leading edges that are said to reduce drag even more.

So how much does any of this matter on the road?

"In the track tests we did with Cadel [Evans] and Greg Vanavermaet over nearly two hours at an average speed of 40kph, they used 12-15 fewer watts on average and 4bpm lower heart rate on the [new] Noah vs. the Helium," said Ridley's David Alvarez. "Robbie [McEwen] said in his tests the [new] Noah is 2kph faster in a sprint than the Helium!"

Similarly, Felt says the AR will offer a two percent energy savings "over a standard road bike when in identical conditions," which roughly translates into a 75-second lead over a one-hour ride. "I try to get the guys to ride the new bike all the time because it's faster," said Garmin-Chipotle Sports Physiologist Allen Lim.

Lim still encounters some resistance from his riders when it comes to climbing events, though, where the lower average speed may tip the balance back in favor of lighter weight (although rider psychology likely plays a role here as well). The new Felt and Ridley aero frames (and Cervélo's existing SLC-SL) still generally squeeze close to the 1kg mark but true non-aero ultralights can easily knock off 100g or more. In general, this allows enough wiggle room for the riders to run reasonably aero wheels and still hit the UCI-mandated 6.8kg weight limit.

All of this extra effort probably sounds like overkill to most of us; after all, how many of you have additional complete bikes (or even wheels) that you specifically use for flat days vs. days in the mountains? Even so, this year's Tour de France has so far demonstrated that time is of the essence and the proper equipment just might end up influencing the final outcome. As of the end of stage 13, CSC-Saxo Bank's Fränk Schleck still sits just one second behind Evans. In that sort of situation, every second counts.

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