Race tech: US Pro Cycling Challenge TT inspires unique bikes

Thursday's USA Pro Cycling Challenge stage three time trial wasn't your average race against the clock and so inspired some unique equipment choices for the leading riders.

Though the course climbed a significant 530m (1,738ft) over its 16.1km (10.0mi) length, the first half was only mildly uphill and many riders were treated to a healthy tailwind – making it neither a blisteringly fast individual effort nor a pure hill climb. Not surprisingly then, many of the bikes used today were novel hybrids specifically tailored to the day.

One of the most creative machines by far was Christian Vande Velde's Garmin-Cervélo rig. Built around Cervélo's ultralight R5ca frame – a roughly 700g featherweight normally reserved for big mountain stages – team mechanics then dressed it up in full aero gear, including a disc rear wheel, deep-section front wheel, and integrated aero bars mounted on an adjustable stem.

According to team sports scientist Robbie Ketchell, Vande Velde's position was actually nearly identical to that of his full-blown P4 time trial rig and given the nominal gains offered by even the best aero frames, the trick setup likely represented only a slight increase in drag in total.

More importantly, though, the ultralight chassis yielded a final package that was unusually light for a time trial bike – a key performance advantage for the second half of the course. According to team mechanic Geoff Brown, Vande Velde's aero-dressed R5ca was well under the 7kg (15.4lb).

Many teams stuck to their standard time trial bikes, preferring to just tweak the setups with slightly taller bar heights and/or larger rear cassettes to better handle the climb. But road-time trial hybrids like Garmin-Cervélo's machines were definitely present en masse – just in more mild incarnations that typically involved a set of aero clip-ons and deep section, or disc, wheels.

One thing we were surprised not to see, however, were Shimano Dura-Ace Di2-equipped teams taking advantage of the group's plug-and-play satellite bar end shifters. While we haven't tried the combination ourselves, teams should have been able to add clip-on bars to the riders' road bikes but add a very useful set of shifters out on the ends of the extensions to save a few valuable sections on the faster, lower section of the course.

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