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Top-level teams and riders get their way in the name of going faster

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This is not an Easton rear disc wheel.

This is not an Easton rear disc wheel. (Image credit: James Huang)
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This is not a prototype deep-section Shimano Dura-Ace wheel.

This is not a prototype deep-section Shimano Dura-Ace wheel. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Stock Dura-Ace bottom brackets

Stock Dura-Ace bottom brackets (Image credit: James Huang)
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This is not a Michelin Pro² Race clincher.

This is not a Michelin Pro² Race clincher. (Image credit: James Huang)
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A 'Made in Italy' mark

A 'Made in Italy' mark (Image credit: James Huang)
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Agritubel may have run Hutchinson's Road Tubeless

Agritubel may have run Hutchinson's Road Tubeless (Image credit: James Huang)
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This is not a Specialized fork.

This is not a Specialized fork. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Quickstep-Innergetic's S-Works Tarmac SL frames

Quickstep-Innergetic's S-Works Tarmac SL frames (Image credit: James Huang)
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Tom Boonen has at least custom-built

Tom Boonen has at least custom-built (Image credit: James Huang)
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Boonen's specially-finished green SL2

Boonen's specially-finished green SL2 (Image credit: James Huang)
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This is not an Easton rear disc wheel. If you look closely, you can see Zipp's characteristic dimples as well as its logo in relief towards the center of the wheel.

This is not an Easton rear disc wheel. If you look closely, you can see Zipp's characteristic dimples as well as its logo in relief towards the center of the wheel. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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This is not a prototype deep-section Shimano Dura-Ace wheel. T-Mobile stocked up on Zipp 606 tubular wheelsets to use during the flatter stages.

This is not a prototype deep-section Shimano Dura-Ace wheel. T-Mobile stocked up on Zipp 606 tubular wheelsets to use during the flatter stages. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Most of the Zipp labels were removed, but the dimpled surface and one remaining giveaway remained.

Most of the Zipp labels were removed, but the dimpled surface and one remaining giveaway remained. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Team cars were set up with both Dura-Ace and Zipp wheels as spares.

Team cars were set up with both Dura-Ace and Zipp wheels as spares. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Stock Dura-Ace bottom brackets were replaced with FSA MegaExo Ceramic units.

Stock Dura-Ace bottom brackets were replaced with FSA MegaExo Ceramic units. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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This is not a Michelin Pro² Race clincher. In fact, it's not even a clincher at all, but rather a cleverly disguised non-Michelin tubular.

This is not a Michelin Pro² Race clincher. In fact, it's not even a clincher at all, but rather a cleverly disguised non-Michelin tubular. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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This is not a Specialized Mondo tubular tire mounted on the wheels of Quickstep-Innergetic.

This is not a Specialized Mondo tubular tire mounted on the wheels of Quickstep-Innergetic. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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This is what consumers can buy but it's obviously not what Tom Boonen is using in the TdF.

This is what consumers can buy but it's obviously not what Tom Boonen is using in the TdF. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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A 'Made in Italy' mark suggests that Quickstep-Innergetic's tires are likely a Veloflex model.

A 'Made in Italy' mark suggests that Quickstep-Innergetic's tires are likely a Veloflex model. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Agritubel may have run Hutchinson's Road Tubeless clinchers at some point (and for good reason as we've found them to be quite fantastic), but they were mostly relegated to spare duty during the Tour de France's first week.

Agritubel may have run Hutchinson's Road Tubeless clinchers at some point (and for good reason as we've found them to be quite fantastic), but they were mostly relegated to spare duty during the Tour de France's first week. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Tom Boonen has at least custom-built Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL2 bikes at his disposal, but none are equipped with the usual replaceable derailleur hanger as found on stock machines.

Tom Boonen has at least custom-built Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL2 bikes at his disposal, but none are equipped with the usual replaceable derailleur hanger as found on stock machines. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Boonen's specially-finished green SL2 also is sans replaceable hanger For that matter, none of the SL2 frames we saw from Quickstep-Innergetic or Gerolsteiner had one, either.

Boonen's specially-finished green SL2 also is sans replaceable hanger For that matter, none of the SL2 frames we saw from Quickstep-Innergetic or Gerolsteiner had one, either. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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This is not a Specialized fork.

This is not a Specialized fork. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Quickstep-Innergetic's S-Works Tarmac SL frames were matched to Time forks, given away by the characteristic carbon and Kevlar outer weave on the steerer tube.

Quickstep-Innergetic's S-Works Tarmac SL frames were matched to Time forks, given away by the characteristic carbon and Kevlar outer weave on the steerer tube. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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Astana's Andrey Kashechkin was using Rotor's new ultralight S1 stem.

Astana's Andrey Kashechkin was using Rotor's new ultralight S1 stem. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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This is not an Easton stem, but an Easton decal was applied to this Rotor S1 stem a few days into the Tour. Maybe someone at Easton was looking?

This is not an Easton stem, but an Easton decal was applied to this Rotor S1 stem a few days into the Tour. Maybe someone at Easton was looking? (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)
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The new Rotor S1 stem foregoes standard hardware for unique dual-threaded bolts that it claims distribute stress more evenly and help save weight.

The new Rotor S1 stem foregoes standard hardware for unique dual-threaded bolts that it claims distribute stress more evenly and help save weight. (Image credit: James Huang/Cyclingnews.com)

Race Tech: Tour de France, July 17, 2007

The uppermost tier of the sport is fueled in no small part by sponsorship funds, yet when it comes to bicycles and components, elite riders are clearly not limited solely to what they're supposed to be riding. Whether it be to satisfy rider preference or for a real (or just perceived) performance advantage, under-the-radar equipment changes are a relatively common aspect of racing and sponsors are apparently occasionally willing to look the other way if it means that they can still tie their name to a victory, even if it wasn't really on its product.

Swiss time trial framebuilder Andy Walser is perhaps one of the best known names within the ProTour, whose notable clients include Jan Ullrich, Levi Leipheimer, and Davide Rebellin among countless others. All of them sought the frame's supposedly superior aerodynamics courtesy of its uniquely narrow profile. Sadly, the vast majority of the viewing public has never heard of Walser as all of those frames were refinished in official sponsor colors to mask their true identity. Likewise, Lance Armstrong himself rather infamously used a repainted Litespeed Blade in his early days at US Postal Service.

Such complete frame substitutions are not nearly as common now (although not unheard of) as the vast majority of bicycle sponsors have been able to develop their own suitably high-tech machines. However, differences in personal preference and performance advantages still regularly come into play with componentry, particularly in wheels.

Easton is the official wheel sponsor of Alexander Vinokourov's Astana team, and its logos are bolded emblazoned on each of the rider's hoops. In this year's opening prologue, though, Astana riders flew through the streets of London on what were clearly Zipp carbon fiber rear disc wheels, complete with wind-cheating dimples and all.

Zipp also managed to find its way on to the riders of T-Mobile, most of whom spent the first week on the company's deep-section 606 tubulars (with nearly all of the decals removed). The team is officially sponsored by Shimano, and one T-Mobile mechanic was quick to point out that no 'official' relationship exists between the team and Zipp. He simply explained that, "We always try to use the best wheels, and Zipp is the best aerodynamic wheel for now. So we use them for the flat stages." So be it, but we can only imagine how Shimano feels about it.

T-Mobile has shown that it isn't terribly hesitant in making such substitutions if it means its riders can go faster. Some riders were also spotted using a new deeper version of HED's iconic three-spoke wheel for the opening prologue, and all of the team bikes we saw were rather surprisingly conspicuously fitted with red-anodized FSA MegaExo Ceramic bottom brackets mated to the team-issue Dura-Ace cranksets.

Tires were another prime target for clandestine swaps, and sponsors have become more skilled at removing original markings (or the tires were specially purchased label-free) and applying their own factory-look hot stamps. The entire Bouygues Telecom team, for example, ran tubulars for the prologue, and some riders chose them for the later stages as well. That is nothing unusual in and of itself, but for the fact that team tire sponsor Michelin doesn't currently offer a tubular tire in its catalog, particularly one with a classic file tread.

Likewise, Specialized-sponsored Quickstep-Innergetic has been running 'Specialized'-badged tubulars throughout the race so far, but it's obviously not a Mondo, the company's sole sew-up offering. A 'Made in Italy' logo suggests that they're probably made by Veloflex, which has proven to be a popular choice in the peloton.

Quickstep-Innergetic's Specialized frames weren't quite what they appeared, either. At last count, Tom Boonen has at least three specially finished S-Works Tarmac SL2 bikes at his disposal, and a few other teammates are on the new machine as well. While it's now well-known that Boonen's frames utilize a custom-molded front end with a longer top tube and extra carbon plies for additional stiffness, none of the rear ends of any of the SL2 frames used by the team are stock, either.

Production frames include a replaceable aluminum derailleur hanger as standard equipment, but the team bikes use one-piece dropouts with non-replaceable hangers. This obviously makes for more difficult (and sometimes impossible) repairs, but the solid dropout's increased rigidity probably yields snappier shift performance. As it turns out, Gerolsteiner's Tarmac SL2 frames are also similarly built.

Quickstep-Innergetic's standard Tarmac SL framesets aren't quite off-the-shelf units, either. The frames were truly stock offerings from what we could tell, but the team had replaced the Specialized forks with ones from Time (with Specialized decals applied over the plain black finish, of course). It all just goes to show that things are not always what they appear on the surface at the Tour de France. On to the mountain stages!

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