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Tour tech: Wheels and gadgets from the world's best

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Though there are no identifiying labels there's little mistaking what brand of rim Quick Step is using for these wheels.

Though there are no identifiying labels there's little mistaking what brand of rim Quick Step is using for these wheels. (Image credit: James Huang)
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The Garmin Edge 705 can accept MicroSD cards preloaded with city street map information.

The Garmin Edge 705 can accept MicroSD cards preloaded with city street map information. (Image credit: James Huang)
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This screen tells riders which direction they're traveling in as well as the distance to the next turn or waypoint.

This screen tells riders which direction they're traveling in as well as the distance to the next turn or waypoint. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Which way back to the team hotel?

Which way back to the team hotel? (Image credit: James Huang)
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The main screen can be configured to show up to eight data fields…

The main screen can be configured to show up to eight data fields… (Image credit: James Huang)
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Garmin-Slipstream is using Garmin Edge 705 GPS-enabled computers to help analyse critical courses.

Garmin-Slipstream is using Garmin Edge 705 GPS-enabled computers to help analyse critical courses. (Image credit: James Huang)
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If the stage route is preloaded into the computer, the riders can also get a more precise overview of gradient changes than what the official course guidelines provide.

If the stage route is preloaded into the computer, the riders can also get a more precise overview of gradient changes than what the official course guidelines provide. (Image credit: James Huang)
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…or just the bare essentials as needed.

…or just the bare essentials as needed. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Garmin's new Forerunner 310XT offers much of the functionality of the full-blown Edge 705 but in a smaller form factor better suited for multiple sports.

Garmin's new Forerunner 310XT offers much of the functionality of the full-blown Edge 705 but in a smaller form factor better suited for multiple sports. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Which sport shall I do today? The Garmin Edge 310XT can swap between several different choices.

Which sport shall I do today? The Garmin Edge 310XT can swap between several different choices. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Garmin-Slipstream team physiologist Allen Lim makes sure each Edge 705 computer is ready to go for the day.

Garmin-Slipstream team physiologist Allen Lim makes sure each Edge 705 computer is ready to go for the day. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Garmin-Slipstream officials are understandably quiet on the subject but apparently each one of these electronics-laden boxes is receiving data from the Powertap rear hubs and then sending it along to the team cars. For what exact purpose, though, we're not sure.

Garmin-Slipstream officials are understandably quiet on the subject but apparently each one of these electronics-laden boxes is receiving data from the Powertap rear hubs and then sending it along to the team cars. For what exact purpose, though, we're not sure. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Hmm, what are these little yellow boxes in the Garmin-Slipstream team area?

Hmm, what are these little yellow boxes in the Garmin-Slipstream team area? (Image credit: James Huang)
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Liquigas is using a range of Mavic wheels in this year's Tour de France.

Liquigas is using a range of Mavic wheels in this year's Tour de France. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Liquigas' Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLR wheels use a team-only tubular rim. The production version is only available as a clincher.

Liquigas' Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLR wheels use a team-only tubular rim. The production version is only available as a clincher. (Image credit: James Huang)
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On wet days, Liquigas prefers the more predictable braking behaviour of the aluminum-rimmed Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLR - but not the one consumers can buy.

On wet days, Liquigas prefers the more predictable braking behaviour of the aluminum-rimmed Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLR - but not the one consumers can buy. (Image credit: James Huang)
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Quick Step built its own front wheels for the time trials using a Specialized Roval Fusee Star hub and a Zipp rim.

Quick Step built its own front wheels for the time trials using a Specialized Roval Fusee Star hub and a Zipp rim. (Image credit: James Huang)
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The Fusee Star hub's unique flange configuration is heavy but supposedly more aerodynamic than a standard setup owing to its exceptionally tall and narrow flange spacing.

The Fusee Star hub's unique flange configuration is heavy but supposedly more aerodynamic than a standard setup owing to its exceptionally tall and narrow flange spacing. (Image credit: James Huang)

More team-only stuff from Mavic

Liquigas has been using a wide range of Mavic wheels during this year's Tour de France, from the light-and-speedy Cosmic Carbone Ultimate to the new Cosmic Carbone SLR... but not the one that's currently on store shelves.

Mavic only offers its versatile Cosmic Carbon SLR to consumers in a clincher format but Liquigas is riding special tubular versions. The team's wheels still use the production version's aluminum rim and carbon cap construction but the simpler tubular format likely sheds a couple of hundred grams from each pair right at the outer edges where it has the most impact, while also retaining the aluminum surface's superior wet braking performance.

Unfortunately, though, consumers won't be able to get their own Cosmic Carbone SLR tubulars any time soon. "Right now that is a team-only thing," said Mavic US marketing director Sean Sullivan. "No plans for the range [to be released] at this time."

A closer look at Quick Step's custom aero front wheels

The unmarked front wheels on Quick Step's time trial bikes aren't some new Specialized Roval model as some have speculated. Rather, they're simply a custom built hybrid using the company's Fusee Star hub design and Zipp's proven dimpled aero tubular carbon rim.

Though the Fusee Star front hub hasn't gained much favour within the team for road stages given its hefty weight and somewhat harsh ride quality, its aero benefits make it an easy pick for time trials. According to Specialized, the extra-narrow flange spacing reduces frontal area relative to a more conventionally spaced hub, the paper-thin shape is more effective at cutting through the air, and the tall flanges yield shorter spokes that churn less air.

As with the Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLRs used by Liquigas, though, these also aren't readily available to the public but skilled consumers with the right resources could certainly build one on their own without too much trouble.

Garmin-Slipstream's electronic gadgetry

Not surprisingly, all Garmin-Slipstream team bikes are fitted with the navigation giant's top-end Edge 705 computer for all stages and whether training or racing. In addition to the usual computer functions offered by conventional cycle computers (speed, distance, time, etc), though, the Edge 705's enhanced GPS capabilities also provide the riders with additional information that can help them get through the day.

For example, stage four's team time trial course was unusually technical with very narrow roads and a multitude of tight corners through the city centre. Normally teams will both drive and ride the course beforehand to gather information but in this case, Garmin-Slipstream riders (and others that had recorded the route using GPS) could also download the recorded files afterwards and then further evaluate the route for critical areas or danger zones.

"This way they're able to drive it, ride it, and completely analyse it using Garmin Connect satellite imagery," said Garmin senior media relations specialist Jake Jacobson. "Traditional thinking says that you pre-ride the course and you learn from the ride itself but then you can also go in and microanalyse it and scan along the entire course and ask yourself, what could we do better, what could we do smarter, every step of the way."

Garmin-Slipstream finished second that day, just 18 seconds behind Astana and though it only had five riders together at the end to stop the clock, each team member still came through unscathed on the otherwise crash-riddled stage.

Garmin-Slipstream also uses its Edge 705 computers to display and record wattage information from its Powertap rear hubs but unbeknownst to many, each power meter is also sending data to an innocuous looking little yellow box either mounted beneath the saddle or on the back of the rider's helmet. They're not just storing the data for later analysis though... the Edge 705 already does that on its own.

Instead, it's apparently some sort of real-time telemetry system that transmits each rider's wattage information back to the team cars. Exactly how that information is used during a stage, however, isn't exactly clear. Quite understandably, Garmin-Slipstream officials haven't been terribly eager to discuss the system's details with us.