As the Giro d'Italia enters its fifth day, today's pan-flat stage from Modena to Cattolica presents the third opportunity for sprinters to show their cards in what is shaping up to be a hard-fought battle for the maglia ciclamino.
Among the fast men hoping to make a mark on the race is Lotto Soudal's Caleb Ewan. Throughout the race, Ewan will be piloting his team-issue Ridley Noah Fast aero road bike, which comes decked out in Campagnolo componentry. However, there is something odd in terms of the Campagnolo groupset fitted to the Australian's bike.
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Instead of running the latest and greatest Super Record EPS 12-speed groupset, Ewan's bike is fitted with the long-superseded 11-speed version of the same groupset.
Wondering why this might be, Cyclingnews reached out to Lotto Soudal for some answers, and according to the team, it comes down to the availability of gearing.
"In [the] Giro, just Caleb Ewan will use 11-speed," explained the team's press officer, Philippe Maartens, before explaining why. "He likes to keep his 27 sprocket, which is not present in the 12-speed groupset".
Fact-checking this for a sense of clarity, we found that Campagnolo's 12-speed Super Record comes with a choice of three cassettes: 11-29, 11-32 or 11-34. Throughout each of those, Maartens' claim was correct, none offer the 27 tooth sprocket that Ewan apparently required.
How close can 12-speed get?
Two cassettes within the 12-speed Super Record range can come within a single tooth. The 11-29 offers the following sprocket range: 11-12-13-14-15-16-17-19-21-23-26-29, while the 11-32 offers 11-12-13-14-15-16-17-19-22-25-28-32. Looking down through Campagnolo's range, Record uses the same cassette as Super Record, and the Chorus 12-speed cassettes come with the same sprocket sizes.
Assuming Ewan is currently running a 53/39 with his 11-speed groupset, when pairing that with the 27t sprocket the resulting gear inches are 37.87 and 51.55 respectively. 37.87 can be replicated with a 36t chainring and a 25t sprocket out back. A 51.55 gear inch can be replicated by pairing a 55T chainring with a 28T sprocket. Therefore, if switching to 12-speed, he could theoretically achieve those exact same ratios with a 55/36 chainset paired with an 11-30 cassette. But of course, that would leave a gap of 19 teeth between the chainring sizes, which would likely cause poor shifting up front, and inevitably, a dropped chain.
It's not uncommon for riders to be unhappy with the kit and components supplied by their sponsors. However, this is usually down to comfort, and often applies to a rider's shoes and saddles, but has also applied to clothing, such as riders wearing the innovative Castelli Gabba rain jersey soon after its launch. For the most part, riders are forced to spend out of their own pocket to buy - and then modify - their preferred product. Coincidentally, Ewan is one of many riders in the pro peloton wearing S-Works 7 road shoes with the Specialized logo removed. In some scenarios, such as the case of Sam Bennett's Specialized S-Works shoes, sponsors will actively work with the rider to subtly modify their product so that the rider is happy and willing to use it, rather than forcing them to shop elsewhere.
Ewan's case is yet another example of the common misalignment between a rider's requirements and a sponsor's ability to meet them. However, it's the first time we've heard of a rider's requirement being a specific cassette sprocket size.
Eagle-eyed viewers may have also spotted that all eight of Lotto Soudal's riders were using the 11-speed groupset during Saturday's time trial. The reason for this is more cut and dry and comes down to the availability of the TT groupset.
Of course, Cyclingnews isn't privy to any of the behind-closed-doors conversations that have taken place between Lotto Soudal and Campagnolo, so the full picture will never be public, but it seems as though in this instance, since the team already had stock anyway, they collectively took the decision that it would be preferable for Ewan to use the older 11-speed groupset, instead of manufacturing a pro-only cassette for the Australian.
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