We were lucky enough to be invited behind the scenes in Rotterdam as the top teams prepared to duel it out on the city's streets in the Tour de France prologue and for the start of Stage 1. We got to see the mechanics making the final preparations to the RadioShack and Saxo Bank bikes. Interestingly considering the amounts of time and development money pumped in to producing the bikes by Trek and Specialized it was all very open, the two teams were parked up side by side working on their bikes. We'll be back with a report on some road bikes soon, but first let's see what they've got in store for the start…
TT bikes - Team RadioShack
Team RadioShack will be time trialling aboard Trek’s Speed Concept bikes which are, the manufacturers claim, the most aerodynamic bikes ever made – go here for the full lowdown. Last year it was just Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer on board this design but this year the whole team gets to play.
The Speed Concept bikes feature a Kammtail Virtual Foil (KVF) tube profile, which is essentially a 5:1 airfoil shape with the rear edge cut off. This brings it within UCI regulations and, Trek claim, improves the aerodynamics in crosswinds.
The Speed Concept bikes feature a front brake that’s integrated into the front fork to the extent that it’s hardly visible, and a rear brake positioned just behind the bottom bracket – again, sheltered out of the wind so it can hardly be seen.
While we’re on the subject of brakes, Alex Wassman of SRAM made some interesting comments about possible future developments. Could the next direction be towards a hydraulic system? Still operating on the rim, perhaps, but with the hoses running internally – it makes sense especially given that as much gubbins is run internally as possible now. He wasn't giving any more away on that one but we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see innovation in this area pretty soon.
The Speed Concept bikes has internal cable routing and a DuoTrap computer sensor built into the chainstay for measuring speed and cadence. They also have bolt holes on the top tube for attaching a Speed Box, which the RadioShack boys have taped over.
Team RadioShack use Zipp’s VukaAero bars up front on their time trial bikes along with Zipp RZR bar end shifters. These were developed with SRAM and carry SRAM logos, except for Lance Armstrong’s which feature an outline of Texas and a Lone Star.
Like SRAM’s own R2C (Return to Centre) shifters, they automatically come back to the mid-point after every gear change. This makes life a touch easier – the levers always rest in the same position no matter what gear you’re in – and improve aerodynamics.
Zipp claim their rounded shifter shape slips through the air slightly easier than a flat-paddle design, and riders can hold on to the levers more comfortably between shifts. Rather than having the shifters bolted to an assembly that then plugs into the aero extension, the shifters bolt directly onto the extension itself. This saves the weight of the expansion bolts inside the extension (about 80g) and moves the levers 30mm closer to the stem so the rider doesn't have to reach forward, spoiling his aero position, if only momentarily, to change gear, in a time trial all those tiny savings do add up.
The groupset is all stock SRAM Red kit that you can buy yourself if you have the wedge, with Armstrong opting for a 53T big ring and Leipheimer going for a 55T.
TT bikes – Team Saxo Bank
Team Saxo Bank will be time trialling aboard Specialized Shivs, the design that came out last year from the company’s Project Black pro equipment development division.
Fabian Cancellara powered one to victory in the first stage of last year’s Tour de France and also in the time trial World Championships, although the design has been modified to bring it within the UCI's latest interpretation of its own regulations. The Shiv 3, the current incarnation, no longer has a nose cone so the front brake is mounted to the fork, and the small wings that were on the down tube behind the fork have had to be eliminated too. As Specialized’s global PR spokesman Nic Sims points out, this means the version retaining all these features that you can buy in the shops is actually more aero than the model the pros ride.
Like Trek, Specialized claim that the tubing is designed for the maximum advantage in crosswinds, the rear brake is tucked away underneath the bottom bracket, and the cabling runs internally. The bottom bracket and rear stays are also very narrow to slip through the wind, only kinking out at the last moment.
Like RadioShack, Saxo Bank use SRAM Red groupset components although the wheels are from Zipp rather than Trek’s in-house Bontrager brand. It looks like Cancellara will be going with 1008s front and rear in the Tour de France prologue in Rotterdam; that’s certainly how the mechanics were setting the bike up.
It’s interesting to note the difference between the front end of Cancellara’s bike compared to that of team-mate Jens Voigt. Voigt is only about an inch taller but whereas his Specialized cockpit is raised up massively with a zillion spacers, the Swiss rider’s comes out level with the top tube… which is probably one of the reasons why he smokes everyone else against the clock on a regular basis. Andy and Frank Schleck, who are a similar height, have low positions too.
Cancellara uses a Prologo Nago Evo TTR saddle with ‘Spartacus’, his nickname, across the centre along with the Olympic rings – he’s Olympic TT champ. All of his bikes have a little metal-effect badge on the top tube featuring the year in Roman numerals MMX along with two dice that add up to seven, his lucky number.
Unusually, Cancellara has a little carbon faring over his rear mech that none of his team-mates use and his outer ring is 54T – large, but not crazy. Though of course it can't be a faring because those aren't allowed, so it obviously has some vital mechanical or safety role to play… maybe it's to keep stray twigs out? Despite reports to the contrary over recent weeks, we’re pretty confident that there’s no mechanical assistance going on in that bottom bracket shell, and we saw no hamsters being put through their paces on their wheels by team management. We just think Cancellara’s quite good on a bicycle.
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over the past 20 years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for seven years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a youthful 45-year-old Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.