Did the latest incarnation of the 'winningest bike ever' - the Trek Madone - make an unheralded debut last weekend, piloted to victory in the Strade Bianchi by Fabian Cancellara for Radioshack Nissan Trek? We think it did and judging by the pics on Italian website www.ciclonline this bike is so different that it won't be the only new Madone coming our way this year.
There has never been an equivalent of the Specialized Roubaix or the Cannondale Synapse in the Trek range… until now it would seem. In the past when pressed on why that was Trek executives always said, with some justification, that the Madone was a comfortable all-round bike in its own right so there was no need for a feather bed version. When pressed though, some Trek types will admit that latterly the most comfortable Madones were those at the very top of the tree - which suggests there's a gap at the mid-point of Trek's range (which happily coincides with where a lot of bike riders budgets are) for something performance-oriented and comfortable… a bit like a Specialized Roubaix, but different. If this bike does what the pictures we've seen suggest this IS different.
Starting at the front, there's definitely a hint more rake to the fork on the bike Cancellara rode at the weekend than on a 6.9SSL (see pic below) and that fork looks a touch more slender, too. Check out also those almost reversed dropouts - reminiscent of an old fashioned steel fork. That lot should add up to a lot more fore aft bump absorbing movement than the current E2 Madone fork. Trek make great play of the strength-to-weight ratio of their military grade, "only available in NATO countries", only available to Trek, 700 Series OCLV carbon so we're guessing any extra fore-aft cush conferred is not at the expense of lateral stiffness and the ability to track over bumpy roads - Spartacus didn't seem to be have any trouble at the Strade Bianchi that's for sure.
Standard team issue Radioshack Nissan Trek Madone 6.9SSL frameset
My eyes could well be deceiving me, cos not everyone in these parts is convinced but the headtube looks different too, not so much the profile - although we wouldn't be surprised if the taper has gone in a bit from 1 1/2 back to an inch and a quarter (at least one manufacturers has moved back to a slightly narrower bottom race citing better handling characteristics as the reason). Where the head tube does appear to differ from the 6.9SSL is that it is deeper front to back - which might help compensate for a narrower bottom race - it should certainly add strength and stiffness. Oh yes, and the downtube cable entry port has moved up on to the headtube - so both front and rear mech cables appear to enter the top tube at the same point on the left hand side. The downtube profile on this bike looks to be a slightly more angular affair rather than more organic profile on the 6.9SSL. The top tube also looks to be slightly wider, but less deep.
However it's at the back that where all the real the action is, the already skinny seat stays look to have become skinnier still (almost invisible in the Radioshack Nissan Trek paintjob) and the seat tube junction is a more fluid affair. Gone it would seem is what I liked to think of (mainly because I'm a stirrer) as the last trace of the Trek designer's homage to the Orbea Orca seat clamp and in it's place something very different indeed.
Take a gander at that seat tube in the Cicleonline gallery. That seat tube looks like it moves. Check out the pic, second row on the right hand side of the Cicleonline gallery - the top tube appears to wrap around the seatpost at this point - while that rubber band suggests either it's there to offer some form of damping or simply to stop the seat tube bashing the top tube where the two intersect. You'd suspect that there must be something going on at the bottom bracket to possibly add in some extra strength - it certainly looks a burly affair, but the pics don't really tell us any more. Check out the chainstays though - they are different in profile from the 6.9SSL with a square section as they go back to meet the dropouts - that's very much the flavour of the month with everyone from Boardman to Cervelo and suggests that whatever fore/aft flex is built in there isn't going to be any problem when it comes to delivering power to the back wheel as effectively as possible. Let's face it, if there was Cancellara wouldn't have been riding it and he did pretty well to blowing apart the field to win in style
Which brings us to the next question, why a new Madone now if it isn't aimed at comfort over cobbles? Trek have enjoyed a lot of success over the last decade with their various incarnations of the Madone - which pedants might argue should be called the winningest bike name ever - either way every version bar one (and that bagged the other two Grand Tours) has been ridden to a Tour de France victory and a lot more - even if the latest version; the 6.9SSL took it courtesy of a dodgy steak and the judges at CAS.
After a three year lull preceded by bringing out new versions of the Madone in successive years - we're at the point in the Trek product cycle when the latest incarnation of their world-beating bike is due, except of course it should be in July. Usually Trek launch the new Madone in the run up to the Tour de France - this time there are strong rumours that Trek are already heavily into launch mode with bike tech journos primed to accept an invite to a launch hyped to be somewhere in the low countries in the next few weeks… where there are some quite big races coming up apparently.
The fact that Trek had a new bike tearing it up on the Strade Bianchi last weekend and no doubt soon to be unleashed on the cobbles of Flanders and Roubaix says to us that this is that this is a whole new branch of the Madone family rather than a new range topping road bike; the Madone 6 Series Strade perhaps (if you're still looking for a name chaps, you can have that one on us). It's been a long time coming but you have to hand it to the outfit from Madison, Wisconsin; if this new bike works the way we think it does this looks like a very interesting machine, indeed. A performance bike for rough roads - should do well in these parts then - and in true Madone tradition it's off to a winning start too.
Finally, a couple of other things to ponder: Trek traditionally like to have their bikes ready in the shops at the moment they unleash their media blitz - quite often too they'll have quietly stuck the new machine in some big races beforehand as well - for a Tour launch that'll usually be the Tour de Suisse or the Dauphinee. So Spartacus on the Madone 7 (that's what we're calling it just for practice) in the Strade Bianchi would certainly fit the MO. We're guessing there some big container shipments out on the water right now. And the second point of ponderation? Where's that mystery bike's UCI sticker - presumably it has passed the UCI certification process even it it doesn't appear on the latest update from the blazers of Lausanne published on the 14th of February - we'll keep an eye out for it on the list this month.
All of which suggests that if Trek are launching a new bike now aimed at the cobbles, there's still a place to fill in their production roster for a range topping race machine and that come Tour de France time Trek we can expect the launch of a new Madone Seven Series road bike. Nice.
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.