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The Tour de France is the biggest annual sporting event on the planet and so it’s no surprise that new bikes and cycling-related technology often make their first appearance at the race. CyclingTips reporter Dave Everett has been roaming the pits in the opening days of the Tour looking for new and interesting bits of kit and here’s what he’s found so far.
Sportful drinks vest
One of the most important jobs for a domestique during a three-week race is to keep their team leader and teammates well watered. You will have no doubt seen images of riders loading up their jerseys with innumerable bidons, stuffing them down their backs and in to pockets.
This year’s Tour has seen Sportful launch a new vest that is able to carry multiple bottles. For the casual fan they may see it as a solution to a problem that didn’t need fixing; to a man like Bjarne Riis who is renowned for looking at every conceivable detail of performance, the vest is a solution to a common problem.
The Tinkoff-Saxo team originally approached their clothing sponsor Sportful about the idea. Daniel Loots is Sportful’s brand manager and he informed me that the main reasons behind the jacket are saving time and helping with safety when collecting bottles.
Grabbing hold of a car at anything from 45-60km/h and cramming bottles in to every space available can be dangerous; the distribution of bottles can be dangerous too. With the jacket it’s a simple case of slipping the pre-prepared jacket on and your teammates grabbing one of the fresh bottles when you roll past. Obvious side benefits include increased hygiene levels — no grimy sweat is smeared over the bottles when you use the vest.
The BodyFit jerseys the team now wears are also so aerodynamically cut and close fitting that stuffing them full of bidons stretches the jerseys out of shape, ruining the fit and performance of the kit.
The jacket carries seven bottles and with two extra on the bike it allows a rider to comfortably carry enough water for each of the nine riders on the team.
Currently the jackets are very limited as Riis only approached Sportful a few weeks back. Riders also currently have to return the jacket to the team car but Riis hopes that in the future it can be tossed aside like a musette.
Specialized Turbo tyres
Many of the teams in the pro peloton work closely with tyre manufactures, aiming to develop products that will do all the jobs to aid performance and also limit punctures. The guys at Specialized have been working with the various incarnations of Omega Pharma-QuickStep over the past four years to develop tyres, the latest being the Turbo tyre.
The Specialized Turbo has been developed for the fastest of days, the days when you need to limit rolling resistance even more than usual. According to the Specialized representative these would be highly suited to time trial stages and this is exactly where they’ve been tested by a certain German powerhouse.
Available to the general consumer on July 15 when they get the official launch, these tyres have already seen action this season when Tony Martin ran them during the recent Tour de Suisse. He will also use them during the only time trial in this year’s Tour de France, on stage 20.
The cotton compound casing is 320 TPI (threads per inch) — due to the use of cotton as a casing for the tyre this actually makes the tyre a little heavier than the standard S-Works 24mm tyre which uses a synthetic material. A standard 24mm S-Works tyre tips the scale at 200g; the new Turbo is an extra 20 grams. This is the cost you have to pay for a more supple and lower rolling-resistance tyre.
The new Turbo uses the same duel compound and tyre tread pattern as the S-Works tyre. They have been tested on a rolling drum which apparently gives a good solid indication of real-world performance. The results show that with a good quality latex tube the wattage needed to keep the tyres rotating is severely cut down on. Riders aren’t the only people on the team that help with development — Rolf Aldag also has a huge amount of input in the development of new products too.
The Astana team seemingly came prepared to take the overall race lead. Every Astana bike, bar the singular McLaren Tarmac as used by Jakob Fuglsang, has a huge “#wew1n” sticker covering the Specialized name on the downtube.
Also on Vincenzo Nibali’s Shark-adorned frame sat a singular yellow jersey decal on the top tube with a number 1 embossed on it. Clearly the team are ready to add more with further stage victories — are they aiming to emulate the Second World War spit fighter pilots who numbered their “kills”?
Earpieces are part and parcel of the pro peloton now and having good clarity of sound is clearly a benefit. For the guys on Tinkoff-Saxo it looks like only the best will do — getting up close to Nicolas Roche I noticed that the earpieces for the team are from high-end audio manufacturer Bang and Olufsen.
And finally, you may think that riders leave all the work of sorting their bikes out to the mechanics, but a trip around the team hotels on Friday afternoon saw many riders with tools in hand, tinkering with their own bikes. Clearly several are quite partial to making sure everything is set up just as they like it.
A mechanic on one of the bigger teams even mentioned that when they have a tricky rider on the team who is a bit too demanding, yet has little idea on bike set up, they’ll either wait for the rider to return and look as though they’ve just finished working on the bike, or move the tape that shows the rider’s saddle height without actually adjusting the saddle. It’s all just a placebo effect.