The Tour de France is only behind the Olympics and World Cup soccer in the terms of eyeballs watching. So the Tour has become a showcase for sponsors to unveil new products. All the big teams are either on new bikes, aero clothing, or new components and the Astana team is no different.
Behind the scenes Trek was working on a new lighter, stiffer version of the Madone. And just prior to the Tour, Trek announced the new version of the Madone – the 6.0 series. A professional rider always wants a lighter and stiffer frame. Trek delivered. By redesigning the seat mast, the fork and eliminating the alloy bottom bracket cups, along with a new process for joining tubes and the method of creating the tubes, has eliminated 150 grams from the frame module. With almost a third of a pound shaved off it can be a concern that the frame becomes flexible. But as we have seen with Contador’s explosive attack on stage 7 that was definitely not the case. He was cranking so hard he needed to freewheel around the uphill switchback, not the sign of a power-wasting flexible frame. But it is important to see empirical data to back up the feelings from the riders that the new frames were stiffer. Trek claims that because of the asymmetrical design of the steerer tube the fork is 30% stiffer yet 15% more compliant over the 2009 version of the fork. The seatmast has been simplified with a one-bolt clamping mechanism as well as a new shape design which shaved off 30 grams. While the Madone road bike got a redesign, the time trial bike got revamped. This was years in the making and necessary to stay competitive from a marketing standpoint. The time trial has become a marquee event and you need to show that your product and the your technology is the fastest available. Trek’s TTX is designed by a car buff and used vehicle aerodynamics as a template to create a frame that is slippery in the wind. While UCI has restricted aerodynamics to a 3:1 ratio, the TTX is an 8:1 ratio. The tubes are pointed and then the tail is abruptly cut off, or truncated, to produce what the auto industry calls the Kamm effect. With all the design changes Trek states that they removed 200 grams and made the frame 17% laterally stiffer than the previous TTX frame.
Trek wasn’t the only one tweaking their products for the Tour. SRAM is the component supplier for Astana and while their Red road groupo didn’t have any mechanical changes it did have cosmetic alterations. The Red groupo normally has a slash of red on the levers, but for Armstrong and for any SRAM sponsored riders that wore the yellow jersey, the lucky rider had the opportunity to add a bit of yellow “flair” to their machine. Yellow wasn’t the only color that SRAM accented their groupo with. White, in honor of Alberto Contador, was also a color accent to honor how he had won the white jersey as best U-25 rider in the 2007 Tour. And with millions of people watching on televisions around the world, it’s important to let people know what group your sponsored rider is using. Adding a splash of color attracts that desired attention. According to SRAM’s marketing director, Michael Zellman, the cosmetic changes required anywhere from 40 to 50 man-hours to complete. With that much effort being spent, there needs to be a pay-off in regards to attention garnered. While the road group didn’t get any mechanical or structural changes, the R2C time trial bar-end shifters were modified with the input of Armstrong. In fact the prototype shifters called the Bullet had the state of Texas outlined on the shifter. The R2C lever was part of SRAM’s “Black Box” project and had been on the drawing board for months. While mechanically there were no changes, SRAM did machine 25 grams off of the time trial rings because, as we all know, a lighter bike is a faster bike.
Not to be out done Giro has come out with a brand new helmet called the Prolight for all their sponsored riders including the Astana boys. Tipping the scales at a mere 175 grams Giro didn’t compromise when it comes to safety or ventilation. The Prolight has 25 Windtunnel vents which Giro states blows air across the head keeping the rider cool – very important for those upcoming Alp stages. Ventilation is an important feature, however safety still needs to be paramount when it comes to helmet design. By using In-Mold construction the helmet’s polycarbonate shell is fused with the EPS liner making the shell a structural part of the helmet. This creates an ‘exoskeleton’ that allows the helmet to be lighter, more durable, and better ventilated than traditional designs.
While the athletes have been training all this season to be on peak form for the Tour de France, so has equipment sponsors. From lighter weight and stiffer frames, color coordinated groupos, and better ventilated helmets, Astana has some of the finest equipment available, which was all displayed in winning fashion!
By Neil Browne, ROAD Magazine