Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tour of California TT Tech

I took a trip to Solvang Friday to walk the pits, see how the pros that don't do the swim or run thing do up their bikes. The riders were glad to chill, do a paltry 15 miles of riding and stay in this sleepy Danish enclave for a day, especially after a long 7.5-hour slog in dumping rain down the coast the day before. While warming up, a fan quipped with Tom Boonen (warming up with reigning world road champ Paolo Bettini) that he brought the weather over from Belgium. Boonen replied "It's nicer over there!" The day of the TT threatened and unloaded a few drops before the race, but was for the most part dry. For the most part, the teams were ultra-organized, witness CSC's flotilla of P3s, at the ready.

I'll open up with a sneak peek: a look at Felt's new carbon aerobar. This has been under wraps for some time, but showed up in public on Felt's new TK1 track bike. It has a thin basebar with a rubber-cover grip, and an extension in-line with the basebar. But it's also going to be totally adjustable; small slots at the aerobar extension insert hint to a clamp point for the extensions, which is located at the basebar's underside. So the extension length with be length- and cant angle-adjustable. While The Commander (a.k.a. Jim Felt) was reluctantly ok with my showing the new bar, he had no details on a name for the bar, weight, price or a release date.

After watching plenty of racing from the pros in triathlon, it's eye-opening to see these guys, after several days of racing in their legs, just go. I had a chance to get into the Gerolsteiner team car to follow Swiss rider Oliver Zaugg. While the TT is not his thing, he still worked every bit of that course. I didn't see him stop pedaling. Not once, not even in the little switchback downhill late in the bike. Amid the yells of "Auf, auf, Oli!" from my driver (and the encouragement of Fro'd-Out-Elvis-Guy who's been in a heated battle with Antlered-Football-Helmet-Guy for most obnoxious roadside kook), the dude was working... and still finished four-plus minutes off Levi Leipheimer's pace. These guys drill it. Must be nice knowing you don't have a run off the bike.

Back in the pits, I had a chance to catch up with Team High Road team director Rolf Aldag, as well as team strength director Darcy Norman. Darcy who bases in Truckee, Calif., is responsible for getting athletes out of injury holes, including Conrad Stoltz. With Team High Road's mission for a clean program, the team seeked out the best ways to be competetive, and brought Darcy on board to get the riders to find strength from muscles they typically don't recruit, doing drills we should all be doing like core stability. He, and his team boss, Bob Stapleton are helping bring credibility back to cycling.

The trucks are a fun place. The athletes are warming up on their trainers, and are quite relaxed. One of the most relaxed: Bradley Wiggins, The British TT specialist and former world track pursuit world champion is reputedly the jokester on Team High Road with a bevy of celebrity imitations to his credit, did a humorous interview with a local youngster that had to be about 11 years old, that had High Road staff laughing. Above is Wiggins' TT bike—clearly not a production Giant. The aerobars, with its high pad placement, was a one-off product of a British Federation supplier I was told.

Aldag, a former T-Mobile rider, was one of the few roadies who segued to triathlon, having done Ironman Lanzarote and the Hawaii Ironman two years ago. We regaled over the press conference in Lanzarote, when a German journo asked if Rolf would know what to do if he flatted since he wouldn't have a support vehicle like he was accustomed to. He politely replied "yes, I know how to change my own tire.' I asked if he planned on another Ironman and he said "it's possible, maybe after this is winding down," refering to his managerial duties with the road team. Darcy and I reminded him he would have to face both of us (read: deal with us) in the same 35-39 age group if he ever wanted to go back to Kona. An empty threat as Darcy and I looked at him with stupid grins. He rolled his head back in mock laughter "ha ha, you guys are so funny! I qualified for Kona...assholes!' We all laughed.

I also got a chance to talk to Tom Zirbel of Team Bissell. He had this funky setup on his Easton TT bar, aboard his Pinarello FT1. I had to ask: what's with the slots on the extensions? Finger placement? His reply: his wind tunnel test showed he was more aero moving his arms in line with is big shoulders. With the binded-in extensions of the Easton bar, Zirbel's solution to widening the extensions was to clamp added extensions to the bar. So those bumps are just clamps for the new extensions. Guess it worked, as he went 8th in the TT.

Will Zipp ever stop? Like, ever? Not right now. The Slipstream squad was rocking one of the most desireable wheelsets on the market, the new Sub 9 disc. Yep, the one that came up with negative drag in wind tunnel testing last year. We also got a first look at the Sub 9 with...power! Zipp and PowerTap collaborated to build their PowerTap hub into the Zipp disc, relaying power data to the PowerTap Wireless 2.4 head. Here, David Millar ripped the one-two combo of the Sub 9 disc and the new 1080 deep front, earning a podium placing in the TT.

Zipp also showed off the integrated shift boss extensions. It was something Tim DeBoom thought enough of when we featured his he and his bike our our April Bike Buyers special issue, which will be out soon.

They also had on hand what I consider one of the best buys in aero wheelsets, in the Flashpoint series. They had on show the FP60s, but the new FP80s, a deeper version, with the gorgeous deep silver spokes, ought to be a hit.

We ran into Max Ralph, a common fixture at Ironman races and a staffer at Full Speed Ahead. We got a look at something that somehow missed our glance at Interbike last fall: this all-white bar-stem combo, the SLK shallow drop bar and the OS 115 stem. With all the white bikes out there now (y'know, white's the new black), this helps add that little extra bling to complete the look.

We got to check out the Gerolsteiner pits as their contingent the Specialized Transition. I chatted to team director and former rider Michael Rich, and asked of . "Well, the UCI has reduced the limit of the seat behind the bottom bracket from 5cm to 3cm. Some riders are moving it forward to the limit, some not." We'll have to check the ruling on whether that change is true. If so, that would be pretty progressive for the staunchly old-school UCI.

With the Transition's three post fore-aft options, the Transition is accommodating to all the riders, Rich said, with a few like Austrian Bernhard Kohl, who used a Look ErgoStem to get into that low, long position. It hurt my triceps seeing him so stretched, but hey, he's a pro and I'm standing on the sidelines, so who am I to say.

We also got into the Astana pits to get a look at the Trek TTX Equinox SSL—the same bike Chris Lieto ran in Kona. SRAM marketing manager Michael Zellmann said Astana brass wanted something that would help get their Trek TT bikes down in weight, and SRAM's new Red group was a big savings to that end, explaining how they ended up on one of the biggest teams in racing. The new groups looked stellar, and the test set I've been running is nothing short of spectacular; shifting as crisp and light as Campy, with unreal weight savings and killer looks. Paired with the amazing paint Astana paint job on the TTX (which Trek told me required several different masking color coats), it's a triathlete's dream bike—with the reversible post flipped back.

Some rigs sported a new prototype 54-tooth outer Time Trial chainring. Zellmann said the ring will become a stock offering later in the year. The one above is on Chris Horner's rig.

They also had race leader Levi Leipheimer's road rig out of the truck. Nothing like having a custom one-off national champ stars and stripes Madone. Zellmann says Levi's running the SRAM Force crankset with SRM in order to get the weight of the bike up to the UCI legal limit...yes, up to limit.

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