Bennett shoes
George Bennett’s customized Shimano shoes.

We continue our look at some of the tech that’s on display in the opening round of the WorldTour of 2020. Much of the discussion in the pits relates to a bigger push for the professionals to use disc brakes – by both bike brands and all three groupset suppliers.

Of course, the brand representatives are saying how great the switch will be for all involved, but it’s difficult to be convinced that everyone is in favor of the move to a disc-only arrangement in 2020.

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During the opening stage on Tuesday, the defending Tour Down Under champion, Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott), was ready to set his original race bike aside and request a replacement Scott. This transaction took place after he secured first-place points (and the associated time bonus) of an intermediate sprint after 15km — and he finished the stage on last year’s Scott Foil. Why? No formal response was given but there was a suggestion from someone in the team that even the smallest hint of sound emanating from the rotor is enough to prompt riders to panic a little. And, if it’s possible, they aren’t shy about asking for an alternative bike.

Interestingly, VeloNews overheard one of the commissaires utter a reference to a sequence of bike swaps during stage one. “There were about five riders with a number-one at the end of their race number who swapped bikes,” said the UCI official.

His reference to the ‘dossard’ relates to the fact that each of these bike changes were by the designated leaders of the riders’ respective teams.
When asked to name all five teams, he politely declined stating that he was reminded prior to the race that UCI commissaires are not meant to talk with the media.

There was also a line from a SRAM marketing manager who suggested that disc brakes, combined with eTap wireless shifting, should result in less time invested on maintaining bikes. Some riders, who asked not to be named, scoffed at that suggestion, laughing about the number of times they had to get their hydro systems serviced in 2019.

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It’s a minor detail but it does lift the aesthetics a little. Jumbo-Visma mechanics have applied a little celeste-colored kinesiology tape over the sensors issued by race organizers that are used to ensure accurate timing and results. While the common approach is to fasten the small red devices to the fork of a bike with electrical tape, it spoils the look a little. (And, for the pedants, yes, it would also interrupt airflow – to an extent.)
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VeloNews offered a Jumbo-Visma mechanic a little bit of praise for the neat touch, telling him, “It looks very tidy – nice work.” He replied with raised eyebrows and a shake of the head. “Ah, it’s not as good as last year. We had celeste fork blades in 2019 but the color change – with black at the base – means that it’s not exactly how I’d like it to be.”
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“This year we are using tubeless technology with all wheels,” Alessandro Mazzi, a mechanic with UAE Team Emirates explained before the TDU began. “We have three profiles of wheels: 33 which we normally use for climbers, and we have the Bora 45 for the stages with a little climb and when a sprint is expected, and 60 for really fast days – and for [sprinters] Gaviria, Kristoff and, at the Tour Down Under, Jasper Philipsen. “The tubeless wheels are popular with the riders because they are very fast. And on the downhills they are safe – safe because the pressure is 94psi in the back and 87 psi in the front.
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“When you have a rainy day, it’s safer and that makes the riders happy.” VeloNews surveyed other teams and it seems UAE is the only squad willing to make this commitment to tubeless wheels even if, as Mazzi claims, all tire companies and wheel manufacturers have significantly improved their tubeless range in recent years. “The technology flows on from MTB. It is new for road but it’s old for MTB, said Mazzi. “I like it because, for a mechanic, it’s easy. It’s easy to work with – and fast too. I can change the tires in five minutes and the bikes are ready. For me, it’s better because it’s safe for riders. And for rolling, it’s perfect. It’s very fast. I think it’s the future.”
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In recent years it has become more and more common to see riders on their smart trainers before (or after) races. But it wasn’t so long ago that teams scoffed at Sky for doing so. Oh, how times change when success is achieved by thinking outside the square. For the Tour Down Under, however, there is already a hefty excess luggage fee for most teams as they must fly huge swathes of equipment to Australia at the beginning of the season. (And so the mechanics – and team financiers – must be pleased there’s never been a need for time trial bikes as well.) If smart trainers were also required, the weight quickly adds up. That said, we did see Simon Yates of Mitchelton-Scott on a Tacx Neo in Unley before the start of stage three. He had crashed near the end of stage two and took a hit to his left knee. And there was a little doubt about how he might manage on the tough terrain of the TDU’s third stage, including the steep climb to the finish on Paracombe Road. He warmed up. He kept to himself. He didn’t take questions from the media. He remained focussed. And he had a fantastic race! He finished third in the stage, behind Richie Porte and Rob Power. And Yates is now ranked fourth on GC, just 11 seconds behind the Tasmanian who won atop the Paracombe climb.
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“These aren’t exactly new,” said Jumbo-Visma’s charismatic Kiwi, George Bennett, when asked about his customized Shimano shoes. “But that doesn’t mean I’m sick of them. I’m really quite honored that they have done this for me. They look great, huh?”
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The additional graphics don’t enhance performance but when a product supplier goes out of its way to create something unique for a rider, it does raise their spirits, make them feel a little special and, of course, prompt some social media shares.
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Darryl Impey shows off his Scott Addict, though he finished stage one on last year’s Scott Foil, . Photo: Rob Arnold
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The stories about Adam Hansen’s willingness to experiment with cycling equipment are well told. Many who follow the sport know about his personalized shoes (made by himself and available – at a considerable price – through his own ‘Hanseeno’ brand) with Kevlar thread rather than bolts “to save around 45g for a pair of shoes,” he says. He has a curious cleat position, far further back than most riders.
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And he has a long, low stem and a forward leaning seatpost.
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You may know that he has also coded the software used by his Lotto Soudal team (and sold to other pro cycling outfits) that allows everyone to communicate with each other without fuss. What you may not know is that is also trying to change the way riders and sports directors communicate during races. “We’re now trying to make our radios lighter,” he told VeloNews during the Tour Down Under. “I actually don’t have it here but I have a lighter radio in Europe. I dismantled our team’s radio and I made a lighter case and made it thinner, so that saved about 45 grams or something. I’ve been trying to work out a way that I can have the radio embedded inside the bike and then just have a BlueTooth earpiece, that’d be ideal.”
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Is that all for his experimentation with product? Absolutely not! “I’m trying to make a head unit, or a more aerodynamic mount, for my cycle computer,” he continued. “Instead of it being so exposed, I’d like it a bit more flush with the handlebars. I should have something like that finished, hopefully, in March.” Stay tuned.
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Hansen is also known for making his own super lightweight racing shoes.
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One of the star riders on the start list of the TDU in 2020 is former Tour de France runner-up Romain Bardet. The Frenchman is keeping a relatively low profile in Australia and his bike – although neat, light, and with a few little flourishes – looks rather tame in comparison with other rigs that boast considerably more new-tech.
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An Eddy Merckx frame with Shimano Di2 gears and rim brakes, is built with Rotor cranks and a contemporary Deda handlebar/stem combo.
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Unlike other rim brake stalwarts (ie. Team Ineos and Jumbo-Visma), however, the French team and Belgian bike brand don’t even use the direct-mount callipers. Yep, Bardet is old-school. Single bolt brakes for him.
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But, hang on, what’s that on his Look Kéo pedals? Yep, it’s a bit of Velcro… stuck on so that… ah, his shoe doesn’t rattle when he’s clipped in? Could that be it? Not sure. He hasn’t had much to say while he’s in Australia, preferring to keep to himself and limit his exposure to the media.
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Rotor cranks on Bardet’s race bike.