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By Matt Pacocha
With two laps of the finishing circuit remaining in the penultimate stage of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California, Fränk Schleck attacked on his Specialized Tarmac SL2 — but victory eluded him.
Undaunted, Schleck again took the initiative during the final stage on Palomar Mountain and then out-sprinted his lone breakaway partner, Liquigas’ Vincenzo Nibali, in a short kick to the line.
Schleck’s bike is built in the same manner as previous SL2 team bikes used by Quick Step and the now-defunct Gerolsteiner team. The team frame varies from the consumer model by way of a slightly stiffer lay-up and is identified by its non-replaceable derailleur hanger. Schleck uses the team geometry, with a shorter head tube, a choice available to consumers, according to Specialized global marketing manager Nic Sims.
“We offer the team geometry (for sale), which is the shorter head tube, as well as the standard,” said Sims.
The Saxo Bank team recently ended a long relationship with Cervélo, so its switch to Specialized is a big deal. It’s an investment from which the brand hopes to benefit on the technical front.
“The input that we’re going to get from these guys is going to be beneficial,” said Sims. “The fact that we managed to get them on the cranks and that they’ve been impressed with the feel is great.”
Unlike Quick Step, the Saxo Bank team has opted to run Specialized’s S-Works crank, which can be fitted with standard and compact bolt diameter spiders as well as an SRM spider to measure power. Schleck’s bike is equipped with the SRM unit.
The crank uses a press-fit bearing and oversized semi-axle bottom bracket spindle system, which mirrors the BB30 standard by size very closely. The semi-axles connect in the center of the bottom bracket using a Hirth Coupling, a larger-diameter version of the design that Campagnolo uses for its ultra-torque cranks. The chainrings are also from Specialized.
At the front of the bike the SL2 depends on 1.125-inch upper and 1.5-inch lower bearings and a tapered steerer to maximize the front end’s stiffness. The wider lower bearing adds stiffness via its size and also the larger down tube that allows Specialized to fit to the head tube.
Nearly all of Saxo Bank’s riders, including Schleck, are using Shimano’s new 7900 group. The team uses Zipp wheels and Specialized tubular tires.
Sims says that the team is much more interested in its equipment than other teams Specialized has been involved with, which has been the case with Bjarne Riis’ team since it started as CSC.
“Their attitude to racing and the technical side of it is that they want to be a lot more involved from the ground up,” he said. “We’ve had good contact since day one.”
Saxo’s riders went through Specialized’s Body Geometry Fit program during team camp in Mallorca. As part of that, Saxo Bank uses another Specialized component, its S-Works Pro-Set stem. ProTour teams require adjustability from a stem. Many times a manufacturer has to create special length, rises or combinations of the two for their team riders.
The Pro-Set stem is an impressive component. The 3D forged stem is available in a range of sizes from 75mm to 140mm and two different angles of rise, and each has a four-position, cam-type adjustment to further refine its angle. For example, a 12-degree stem allows the user to adjust its angle from +/- 8-degrees to +/- 16-degrees in 2-degree increment. It’s actually quite an ingenious design. The stem is completed with titanium hardware and a carbon faceplate. Specialized sells the same stem in all the same sizes for $115.
Before the contract was signed Riis spent time at Specialized’s Morgan Hill headquarters to ride all of the bikes. His approval is evident, since the team is riding Specialized’s product. And Schleck’s victory in the final stage of the 2009 AToC confirms that the team can win with it.