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By Matt Pacocha
Skil-Shimano is the only team in this year’s Tour de France with a component manufacturer as a co-title sponsor. Naturally with Shimano making such investment into this Continental Professional team from the Netherlands, it made sure to outfit it with its latest and greatest components.
The majority of the team is using Shimano’s Di2 electronic shifting system; eight out of nine riders use it on their time trial bikes. The exception is Piet Rooijakkers, who cannot use them because of the length of the shifters on his bar extensions puts him over the UCI’s limit. For road stages, six Skil-Shimano riders have chosen to use the electronic components.
Di2 was introduced last year and is readily available to consumers, so there’s no surprise that it’s in use; however, its rate of acceptance is impressive. The new equipment the team is testing comes in the form of three new Shimano wheels and a new set of carbon bodied Dura-Ace pedals.
The new wheels are in response to demands from Shimano-sponsored teams including Highroad-HTC, Rabobank, Francais de Jeux, and Skil-Shimano.
Previously Shimano had two carbon tubular wheel options for its sponsored racers. The lighter 7850-C24-TU is a 24mm tall climbing wheelset, weighing a claimed 1255 grams. The second choice is the 7850-C50-TU, with 50mm aero-profiled rims, weighing weighs 1485 grams. Both wheelsets are available to consumers. The 2009 models cost $2100 and $2400 respectively.
The C50 wheelset is unchanged and in use by the teams, but the C24 loses weight and two additional wheelsets are added to the range offered to Shimano-sponsored teams.
Skil-Shimano brought Shimano’s new 35mm and 75mm prototype wheels to the Tour. The prototype C24 climbing wheel is said to have lost close to 150 grams compared to the current production version, through lay-up and material changes to the rim.
The new C35 wheelset has 35mm-tall rims and is intended as a workhorse race wheel specifically designed to withstand the punishment of Paris-Roubaix. Despite its robust disposition, it posts a lighter claimed weight — 1240 grams — than the C24 production wheel.
The C75 is Shimano’s answer to the taller profiles from other brands, including Zipp’s 808 and Bontrager’s Aeolus 6.5, which are popular with the pro peloton’s sprinters and breakaway specialists. The C75’s claimed weight hasn’t been published, but Shimano representatives said it will likely be below 1500 grams.
Both new wheel models should be available sometime next year, likely as part of the 2011 line.
The new carbon-bodied Dura-Ace pedals function exactly as the current 7810 model, but weigh upwards of 40 grams less per set according to Shimano. A close look at the pedal reveals the rear latch to be identical to that of the aluminum production model. The prototype pedals are sprinkled throughout Shimano-sponsored teams at this year’s Tour; each is hand-numbered so that engineers can evaluate their performance after the race, or if any problems arise.
This latest rash of prototype equipment from Shimano represents all of the brand’s short-term development projects.
“Our cards are on the table at the start of the Tour,” said Richard Keeskamp, Shimano’s European marketing manager. “You won’t see anything else for a while.”
As an aside, the Skil-Shimano team rides bikes made by Koga, which is a Dutch brand not available in the U.S. The brand represents the high-end racing bike segment of Europe’s largest bicycle manufacturer, the Accell Group, which considers the European town bike segment its bread and butter.
Koga began in 1974 under a partnership with the Japanese racing bicycle manufacturer Miyata. It was founded as Koga-Miyata and immediately established itself as a manufacturer of high performance racing framesets. It sponsored its first pro team in 1980.
Koga-Miyata has been a sponsor of the Skil-Shimano team since 2006. The team is riding the Full Pro 2Light model, which is made from high modulus carbon fiber and incorporates a unique ‘Kevlar Protection System,’ in the underside of its down tube and its chainstays. The Kevlar fiber is said to be more impact- and abrasion-resistant than straight carbon fiber. The production model available for sale in Europe boasts a 5.99-kilogram weight, with a full Shimano Dura-Ace group.