As Chris Froome makes his way from Ineos to Israel-Start Up Nation for the 2021 season, it’s clear there will be some changes both for Froome and the teams. Among those changes, Froome will not be riding a Pinarello bike for the first time since he joined Team Ineos (then Sky) in 2010. There will be other equipment changes for Froome, too, which begs the question: How much will the switch to new gear affect his success?
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New gear, new opportunities
Team Ineos has been a data-driven team for years, making the most of power numbers, wind tunnel testing, and all the other tech available to the wealthy team. Israel-Start Up Nation likely doesn’t have nearly the same budget at Ineos, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of data to drive Froome’s equipment choices. And notably, Froome will have more bikes to choose from.
Froome has spent years on Pinarello’s flagship Dogma bike — by appearances an aero bike, but with all-around capabilities, as the spindly climber has shown over and over again. In a sense, Pinarello has been ahead of the curve by integrating aero tube shapes into its climbing bike, but that design also has limitations.
So Froome will be able to choose his weapon, so to speak, when he makes the move to ISUN (assuming ISUN retains its partnership with Factor Bikes in 2021). It is almost certain Froome will spend most of his time on Factor’s 02 VAM, a lightweight climbing bike that suits him in the mountains. But Factor also has the One, an aero bike made for the sprinters. Could the One benefit Froome on flat stages where the GC battle isn’t as likely to get contested? It’s possible, though don’t expect Froome to choose the One very often.
Light versus Aero
Still, in recent years the balance between light weight and aerodynamics has become more refined. Data suggests that even climbers benefit from more aerodynamic bikes, wheels, and components, up until a certain gradient at a certain speed. Guys like Froome — the absolute strongest climbers in the pack — are the most likely to benefit from lightweight bikes and wheels, while the rest of us are most likely to benefit from aerodynamics until the road gets super steep.
Froome now has the chance to prove that notion. I don’t have either the Pinarello Dogma F12 that he currently rides, or the Factor 02 VAM he’s likely to ride, but suffice it to say the 02 is almost certainly lighter than the Dogma. If, hypothetically, the 02 weighs just a pound less than the Dogma, that’s a significant savings for Froome on the Tour de France’s steepest climbs. He can choose this bike to gain an advantage on the steepest climbs, and he could even choose the 02 VAM with a deeper-section wheel to tackle less steep climbs — and still come out ahead on the aero front.
But even a spindly climber like Froome can benefit from an aero bike on flat days, as well as on rolling terrain where he simply needs to maintain his standing in the GC and stay up with his main competitors. It seems like a small thing, but on those days, an aero bike could help Froome save crucial energy to keep him fresher for the climbs ahead. Remember: at the WorldTour level, every millisecond, every watt counts.
Kit and accessories
Notably, Froome has been a devotee of some oddly-shaped chainrings. The Osymetric chainrings help Froome maximize his pedaling efficiency by adapting the chainring shape to the dead spots in his pedal stroke. I expect Froome to keep using these chainrings regardless of what team he’s on.
That said, some adaptation from team mechanics may be necessary. I spotted a unique, 3D-printed block on Froome’s bike at the 2018 Giro d’Italia, glued to the drive side chainstay, presumably to keep the chain from sucking into the bottom bracket shell should Froome drop a chain. There’s lots of real estate in that gap due to the unique shape of the Osymetric rings, so it wouldn’t be too surprising to see ISUN mechanics adapt in a similar fashion.
Clothing could also open up new opportunities for Froome. He has long ridden Kask helmets and Sidi shoes, and most recently, Castelli kit. Team ISUN will outfit Froome with Giro helmets, Katusha clothing, and Bont shoes. With Team Ineos’ budget, Froome benefitted from some of the fastest garments ever developed, compliments of Castelli. Can the smaller Katusha clothing brand bring that sort of technology to the table? Given that the clothing brand lent not only its name to a WorldTour team in the not-too-distant past, but also its most aero garments, you can bet on it.
And Giro of course has provided helmets for several WorldTour teams, so Froome will be well attended to here. In fact, Giro’s lineup of helmets seems to offer Froome more options, both aero and ventilated, than Kask did. Notably, Kask’s lineup does not include any MIPS-equipped helmets, while Giro has several, including the unique Aether Spherical helmet. When it comes to lids, Froome is heading to a company with a deep racing pedigree and a lot of options.
How much will it all matter?
To be honest, not much. Froome is still Froome; it’s the talent that gets him to the top first. But as is the case with any cyclist at the top echelons of the sport, equipment choice can make the difference between a podium spot and a lot of heartbreak. Cycling success is measured in milliseconds, and while Froome has already benefited from some of the finest equipment money can buy, he’s heading into a situation that offers him more flexibility and options.
That’s exciting for the gear dorks among us.