Road Gear

Slippery wheels and grippy saddles: Tour time trial gear

The courses for Thursday's Annecy time trial stage vs. the team time trial in Montpelier a few weeks ago were quite different. The same can be said of the TT bikes in use by various teams and riders — they are all quite individual. However there are always some common themes, and at the TTT in week 1 of the Tour, we noticed some trends. Let’s have a look at some trends in the team paddock. Slippery wheels

By Zack Vestal

2009 TdF Tech, TT gear: Astana star Alberto Contador uses this hard carbon saddle with grip tape.

2009 TdF Tech, TT gear: Astana star Alberto Contador uses this hard carbon saddle with grip tape.

Photo: Zack Vestal

The courses for Thursday’s Annecy time trial stage vs. the team time trial in Montpelier a few weeks ago were quite different. The same can be said of the TT bikes in use by various teams and riders — they are all quite individual. However there are always some common themes, and at the TTT in week 1 of the Tour, we noticed some trends.

Let’s have a look at some trends in the team paddock.

Slippery wheels

Unsurprisingly, almost every team chose to ride bikes set up with rear disc wheels and moderate- to deep-section front wheels. Although we’ve not taken a formal count, Zipp wheels and rims seem to be the most highly prized. Garmin-Slipstream and Cervelo TestTeam are both sponsored by Zipp, and have the complete range of wheels available. Both teams used Sub-9 discs and deep section (808 or 404) fronts for the TTT.

But many teams without sponsorship actually buy wheels or rims from Zipp. Columbia-HTC rebrands their purchased Zipp wheels, but the trademark Zipp dimples are not hard to spot. Even Caisse d’Epargne has some de-badged Zipp wheels, as we saw 808s and even a 1080 in the team pit.

2009 TdF Tech, TT gear: In the Caisse d’Epargne pit, some unbranded Zipp wheels can be found.

Photo: Zack Vestal

Fabian Cancellara used a Sub-9 disc with an 808 front wheel for the team time trial. In that stage, he did not use his Swiss flag-painted Specialized Shiv, opting instead for a black bike with yellow bar tape.

We also spotted Zipp 808 rims laced to Roval hubs used by the Specialized-sponsored Quick Step team. Nic Simms, marketing manager for Specialized, said that it was an in-house project for the team. “We know it’s a fast hub,” he said, and added that the company was willing to try pairing it with an equally fast rim. He also commented that finding short, bladed spokes was a challenge, but wheelbuilders at Specialized were able to cut and thread spokes to fit.

A few wheel combinations in use for the TTT two weeks ago included:

2009 TdF Tech, TT gear: The Giant bikes of team Rabobank roll on PRO wheels.

2009 TdF Tech, TT gear: The Giant bikes of team Rabobank roll on PRO wheels.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Shimano’s PRO branded rear discs in the Rabobank camp, paired with Dura-Ace C35 front wheels;

A similar combination of PRO discs and C50 front wheels on the Koga bikes of Skil-Shimano;

Reynolds discs paired with Reynolds DV46 T UL carbon tubulars on the Kuota bikes of team Agritubel

Bontrager-branded discs (made by German company Lightweight) and new Bontrager Aeolus 5.0 wheels on the front for the victorious Astana team.

Fulcrum Racing Chrono discs and Fulcrum Racing Speed deep section front wheels on the Wilier bikes of team Lampre.

Cadel Evan’s team Silence-Lotto appeared to be using Mavic Comete discs and Cosmic Carbone Ultimate front wheels.

2009 TdF Tech, TT gear: The new Prologo Nago TTR saddle has a molded-in pattern on the nose, for grip.

2009 TdF Tech, TT gear: The new Prologo Nago TTR saddle has a molded-in pattern on the nose, for grip.

Photo: Zack Vestal

Quick Step used Roval-branded discs (we couldn’t tell what they actually were) and the 808-Roval hub front wheels.

Milram is sponsored by and uses Lightweight wheels, but we did not get a chance to see their choices.

And grippy saddles

Suitable aerodynamic wheels can hardly be called a new trend, but the use of time trial saddles with some form of grip on the nose is certainly growing. As TT positions get more and more aggressively aero, due in part to wind tunnel refinements, a growing few have evidently found that they no can longer stay planted in the saddle.

Fi’zi:k created a product that was in use by several Cervelo TestTeam riders plus Garmin-Slipstream rider David Millar. It’s called fi’zi:k Extra Grip, but we were not able to find it on the company Web site. Extra Grip is a microtex, suede-like material, with self-adhesive backing. It is designed to offer extra friction on the top of the saddle to prevent slipping, but is not so abrasive as to damage bib shorts.

2009 TdF Tech, TT gear: This Columbia-HTC rider needed traction tape that’s more aggressive than the Fizik Extra Grip.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

According to fi’zi:k marketer Suzette Ayotte said the tape has been available about two years, but caught on after Millar used it at the 2008 Tour of California.“

At the 2009 Tour of California, almost the entire Garmin-Slipstream team was running the Extra Grip and it was at that race that the Team Columbia and Cervelo TestTeam mechanics began requesting it.

Apparently the trend is catching on with other top time trialists as well, as Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong requested some of the tape earlier this month.

Alberto Contador takes another approach to the saddles on his TT bike. His saddles are all-carbon by AX Lightness, with no padding, and he uses anti-slip grip tape (like skateboard deck tape) for friction. Watching footage of his approach to Saturday’s finish line, it looked like he was slipping forward on the saddle, but it didn’t seem to hurt his performance.

A similar setup was noted in the Euskaltel-Euskadi camp, on at least one rider’s bike.

Photo Gallery