By Zack Vestal
As has become almost customary for those riders fortunate enough to earn the Tour de France’s yellow jersey, Fabian Cancellara also earned a yellow bicycle from his sponsors. Specialized surprised him with the new Tarmac SL3 about two hours before Sunday’s stage.
In addition to the yellow frameset, freshly assembled with a custom, yellow-highlighted SRAM Red gruppo and yellow-decaled Zipp 404 Zed Tech wheels, Cancellara sported a yellow Bell helmet to complete the ensemble.
Prepared in advance
Specialized and SRAM arrived at the Tour prepared with the frames and parts to assemble celebratory bikes for sponsored riders with jersey-winning potential.
“What we wanted to was to really be prepared,” said SRAM’s Alex Wassemann. “We had good ideas about SRAM-sponsored riders who had good chances to be in yellow. In Fabian’s case, maybe he’s not the favorite for the overall, but we knew we’d have some riders with a good chance of wearing the jersey.”
Preparation included coordination with the sponsors of several teams with jersey hopes.
“We had talked to both Trek and Specialized about some of their ideas way in advance of the race, as far as what they were working on and how we could coordinate to get some good exposure and have some fun,” he said. “And the riders dig it, they get really excited.”
Both the team and the sponsors kept the new bike under wraps until the team headed from the hotel to the start. “Fabian was totally surprised by it. He had no idea he was getting the bike,” said Wassemann.
Naturally, the yellow SRAM components are strictly a one-off project. “We didn’t want to go overboard, but of course these are very special parts — that frame is not available in that color, and those parts are not available in those colors,” said Wassemann. “That’s something we do just for the Tour de France.”
New bikes don’t just assemble themselves
Building a new bike the night before a Tour stage would seem to be a dodgy proposition, not to mention challenging for team staff, but Saxo Bank mechanics rose to the task, staying up past 11 p.m. to complete the assembly.
“Mechanics seem to be prepared for everything,” Wassemann said. “Both of these staffs (Saxo Bank and Astana) have been amazing, and overworked. But they seem to balance it out and make sure the equipment is perfect. They’re pretty amazing guys. They’re always prepared for these kind of specialty things.”
Riders and staff can be notoriously superstitious, so within the team, the bikes are neither assembled nor discussed in advance. Even the sponsors kept the secret, Wassemann said.
“And sometimes we don’t want to tell them (the teams) in advance,” Wassemann said. “We don’t want to over-prepare them.”
For his part, Cancellara seemed relaxed and expressed his surprise and pleasure with the special bike.
“It’s good — it feels really good!” he said.
Here’s hoping he gets to ride it for a few more days, enjoying the spotlight.