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Tour Tech – North American technology for an All-American win

Over the past five years, we have gotten used to writing about American victories in the Tour de France on an American bicycle equipped withAmerican wheels. However, until today, we always meant Armstrong. But the same could now be said about stage 16’s stage winner, Tyler Hamilton, who displayed true American grit in toughing out an amazing solo ride to Bayonne after being dropped in the early going and then catching and dropping the breakaway. Tyler was riding on Zipp wheels and a Cervélo frame, both of which are as North American as pumpkin pie. FramesOver the years, we have heard a

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By Lennard Zinn

Photo: Graham Watson

Over the past five years, we have gotten used to writing about American victories in the Tour de France on an American bicycle equipped withAmerican wheels. However, until today, we always meant Armstrong. But the same could now be said about stage 16’s stage winner, Tyler Hamilton, who displayed true American grit in toughing out an amazing solo ride to Bayonne after being dropped in the early going and then catching and dropping the breakaway.

Tyler was riding on Zipp wheels and a Cervélo frame, both of which are as North American as pumpkin pie.

Frames
Over the years, we have heard a lot about American bikes in the Tour from Cannondale, Trek and Litespeed. But those are not the only ones. Serotta made many of the bikes that the 7-11 team rode in its Tours and could consequently notch up a few stage wins under American riders. Now, a company from north of the border, Cervélo, is posting great Tour results. And, as Ryan from Portland asks today, “How about a little tour tech on Tyler’s sweet-as-pie carbon Cervélo?”

Well, Cervélo has provided CSC with its all-new superlight 2004 R2.5 Carbon Team frames, which Cervélo claims to be the first sub-1000g frame to receive the strenuous EFBe testing certification (few carbon frames pass this certification, according to Cervélo). The R2.5 is a full carbon fiber frame, as all its tubes and lugs are carbon fiber. The only non-carbon parts on the frame are the dropouts, bottom bracket threads and headset cups, which are aluminum.

Photo: Graham Watson

Two versions of the frame will be available, the light R2.5 and the even lighter R2.5 SL. Prices are expected to be $1900 for the R2.5, and a phenomenal $3500-4000 for the R2.5 SL.

And in the time trials, CSC’s aerodynamic aluminum Cervélo P3 with its tightly-curved seat tube is already well known and created a stir last year under Laurent Jalabert, especially when he could not remove his wheel from the rear-entry dropouts after he got a flat.

Wheels
As for the wheels, there have been many American incursions into this area in this and in previous Tours. Spinergy may have been the first to have a large presence in the European pro peloton. We have also heard a lot over the years about first the Rolf wheels and now the Bontrager wheels on U.S. Postal’s Treks, and two years ago on AG2R.

There has also been plenty of ink during this and previous Tours devoted to the Hed3 tri-spoke wheels employed by ONCE and Postal in the time trials. Zipp has also had a smattering of wheels on teams in the past, but now it can really flaunt it as an official sponsor of a truly top team. In fact, with a nine-minute lead, CSC looks poised to cruise to the overall team victory in this Tour on its Zipp wheels. And of course, the individual glory of victories by Jakob Piil (stage 10), Carlos Sastre (stage 13) and now Tyler Hamilton (stage 16) is something for the Indianapolis-based wheel maker to relish.

When Hamilton won a dramatic Liege-Bastogne-Liege on the final climb, he was using extra-smooth-spinning medium-section carbon ZIPP Z3 wheels. Barely a week later, on a ZIPP 909 wheel set consisting of a deep-section front wheel coupled with a dimpled disc rear wheel, he crushed the final time trial in the Tour de Romandie, taking the overall victory and had a brief lead in the 2003 UCI rankings.

In the Tour, the major CSC news has of course been Hamilton racing nearly the entire thing with a fractured right collarbone, but the Zipp wheels certainly deserve some notice as well. On the fairly flat stage 10, Piil converted a break of 190km into a win on a pair of Zipp 303 tubular wheels. Sastre rode to victory in Aix 3 Domaines using Z3 wheels, and Z3s were also Tyler’s choice for his nearly 100km stage 16 solo breakaway further extending the CSC lead in the team competition.

The 303 features medium-deep 38mm rims, which helped Piil by reducingaerodynamic drag and hence his effort to maintain his speed on a long day in the saddle with only one other rider to share the work. Zipp uses a layer of a gel-like substance which it calls “VCLC (Visco-Elastic Constrained Layer Control) Technology” to damp vibration. Even so, the rim only weighs 280 grams, which would have helped Piil quite a bit in his two-up sprint with Fabio Sacchi. For the set, Piil’s 303’s weighed approximately 1127 grams and featured 18 front and 21 rear Sapim CX-RAY bladed stainless steel spokes and a “Silica-Ceramic” braking surface.

The Z3 wheel set on which Sastre and Hamilton won their stages is Zipp’s lightest and is a refined version of the 303. It weighs in at a remarkable 1065grams/pair (yes, that is almost a kilogram for the pair!), great for big climbs while retaining good aerodynamics for those solo efforts. The rim is hand-selected as the lightest and best of the production of 303 rims. The average rim weight drops to a featherlight 260 grams, yet Zipp claims that its strength and stiffness are maintained at a level equal to that of traditional rims weighing more than 50% more. Using wind tunnel data and NASA developed airfoil modeling software to refine the rim profile, Zipp claims that small changes instituted last season resulted in a 6-percent improvement in angular aerodynamics and a 7.5-percent reduction in wind side force applied to the rim.

Zipp also claims good wet and dry braking performance that even outperforms traditional alloy rims on the “Silica-Ceramic” braking surface of its carbon rims when paired with its recommended new 2003 carbon/carbon brake pads.

Other recommended pads are Shimano or Campagnolo pads designed for use with carbon rims, as well as KoolStop Black pads. The Z series hubs are perhaps the most amazing things about these remarkable Z3 wheels, as the bearings are so smooth you can hardly believe it when spinning them in your hand. The hubs also make the wheelset ungodly expensive.

The Z3’s Model 70 front hub weighs 70 grams and has “matched” silicon nitride (Si3N4) matched ceramic bearings inside it. Zipp claims to hold less than one millionth of an inch in variance of diameter and sphericity (roundness in three dimensions) per matched bearing set. The axle is carbon fiber, as are the protective end caps and the shell, like the 303 hub is drilled 18 hole.

The Model 175 rear hub weighs, you guessed it, 175 grams and uses 7XXX aluminum (same as the front hub), precision machined for the hub shell and free hub body and also has the silicon nitride matched ceramic bearings and carbon fiber axle and protective end caps.

Silicon nitride ceramic bearings are claimed to be 30 percent lighter and 40 percent stronger than steel and finely balanced enough to have a maximum spin rate of 300,000 rpm under load. Manufactured in sets of 12 to 15, each ball is claimed to be over 1000 times more round than the best steel bearing of any type, grade or benchmark. At 25mph, Zipp calculates the energy saving from these bearings alone to be 0.8 to 1.0 watts or, on an 8-percent grade, the reduction in friction to be the equivalent of a reduction in static weight of 340 grams.

A Teflon thermoplastic retainer physically separates and locates each individual ball within the bearing race, while a ceramic-specific 65%-fill barium-hydrocarbon grease keeps them lubed. Zipp says, “Double non-contact seals on polished races provide a final near friction free protective barrier against the elements. The bearing races themselves are a hybrid ceramic specific alloy finely ground and polished to a ISO class 9 or better standard, then cryogenically treated at -300 degrees Fahrenheit to refine the molecular structure.” No wonder they cost so much.

The Z3’s freehub clutch mechanism utilizes three forged low-friction E52100 bearing-steel pawls actuated by a single oversized stainless steel return spring, and it’s supposed to lock up well. That’s a good thing for Tyler, as the much-replayed failure of his freehub (not a Zipp) to lock up on a descent in the Giro d’Italia last year resulted in a broken shoulder and practice for this Tour by enduring agonizing weeks of racing.

The Z3’s axle is high-density filament-wound carbon fiber married to 7075 ends. The oversized asymmetric 15mm front and rear axles are designed for optimized bearing placement, strength and significant weight reduction.

Protective carbon fiber end caps shields the internal mechanism from the elements.

For 2003 the spokes received a new rear wheel lacing method intended to equalize drive and non-drive spoke tension. The new spoking makes the wheel twenty grams lighter than last season’s Z3 rear wheel, and the result is claimed to be a stiffer, more efficient rear wheel with 18 front and 21 rear spokes.

The Z3 is available only in a 700C tubular model, and due to limited availability of materials, Zipp plans to only produce approximately 100 Z3 sets in 2003.

The “Z Series” wheels include the Z3, the Z4, and now, the Z9 wheelsets. Analogous to the Z3, the Z4 and Z9 make the same rim selection and hub improvements to the deep-section (58mm) 404 and 909 (which is a front 404 coupled with a rear disc) wheelsets as the Z3 makes to the 303. The Z9 is brand new and not yet on the market, but you can get one soon if you want, since Hamilton has signed Tour Anniversary Edition Z9 set that will be auctioned off to aid the American Cancer Society!

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