The 2012 season has already started so it's high time we summarised the overall state of play with the bike and equipment sponsors of cycling's Premier League, the 18 teams comprising the UCI WorldTour.
The relationship of the teams and their equipment sponsors in the off-season is rather like the annual school disco where couples may go in together but don't necessarily withstand the allure not to mention downright flirtation of new talent, in this case the product marketing guys, with their cheque books out. We'll not pursue this doomed mixed metaphor any longer but we will have a good look at the contenders in the 2012 beauty pageant and their new team champions; that's 15 frame brands supplying 18 teams.
Although not all the partnerships are new; staying unchanged for 2012 are Pinarello with their two teams; Sky & Movistar, Lapierre is still married to FDJ, Kuota are with AG2R-la Mondiale, BMC have their own factory team and Orbea are with Euskaltel-Euskadi, Cervelo with Garmin, Cannondale with Liquigas, Giant with Rabobank and bringing up the rear but only alphabetically, Wilier with Lampre-ISD.
American big hitter Specialized carries on with three teams; Astana and Saxo Bank as before but Highroad/HTC is gone now to be replaced by the newly-formed Belgian team Omega Pharma-Quickstep.
The even bigger Americans though at Trek have consolidated their two partnerships with RadioShack and Leopard into the one new team Radioshack-Nissan-Trek.
Scott are back after a couple of seasons out of the big league with the all-new Austrialian team GreenEdge.
Finally, Canyon have moved from the old Omega Pharma-Lotto setup to Katusha and Ridley have switched from Vacansoleil to the revamped Lotto-Belisol team leaving room for Bianchi to make a return to top level racing.
So, that's two 'new' bike brands in the UCI WorldTour this year; Bianchi and Scott and two out; Eddie Merckx with the demise of Quickstep and Focus displaced at Katusha.
The situation with components has changed a fair amount in 2012. Last year, SRAM ruled the roost with eight teams running their transmissions, Shimano had six and Campagnolo four. This time it's Shimano on top with ten teams using their gear sets, five for SRAM and three for Campagnolo, numbers that are getting a bit closer to representative of their respective market share.
Below you'll see the name of the team followed by the three letter UCI code which you'll find useful for race result tables as the season progresses. Then the name on the frame, the transmission maker and the wheel brand. Given a few more hours, we might even add some extra information like saddles and tyres. We're having a little lie down for a moment...
Oh, and there aren't any time trial bikes yet. It's too early in the season for any new ones yet* and they're gorgeous enough to warrant a post of their own when the teams have got past the Spring Classics and into Time Trial season. The Giro probably.
*UPDATE: actually, see the comments below for the first sight of the Katusha-liveried Canyon Speedmax TT bike we first saw under wraps at Eurobike in September.
No changes to the still youthful Kuota KOM Evo frame which recently got weight reducing tweaks along with a tapered fork steerer and BB30 to bring it right up to date for a very reasonable £2,275. At just over 1,000 grams, it's a popular one among folks buying their own bikes to race on. We'll be seeing the new SRAM Red components we posted about here, fitted the next time we see AG2R race in their distinctive brown-themed kit, along with their Reynolds wheels Michelin shod.
Like the new Omega Pharma-Quickstep setup and Team Saxo Bank, Astana will be using Specialized's considerable arsenal of three existing road bikes plus the UCI-legal version of the famous Shiv time trial bike. Most of the manufacturers take the opportunity of the off season to actually get some engineering development work done, timing the big marketing launches for the in-season Monument events like Paris-Roubaix, the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France. And it's at that first event that we can expect to see the next big roll-out from Specialiized, their cobble-mashing Roubaix model and the absolute bedrock of the sportive bikes that most road riders actually buy not having had a major rework last year.
Having said that about 'most manufacturers' BMC have made some changes to their Teammachine SLR01, the production mainstay of the pro racing team and also the core of their sales offer, the exotic Impec flagship being in effect individually customisable. They've introduced a new Di2 version of the frame which of course the team will be using equipped with Shimano's own flagship components and they've shaved out 50 grams from the overall bikes' weights mostly by redesigning the carbon seatpost and the area that supports it in the frame. The seatpost now has 15mm of rear offset which most of the pros where asking for anyway but there is still a 0mm as well as a 30mm-offset option, as well. The bottom bracket area has changed to the BB86 'standard' which BMC reckon will give them better versatility with the main chainset makers and they also claim they've tuned in more vertical compliance for comfort, further differentiating it from the somewhat similar Racemachine model. But they've invited our Mat Brett out to the launch of a new model during the Belgian Classics, hinting that it will be appropriate for that kind of racing, so we're not sure how that will fit in with this revised frame and the Racemachine but we'll find out soon anough. Probably by Mat getting his ass whipped by a rapid Belgian.
Here's what we posted recently about the Orbea Orca GDi2: "What we love about Orbeas in general and the Orca in particular are the exquisite little details; things like the dropouts and the seatclamp. Yes, that Deco-style seatpost clamp is definitely our favourite detail on any bike anywhere. Gratuitously stylish yet perfectly strong and functional; any Orbea dealer will tell you that clamp never slips or snaps which is more than can be said for a great many with their simply enormous torque-setting stickers thereon. A fairly straightforward build for the Orbea; it's Shimano Dura-Ace electronic Di2 loyally top to bottom.
This from our recent Bikes of the UCI WorldTour series: "The Lapierre Xelius carbon frame upon which hang Shimano Dura-Ace components is competitively light at around 850 grams for a middle-size and as this latest version with BB30 and tapered headtube is still quite new having only been introduced during 2011, there's every chance it will see the team through the 2012 season. If there are any big changes, it will likely be to the Dura-Ace Di2 drivetrain which is due to jump up to 11-speed soon in time for the 2013 consumer model year."
Can anyone have missed the media storm over Cervelo's last season introduction of the opinion-dividing S5 road bike? That and the new P5 time-trial model we recently rode at the launch means Cervelo have had more than their share of profile but then uncompromising engineering does tend to court controversy and it's not as if the Canadian company has lacked in success with their Argyle-dressed Garmin riders on board. We've had S5, P5 and the R5 VWD 'climbing bike' in short order recently so we're not sure where they'll be going next and they're probably working on it, too, having just been bought by a promising-looking Dutch conglomerate but the UCI frame approvals published yesterday don't offer any clues. Garmin is one of the WorldTour teams reputed to be opting to pay for Shimano Dura-Ace D12 drivetrains. Or most of the drivetrain; the very-bling Rotor cranks and oval chainrings tend to distract attention from the quietly understated remainder of the transmission.
This what we recently posted about the Scott Foil the GreenEdge men - and women - are already riding to success: "Although aerodynamics is hardly a new concept for racing bicycles, Scott can fairly claim that the F01 now named Foil in production form was the beginning of the latest big aero development on standard non-time-trialling race bikes and one that's clearly born fruit now that Specialized with the Venge and Cervelo's S5 are also prominent in the peloton with plenty more wannabes surely following behind.
The objective of the Foil, according to Scott, was to combine the light weight of the long-running and successful Addict carbon frame with the literally cutting-edge aerodynamics of the Plasma. At still well under 1,000 grams and with those distinctive truncated Kamm tail frame members saving 4-5% watts required due to the wind-cheating benefit, the Foil surely most successfully combines the 'technical' - aka 'ugly' looks of the Cervelo with the classical lines of, say, the Bianchi Oltre. "It's a beaut," as they're reputed to say in Australia and for what it's worth on a technical note, that internal seatpost clamp is our favourite for ingenuity."
This is what our Mat Brett said about the Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 8.0 the bike team Katusha will mostly be riding in 2012, in crowning it number one in the road.cc 2011 Top 10 Bikes:
"Now we know that £2,600 is a lot to spend on a bike but, believe us, the Ultimate CF SLX 8.0 is still fantastic value for money. You get the same carbon-fibre frame as the 2011 Omega Pharma-Lotto team and it’s incredibly rigid and efficient; even big, powerful riders won’t be able to push this one out of shape. Various builds are available but this one gets Shimano’s top-level Dura-Ace groupset which is professional-level stuff. Our test bike weighed in at 6.96kg (15.3lb) and was amazingly responsive. More surprisingly, it also managed to provide a decent level of comfort thanks to some smart engineering, particularly in the seat post and the fork. An absolute gem for the money."
Perhaps more telling though is that the bike being carried over for Team Katusha duties is more or less that same Dura-Ace equipped bike we liked for £2,600 and which in turned propelled Mr Gilbert and others to a whole lot of top class victories in 2011. Winning top level races and good value; it really does look like a perfect package.
Until the UCI published their latest list of approved race frames yesterday, we were wondering why Lampre-ISD were using the new Zero .7 flagship frame for early season races having previously said they would be carrying on with the various versions of the successful Cento Uno model. But the latter frame's non-appearance on the UCI list suggests that Wilier have decided not to put the Cento Uno through the accreditation process which means the Zero .7 is the de facto mainstay of the team and we're not unhappy about that, our Mat having loved his road test model late last year. "Road racing is clearly where this bike is most at home," as he put it. "The light weight, the acceleration, the climbing prowess... This is a brilliant, no-compromise race bike. And for 'performance sportive' riders? If you want a lightweight, responsive and smooth-riding speed machine and you've got the cash to indulge your passion, why not?"
We posted the other day that you'll shortly be able to get hold of a 'world's production lightest' Cannondale SuperSix Evo frame on its own for £2,300. The frame is not new in the sense that the team raced them this season from the Giro d'Italia onwards and we rode one at the pre-Giro press camp but it was only from the 2012 model year starting in September that actual buyers have been able to get their hands on one of the £7,000 Team Replica bikes.
Here's what we recently posted abou the Evo: "One thing for sure with these Evos is that you know every team bike will weigh exactly 6.8 kilos or 15lbs, the UCI governing body's minimum weight limit, because with each frame coming in at 695 grams with similarly super light Mavic Ultimate wheels and SRAM now-even-lighter Red groupset, the bikes all weigh about half-a-pound under limit depending on size. Therefore the Liquigas-Cannondale mechanics have to install precise measures of steel ballast in special mouldings that attach to the insides of the bottle-cage mounts down the inside of the seat tube to bring each one up to legal spec."
Of course, if you're not racing in WorldTour events - eg the rest of us - you don't need to worry about this; and you can get a production Evo with the SRAM Red but without the superfancy wheels for £3,999 that should put the weight somewhere still just under the limit.
New team, new riders, new bikes; Andre Greipel has already stamped his authority on the peloton at the recent Tour Down Under and we were glad to see him doing it on a bike we kept going back to at Eurobike where the Ridley Noah FAST was launched. Here's what we posted: "The big story is that the brakes are not just integrated into the frame in the style we have seen recently behind the fork crowns of time-trial bikes - these brakes actually are an integral part of the carbon fibre, forming the spring from the frame itself. Clever stuff and as tidy as you like."
Lotto are fully commited to the Campagolo components line, using both the new EPS electronic drivetrain and wheels. Handlebars, stem, saddle and seapost are from Ridley's own 4ZA accessory range.
On the face of it, the Movistar bikes made by Pinarello are identical to Team Sky's until you start looking at the details and realise that by sponsoring both teams the Italian company is playing both sides of the great Shimano v Campagnolo divide and equipping Movistar's Dogma 2s with Campagnolo. In fact, Movistar's riders were for the last two seasons the guinea pigs for the new Campagnolo EPS electronic-shifting gears and their commitment to the Italian component supplier extends to the full wheel range.
The Specialized Venge, or, more properly, the S-Works Venge which pays homage to the 'skunk works' where the makers do their shady special ops in California had about the best possible launch imaginable when Mark Cavendish, then riding for HTC-Highroad on a Venge won the World Road Championship within months of the new bike's launch. There are no changes to the Venge, that we can see anyway, other than that the bikes have now moved to the new/old Belgian team formed by the alliance of two existing sponsors Omega Pharma and Quickstep. Mind you, with the much-covered-in-the-British-media alliance with Woking's McLaren car concern, we can safely say that there will be plenty going on behind the scenes which we're bound to be seeing the fruits of soon. We're guessing the Belgian Classics becuase they'll be keen to keep the profile high where they're doing well; with this Classics-orientated team and where their riders aren't the subject of the worst kind of publicity.
"The new TCR Advanced SL frame upon which the Rabobank team bike is based is very similar to the also-new TCR Advanced that we rode recently at the Shimano Ultegra Di2 launch and about which Dave was moved to eulogise a little more than he would normally about such a light, stiff frame. The SL model is made from a higher grade of Toray carbon-fibre and comes with an integral seatpost so it's even lighter although Giant are famously cagey about getting into the whole my-frame-is-better-because-it's-lighter battle of diminishing returns although we can safely say that it's well under the magical 1,000 grams and you don't tend to see them broken from natural causes. The team is famously tight with Shimano, forming pretty much the de facto Shimano factory team so there's a higher than usual loyalty to the whole Shimano range, extending to the wheels and in-house Pro handlebars. The team replica bike with its full-monty set of Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 would set you back £5,999."
Apart from the new RadioShack-Nissan livery there are no technical changes with either the Trek Madone SSL road or SpeedConcept time trial frames that worked for teams RadioShack and Leopard-Trek last season but then again neither of them are exactly long in the tooth having been introduced at the Giro. That doesn't mean we won't be seeing something new soon and we've already been invited to a Belgian Classics presser. Watch this space...
Newer are the Bontrager Aeolus wider-section-for-better-aerodynamics wheels we posted about from Eurobike and the in-house Bontrager brand also provides bars, stems, saddles and bottle cages although not, interestingly it seems, the tyres. They'll be from German company Schwalbe and the drivetrains are complete Shimano Dura-Ace Di2.
There should have been a Saxo Bank Specialized pic in this space
Pictures of Specialized bikes in new Team Saxo Bank livery are thin on the ground and those that exist mostly have Alberto Contador riding, he having almost won a season-opening race in America in the last few weeks. But that was before the announcement of his lost case for doping and now Specialized have gone quiet, possibly while the fate of the Bjarne Riis-led team itself is decided. The problem being that some 68% of the points that qualified Saxo Bank for WorldTour status in 2012 were won by Contador and now all those points have been stripped. We're watching on this one. STOP PRESS: Here's the UCI's announcement.
"The distinctive wavy forks and rear stays, even more accentuated than on the original Dogma mark out this Mark 2 model we previewed at Eurobike, like no other. Ostensibly, they're to improve the ride damping characteristics of the carbon fibre but like the 'curly' Hetchins and E G Bates frames of the 1940s and 50s, we suspect it's more to do with looking different from other carbon frames that do look increasingly generic among the competition although the growing number of 'aero' strategies - see Ridley Noah - is certainly helping with differentation. As ever with bicycles, it's hard to argue when their riders are doing so well."
On componentry, the Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 for now still features electronically-shifting 10-speeds with an upgrade due to 11 shortly among the top professionals. When? The Giro d'Italia? More likely the Tour de France, we reckon.
We were so pleased to hear about the return of the legendary Italian brand Bianchi to the WorldTour peloton that we immediately started a pre-Chrismas series of posts previewing team bike news starting with this one: " The slippery looking 950-gram aero Oltre frame is unchanged from when we rode it at the launch in Italy last June where Mat Brett said "this Bianchi loves to climb." Despite the ancient reputation, the frame technology is bang-up-to-date and they're allied to hard-headed Shimano and FSA for components and FFWD wheel sets.