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Some highlights from two days nosing around the team trucks ahead of the Tour de France Grand Depart

We’re just got back from a couple of days in Brussels ahead of the Tour de France Grand Depart nosing around the team trucks for new bikes, interesting setups and other tech scoops. We’ll have a raft of articles and video starting next week but until then here are some things that grabbed our attention.

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Let’s start with the defending green jersey winner, Peter Sagan. This year is unusual in that it’s the first time he’s ever raced the Tour de France in a regular team jersey - he’s worn the world champs jersey on several occasions as you know.

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He rarely races on a stock team bike though and is riding the same custom painted Specialized S-Works Venge he raced last year. It’s a very attractive glittery green over matte green commemorating his recent domination of the points jersey. No other changes to the bike from last year though. And yup, the entire Bora-Hansgrohe team are aboard disc brakes.

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Could this be the bike to help its rider defend the yellow jersey? It's the new Pinarello Dogma F12 belonging to Geraint Thomas.

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We haven’t seen Lightweight wheels in the pro peloton since, well we can’t remember how long ago it was, to be honest. But we spotted three Team Ineos riders on Lightweight wheels - Egan Bernal, Luke Rowe, Jonathan Castroviejo - were deviating from the regular Shimano Dura-Ace wheels being ridden by the rest of the team.

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The main benefit of the Lightweight wheels is, of course, the extremely low weight, a set of Meileinstens come in at just over a kilogram. We’ll go ahead and speculate it’s to get the Dogma F12 down to the UCI’s 6.8kg weight limit for the tough mountain stages in this year’s race. Which begs the question just how much do the bikes weigh in the regular build? We’d love to tell you how much the bikes weighed but we were strongly discouraged from putting them on our scales.

- Exclusive: Team Ineos riding Lightweight wheels at Tour de France. Team confirms use of two wheel brands at the race

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Trek-Segafredo were rocking some fresh new paint jobs ahead of the Grand Depart. No special treatment for team leader Richie Porte, he had the same paint job as everyone else. The Aussie’s bike of choice is the Emonda, Trek’s lightest bike, while others opted for the speedy Madone.

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The team is sponsored by SRAM this year and the entire fleet of bikes had disc brakes. Most of the team were using the latest Red eTap AXS 12-speed groupset but it’s clear the US component manufacturer has been working on some special chainrings for Richie Porte. We couldn’t get close enough to see but we’re guessing it’s a case of bigger chainrings than the current biggest production combination of 50/37t. Porte was also using some older Red eTap 11-speed on his time trial bike.

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Richie Porte was also wearing some brand new Bontrager XXX shoes. We don’t have any details about them yet but we should do in a couple of days time so stay tuned. They stick with the same dual Boa dial upper but appear to do away with the velcro strap, possible to save weight. We’d guess weight saving has been the focus of the development of these new shoes.

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Our 1x radar didn’t detect any single ring setups in the Trek-Segafredo pits, but over at Katusha, its Canyon Speedmax time trial bikes were sporting 1x12 drivetrains. Single ring makes a lot of sense on a time trial bike and this is far from the first example we’ve seen. Potentially more aerodynamic and less weight are key benefits, and the riders will never shift out of the big ring on a typical flat to rolling time trial course so the little ring isn’t needed.

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Slightly surprising is the absence of a backup chain catcher. Anyone who remembers David Millar dropping his chain in a time trial when he removed his front mech might be slightly worried, so the Fluid Damper in the Red eTap rear mech needs to do a solid job of keeping the chain on. Fingers crossed…

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Even the day before the biggest bicycle race, mechanics are still busily building and preparing race bikes. Here's a new chain being fitted by an FDJ mechanic.

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Not an easy one to spot unless you happen to bump into the product managers, but Continental has updated its venerable Competition Pro Ltd tubular tyre. This tyre is one of the very few products that you can’t actually buy, and it differs from the regular Competition tub by virtue of having a lighter latex inner tube compared to the butyl tube in the regular tyre you or I can buy. The Pro Ltd tyre has an updated construction with 200 TPI which has lowered the weight to about 250g.

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While all Tour de France road bikes run tubular tyres, we spotted quite a few time trial bikes with tubeless tyres. Continental has been working on a new version of its Grand Prix TT tyre, as denoted by the 111 label. That number is Continental’s internal code for the development stage of the tyre.

The tyre has been wind tunnel tested and rolling resistance tested and claimed to offer decent savings compared to the tubular tyres. It wouldn’t divulge the exact numbers though. Asked when it’s coming to market, Continental said it has no plans to make it available to buy, due to the laborious process by which the time is hand made. It makes about 50 which it distributes to a few teams in the peloton. It’s a 23mm tyre matched to the Bora rim of about the same width.

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Clincher tyres were spotted on several time trial bikes. Above is Rohan Dennis’ Merida Warp with aforementioned Continental clincher front tyre.

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Katusha was also using clincher tyres on its Canyon Speedmax time trial bikes with Zipp wheels.

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Michelin clincher tyres were spotted on Cofidis team bikes, supplied by Kuota. A regular Power Time Trial rear tyre out back, and a prototype up front. 

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It was really hot in the couple of days leading up to the Grand Depart, so there were lots of water bottles being prepared for the last training rides.

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EF Education First is riding the brand new Cannondale SuperSix Evo. Unlike some teams which have fully moved over to disc brakes, this team is giving its riders the choice, and we saw a mix of braking systems. This is Alberto Bettiol’s Evo with rim brakes.

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We asked him about the bike and he said it felt faster and stiffer than the old bike, which is to be expected given the changes made to the new bike, but he thought the old Evo felt a bit comfier than the new one, which is interesting.

The bike is specced with a mix of Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 components and a Cannondale Hollowgram SISL2 crankset with FSA 54/38t chainrings paired to an 11-30t cassette. This is a slightly unusual combination and one we saw on several Shimano-equipped bikes, and we can only presume it’s to provide the riders with lower gears for the tough mountain stages in this year’s Tour de France.

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The other interesting change from the bike I saw launched in Vermont is the FSA K-Force carbon handlebar and SL-K stem. The cables still route into the enlarged head tube but they’re more exposed outside of the stem and handlebar. Other bikes were seen fitted with Vision’s one-piece carbon Metron 5D handlebars which offer better internal cable routing, but both are still lacking in integration compared to Cannondale’s Hollowtech handlebar and stem developed specifically for the new Evo.

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New shorts from Endura for the Movistar team?

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Here’s Alex Dowsett’s Canyon Ultimate CF SLX. We’ve done a full video and inspection of this bike which we’ll share with you soon, but for now, know that it has a SRAM Red eTap AXS groupset with disc brakes - the whole team are on discs - with Zipp’s funky whale inspired 454 NSW wheels.

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Another thing we saw a lot of is team cars and buses being washed.

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Choose any colour as long as it’s white.

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The world champion Alejandro Valverde was getting a lot of attention as he rolled out for his final training ride before the big day.

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His sponsors have pulled out all the stops, with rainbow striped details all over his bike and person. Even the dials on his shoes and the power meter!

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You don’t see as many custom hacks at the Tour de France as maybe 10-15 years ago, but the eagle-eyed will spot a few quirky things. Such as these heavily customised Fizik shoes belonging to one of the Movistar riders. It could be extra ventilation, but I’m guessing it’s to modify the fit to better adapt the shoes to his feet.

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It might have been scorching hot but one of the Movistar team had a jacket, just in case the weather turned, and stuffed inside a hacked apart water bottle.

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Bikes being fettled and prepared the day before the Tour. This mechanic was using a very posh jog to measure the saddle height and distance behind the bottom bracket.

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The Tour de France starts the next day, so better make sure your bike is in tip-top condition.

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The road.cc Tech Team hard at work. That's about all for now, as mentioned up top we've got stacks of Tour de France tech coming your way over the next few days so stay tuned to the homepage for more.

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.