I spent most of last week in Westlake Village and surrounding roads attending the team introduction for Cannondale. I see little point in tiptoeing around the fact that RKP’s editorial mandate is not to chase pro cycling in the trenches; that’s a terribly expensive endeavor. Similarly, I don’t want to do like some sites and pretend that we have feet on the ground in Europe by paraphrasing AFP and Cyclingnews race reports to falsely inflate our editorial reach. Bogus is the word we would have used in high school.
As a result, I/we don’t often get invitations to these events, so when this one came, I was intrigued. Intrigued because I wasn’t certain of the why, nor was I certain what the event would be like. Generally, the public view of a team introduction is that it’s a one-night affair, usually held in a theater so the riders can be paraded on stage for the assembled sponsors, VIPs and media to see, and usually, it’s the entire team assembled, right down to the last mechanic and soigneur.
This event wasn’t quite so over the top as that; Cannondale didn’t fly every last rider or staff member over from Europe for the event. Still, this was a far cry from a Division II team intro I attended that was held in the team director’s living room. Cannondale brought over 14 members of their team, including their two stars, Peter Sagan and Ivan Basso.
The collection of riders included:
Alessandro De Marchi
It used to be that the first gathering of a team in the new year was really just a training camp to give the new riders. The presentations began as a way to give sponsors a little winter exposure and get fans excited about the new riders and familiar with the new jersey so they’d know what to look for in the peloton. Based on some accounts, it also became the time when team management would lay out not just riders’ racing schedules, but their doping schedules and get them familiar with the medical staff.
Team camps may have dropped the medical program, but the sophistication continues to increase. More and more, they include media training, clinics with the sponsors so they understand what they are riding or what the sponsor makes if it’s not a bike product, and plenty of time for the media to interview riders. Whether you chalk it up to smarter operations, or an increased need to make sponsors feel like they are getting their nickels-worth due to a dearth of non-endemic sponsors (it’s a debatable point), teams like Cannondale are using their first camp of the year to serve ever larger purposes.
I attended product seminars on Vision wheels, FSA components, Kenda Tires and Sugoi clothing. These were short presentations in which a company representative would talk about the specific products the team would be using and if they assisted in the design and testing of the product, they detailed that. In the case of Kenda tires there was some additional discussion of which tires would be used when, not just the particular tires that would be used. In racing tubulars, the team will run the Volare. On the occasions they race a clincher, it will be the Kountach, while for training they’ll run the Kriterium. With Vision wheel choice will naturally be dictated by course conditions. The deepest wheels, the Metron 81 will only be used for the flatest courses. Riders will use the Metron 55 on more rolling courses, while the Metron 40, the shallowest and lightest of the bunch, will be reserved for mountainous races.
With the exceptions of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, where the team will ride the Synapse, the entire team will ride the SuperSix EVO for road races. Interestingly, Peter Sagan is a genuine knuckle-dragger. He’s the only rider on the team to receive a SuperSix EVO with custom geometry. His bike has a longer than standard top tube; it’s essentially a 54cm frame with a 58cm top tube, plus a 13cm stem. For time trials they’ll ride Cannondale’s Slice RS.
The presentation itself was held at the Canyon Club down the street from the Westlake Village Inn where the camp was taking place. Honestly, I couldn’t figure why they’d choose that until they mentioned that there’d be a concert after the presentation. Each of the riders present was introduced and in a brief interview rider strengths and goals were discussed.The audience was made up of attending media, area Cannondale dealers and sponsor VIPs. Naturally, the biggest cheers were for Peter Sagan, but as the sole American on the team Ted King took a huge roar from the crowd and mentioned something about unfinished business with a certain event in France to which those assembled cheered raucously. Sagan made it clear that Milan-San Remo was in his sites as was a certain three weeks in July. Given the ire for most confessed (or nearly confessed) ex-dopers, I was surprised, perhaps even relieved, that Basso received such a warm welcome from the crowd. He’s setting his sights on the Giro, and as a two-time winner he thinks he’s got a chance at taking the race a third time, given the course.
Oh, and that concert? The new-for-’14 Cannondale “house band” led by none of than Michael Ward, sporting a big-ass handlebar mustache (and a few more pounds than when last I saw him).
The crowd was also introduced to Scott Tedrow, the president and CEO of Sho-Air, the new presenting sponsor for the team. Tedrow took the mike and alluded to the criticism he’s received as a Johnny-come-lately to the cycling world. Whoever has leveled this accusation at him needs their head examined. When I was racing in the masters ranks more than 10 years ago Sho-Air was a significant sponsor to both mountain and road teams here in SoCal. His history notwithstanding, what truly boggles my mind is why anyone would bag on a guy bringing money into the sport when most other money is fleeing by 747? Further, to his credit, Tedrow is deep in the sport; this dude is no Flavio Becca. In addition to his sponsorship of racing at every level, he’s opening a bike shop in Orange County soon and he recently made what I hear was a rather significant donation to the National Interscholastic Cycling Association booster club. So far as I can see, Tedrow is good for the sport and the horsepower he brings thanks to his company—which does air freight for trade show materials—will make a difference in the lives of a great many racers.
I think that pro cycling still has a long way to go in earning back the public’s trust, but in the meantime, the lime green outfit of Cannondale is likely to provide genuine entertainment worth watching.
When Felt Bicycles came back from the brink of extinction a few years back I took note. Jim Felt had been a motorcycle race mechanic for a great many big names in motocross, names like Johnny “O-show” O’Mara. He was a good fabricator and had a creative mind.
And then he got interested in triathlon.
It turns out, some of the riders he worked with were starting to do tri’s to stay fit. He started doing them as well and noticed a funny thing. He couldn’t get the triathlon bars low enough to get a truly flat back while riding a properly sized frame.
So he built a few bike frames. They were notable for quick handling and very, very short head tubes. Head tubes that in some instances measured less than 10cm. Riding a Felt was the only way to guarantee your position was as aerodynamic as possible, relative to the time. And the proof was, as they say, in the puddin’. Big names, names like Paula Newby-Fraser began to win on Felts.
In 1996 I spent a week on a Felt. Manufactured by Answer Products in Valencia, Calif., through a licensing agreement with Jim Felt, the frame was TIG-welded from 7000-series aluminum, which needed no heat-treating, thereby dropping manufacturing costs dramatically and increasing the chances that the frame was properly aligned. Back then, Answer employed a number of manufacturing staffers who were part of the ‘90s aerospace diaspora. At the time, I lived in Valencia and rode on a regular basis with a half dozen of them. A few of them told me that if they couldn’t make $60k working in aerospace, then working on bikes was at least cool.
The aerospace bit wouldn’t be important were it not for the fact that their experience made the bikes damn good. The welding was exquisite and alignment superior to any other aluminum bike I’d seen at the time.
Back to that Felt I rode in ’96. This was the same bike Chris Horner won Athens Twilight on and a career making stage at the Tour DuPont in a two-up sprint against the more experienced U.S. Postal rider, Nate Reiss; ’96 would prove to be Reiss’ last season with Postal. Oops.
The bike I rode was unlike any bike I had ever ridden. It was unusually lively for aluminum, as stiff as any Klein I had ever ridden and carried exquisite grace of a filet knife. It scared the shit out of me.
Then Answer went through what we’ll term a transition. In 2000 the new management decided to get out of the business of road bikes and cut Felt loose.
It turns out this was the best thing that could have happened to Jim Felt and his brand.
Bill Duehring, a former VP with GT and all-around industry lifer, had partnered with Michael Müllmann, the owner of one of Europe’s most successful distributors, Sport Import, and the two wanted to start a bike company. The three decided to team up and together they forged a formidable partnership. Felt was known for his ideas about frame and tubing design. Duehring was known for impeccably spec’d bikes at great price points and Müllmann had access to capital and distribution channels.
It was this incarnation of Felt that loaned me a road bike to review when I published Asphalt. Ron Peterson, the editor who reviewed the bike, lauded it for the feel of the butted Easton Scandium tubing and the handling which he adored for crit racing.
At the next Interbike the company showed off its first carbon bike, the F1. A quick look at the tube shapes told me it wasn’t an open-mold design with their decals. It was their own design, engineered in-house. The F1 was essentially the company’s long-admired road bike geometry in carbon form.
In 2007 the company introduced a new road bike model, the Z1. Like the F, the Z was offered at a number of price points, but the Z1 was notable because it used the same blend of ultra-high, high and intermediate modulus carbon fibers as the F1. The similarities ended there.
The Z-series bikes are grand touring bikes. Compared to the F-series bikes, they are built around longer head tubes (not hard to do), slacker head tube angles and more fork rake. They also get longer chainstays. The slackish head tube angle, generous fork rake and longish chainstays gave the bike a longer wheelbase while maintaining the same weight distribution between front and rear wheels as the F-series bikes.
It’s easy to be cynical and just say Felt was aping what Specialized did with the Roubaix, but there are a few differences worth noting. First, the bottom bracket is a bit higher on the Z than on the Roubaix. Next, the Z doesn’t use the Zertz vibration dampers—Felt’s head of engineering, Jeff Soucek, says he doesn’t believe they do anything to help the ride quality of the bike; I’ve argued the point with him, but that’s a different story. Third, as mentioned previously, Felt specs exactly the same blend of carbon fibers in the Z1 that goes into the flagship F1 model. My 56cm Z1 frame weighed in at 906 grams (g).
Lots of companies will talk a good sub-kilo game, but far fewer are doing it than you might think. I watched a 52cm Trek Madone—minus seat mast—tip the scales at 1133g. I haven’t had a chance to weigh a Specialized Roubaix SL2, which would be the frame analogous to the Z1, but when I asked a Specialized representative what it weighed I was told “around a kilo.” I take that to mean north of a kilo, because if it was consistently less than a kilo, that feature would be touted like the cup size of a porn star, I expect.
Let’s talk competitive models for a moment. I have to volunteer that I have some trouble taking a bike company seriously if they don’t offer a grand touring model. Now, in the case of a company such as Seven Cycles that builds bikes to suit the rider, there’s no need to offer a specific model for one geometry, but production-oriented companies are another story. Trek’s got the Pilot, Cannondale the Synapse, Cervelo the RS, Bianchi the Infinito and Giant the Defy. Interestingly, Scott claims to offer two “performance” oriented models “more relaxed geometry. Those two models, the CR1 and the Speedster are more relaxed in marketing copy alone. They have the same BB drop (6.7cm) same chainstay length (40.5cm) and same head tube angle (73 degrees for the large size) as their racing model, the Addict. Indeed, the CR1 became “relaxed” when they introduced the Addict. Perhaps they were referring to the fact that the head tube is a massive 2cm longer on the CR1 and Speedster than on the Addict. Whatever.
The vast majority of these bikes feature a watered-down carbon fiber blend (compared to flagship models) and a component spec that says century riders won’t notice an extra three or four pounds. Anyone who thinks only fast racer types will spend big bucks on a bike have completely misread the bike market. Completely.
Next: Part II