After a one-year forced hiatus, Astana's multiple Grand Tour winner Alberto Contador is back at this year's Tour de France seeking his second overall victory, this time on a Trek's new 6 Series Madone.
Two years ago he used a then-new Trek Madone to secure his first Tour win, less than two months after the Wisconsin company introduced a new Madone platform after the 'retirement' of seven-time winner Lance Armstrong in July 2005.
Key features have been carried over from the 2007 design, including the integrated 90mm-wide bottom bracket, extra-wide down tube, tapered front end and novel no-cut seatmast design. Further refinements have yielded 150g of total weight savings and 17 percent additional torsional rigidity, according to Trek.
In addition, an increased level of integration -- such as Shimano Dura-Ace Di2-ready internal cable routing and a slick optional chain stay-mounted wireless speed and cadence sensor -- make for a notably cleaner appearance as well.
Two things in particular distinguish Contador's Madone from ones that consumers can purchase for themselves: the custom paint scheme on both the frame and the SRAM Red components, plus the extra special touch of his personal mechanic, Faustino Munoz.
At first glance, Contador's Madone looks to be dressed in a fairly simple white and black with gold, pink and yellow accents – presumably to symbolise his wins in each of the three Grand Tours (France, ITaly and Spain). But also subtly hidden within the black panels are faint silver patterns depicting Contador's signature pistol victory salute. The total package is the ultimate contrast to the showier graphics treatments of teammate Lance Armstrong, but the end result is no less distinctive.
The special finish may provide the visual flare, but it's the work of Munoz that actually helps Contador go a bit faster. Munoz's 30-plus years of experience as a professional team mechanic comes through in the impeccable manner with which Contador's bike is prepared, but the consummate perfectionist also pays particularly close attention to bearing friction.
The ProTour is no stranger to ceramic bearings – most teams have been using them for years, well before they became popular amongst consumers – and Munoz is no exception, employing Enduro's speedy ZERØ hybrid cartridges. Supplemental detail work done in conjunction with sponsors Trek and SRAM, though, reduces friction further with even the crankset displaying that tell-tale 'pendulum' effect when the chain is disengaged.
Even the chain isn't ignored: after a fresh and through cleaning, Munoz first applies Sapim's mid-weight Race Oil, then seals it in with a light coat of grease. The result is one of the silkiest drivetrains we've ever encountered, and one needs no precision instrumentation to discern the significant improvement over a stock setup.
As befitting a climbing specialist, Contador's Madone is pretty and smooth but also light – but not too light. As pictured here with Bontrager Race XXX Lite carbon tubulars, a Trek Incite computer and two Bontrager Race X Lite bottle cages, actual weight is a spot-on 6.80kg (14.99lb), right in keeping with the International Cycling Unions's mandated minimum weight.
If any of Astana's race bikes are below weight, however, the team has devised a cleverly elegant solution. Instead of the common 'chain links in the seat tube' or stuck-on bits of metal, a special lead plug can be inserted into the bottom bracket spindle when needed. The modular configuration lets Munoz add or subtract bits to hit the target weight and the wedge-type design (similar to an old quill stem) means it's locked in securely. Moreover, the weight is in the optimal position on the bike – close to the ground – and has almost no rotational inertia.
Contador's new Madone may not be the absolute stiffest or flashiest bike in the peloton, but just as with his Astana team, it's virtually purpose-built for stage racing with a proven pedigree.
Now that the tensions between Contador and Armstrong have (supposedly) been resolved, the team can now rally around a sole leader and if all goes according to plan, team general manager Johan Bruyneel – and Trek – may add yet another Tour de France victory to its palmarès.
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