After outfitting Quick.Step's Tom Boonen with a custom version of its S-Works Tarmac SL2 last year, Specialized has gone all the way this year and supplied the entire team with similarly proportioned machines. That includes current Olympic and two-time world champion Paolo Bettini, whose bike we examined at Quick.Step's December training camp in Benicassim, Spain.
The Tarmac geometry has always been compact, but the 2008 Quick.Step team version has become even racier with a shorter head tube that allows riders to adopt a lower, more aerodynamic position. The riders were presented with their new frames with extra carbon spacers under the stems to replicate the position of their original SL2s, but Bettini wasted little time in dropping down a bit further, indicating that il Grillo was very much in favour of the new aggressive position. Sadly, this new geometry will not be available to us mortals just yet.
Bettini's choice of frame size also reflects the desire to get low, a sentiment mirrored by a number of other riders including Giro d'Italia winner Danilo Di Luca and currently-in-limbo Basque climber Iban Mayo. While Bettini is not one of the tallest riders in the peloton at just 1.69m (5' 7") tall, we were a little surprised to see that he rides the smallest size frame available - an XS (49cm). We quizzed him about this and he insisted that it is the right size for him as it allows him to get low. To compensate for the shorter top tube, Bettini runs a relatively long 120mm stem (Boonen uses a gargantuan 140mm pipe).
Otherwise, Bettini's Tarmac SL2 is essentially identical to his teammates' in that it is based around a Specialized FACT 11r carbon frame built with the company's Az1 ("as one") tube-to-tube construction methods. The most obvious thing that sets il Grillo's bike apart, though, is the special one-off paint job by Italian airbrush specialists Barza Design. Barza has been responsible for a number of decorated bikes in the peloton over the years - including former Italian champion Luca Paolini and Milano-Sanremo winner Filippo Pozzato - and was also responsible for the gold frame Bettini rode at last year's Giro di Lombardia. General consumers may not be able to get hold of the team geometry just yet, but Specialized's Quick.Step team liaison Simone Toccafondi did say that Bettini's special finish will ultimately be available as a limited edition - albeit not a hand painted one.
The matching monocoque carbon fork has the same tapered steerer tube that is fitted to those Tarmac SL2s that are available in the shops. The tube widens from the standard 1 1/8" at the stem clam to 1 1/2" at the crown. Other than the new geometry, the only physical thing on Bettini's frame that's officially different from stock models is the non-replaceable mech hanger.
Once again, the Quick.Step team is sponsored by Campagnolo and so are equipped with full Record groupset, including carbon fibre Ultra-Torque chainsets and the new "Red" Ergopower levers. These new levers are only available to Campagnolo sponsored riders and require slightly more pressure to move the gear change levers than standard.
The team's wheel sponsor has changed for 2008, though, as Specialized's Roval models have replaced last year's Fulcrum hoops. Bettini is using a special-issue set of deep section Rapide Star Carbon wheels with Specialized branded tubulars. Unlike the standard versions, Bettini's wheels swap out the distinctive Star hubs in favour of the ones used in the lighter Rapide SL wheelset. Despite supposedly being quite aerodynamic, the Star hubs apparently carry more of a weight penalty than Bettini is willing to bear.
In contrast to the rest of his equipment, Bettini goes decidedly old school with his trusted Selle San Marco Concor Light saddle. The perch looks like it's been around the block a few times as the world champion stripes are a bit faded, but it's obviously an old favourite. The rest of the kit is fairly standard fare, including an FSA OS-115 stem, new-ergo bend FSA K-Force Carbon bar and Look KeO Carbon pedals.
Bettini's stats are recorded by a Polar CS400 combined bike computer and heart rate monitor. In addition to the speed sensor on the fork, Bettini also keeps an eye on his pedaling speed with a cadence sensor fitted to the base of his frame's seat tube.
The overall bike weight comes in at a not-as-flighty-as-you'd-expect 7.18kg (15.83lb), well above the minimum, but Toccafondi tells us that it's because Specialized is more concerned with getting the right balance of the bike - and safety - rather than paring it down to be as light as possible. More to the point, the additional weight doesn't seem to have slowed Bettini down at all and only adds more fuel to the argument that we should likely all be more concerned with our training than the weight of our bikes.
- Frame: Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL2 with team-only geometry and custom world and Olympic champion livery
- Size: XS (49cm)
- Fork: Specialized S-Works FACT monocoque with tapered steerer (1 1/8" - 1 1/2")
- Brakes: Campagnolo Record D-Skeleton
- Levers: Campagnolo Record QS Ergopower "Red"
- Derailleurs: Campagnolo Record
- Cassette: Campagnolo Record steel/titanium, 11-23T
- Chain: Campagnolo Record Ultra Narrow
- Crankset: Campagnolo Record Ultra-Torque, 170mm, 39/53T
- Bottom bracket: Campagnolo Record Ultra-Torque
- Wheels: Specialized Roval Rapide Carbon
- Hubs: Specialized Roval Rapide SL
- Spokes: DT Swiss Aerolite
- Tyres: Specialized tubular
- Bars: FSA K-Force Carbon, new ergo bend, 40cm (c-c)
- Stem: FSA OS-115, 120mm x -6 degree
- Headset: Cane Creek
- Tape/grip: Specialized S-Wrap
- Pedals: Look KeO Carbon
- Seat post: Carbon fibre with alloy micro-adjust head
- Saddle: Selle San Marco Concor Light (unbranded) with custom world champion colours
- Bottle cages: Specialized Rib Cage Pro (down tube only)
- Computer: Polar CS400 Wireless with cadence
- Total bike weight: 7.18kg (15.83lb)
- Rider's height: 1.69m (5' 7") ; Weight: 58kg (128lb)
- Seat tube length, c-c: 415mm
- Seat tube length, c-t: 460mm
- Top tube length: 500mm (actual)
- Saddle height, from BB (c-t): 685mm
- Saddle nose tip to C of bars: 518mm
- C of front hub to top of bars: 525mm