Race tech: Special machines for Cancellara, Schleck brothers

Custom paintjobs and more for Saxo Bank stars

Saxo Bank riders are keeping team sponsors Specialized awfully busy at this year's Tour de France. While many teams have just one or two riders aboard custom painted machines (if any), Saxo Bank have three – early race leader Fabian Cancellara and general classification contenders Andy and Fränk Schleck – and don't forget about the spares, either.

Cancellara's S-Works Tarmac SL3 is fairly straightforward, being finished in a monotone bright yellow. Adding to the theme are Zipp wheels with matching yellow decals, SRAM's special Red LTE (Limited Tour Edition) transmission and brakes with black anodised aluminium bits and yellow graphics, and yellow brake hoods that were swapped in minutes before the start of Stage 1. 

Otherwise, it's his standard race machine including a Specialized S-Works Pro-Set stem, FSA bar and seatpost, Prologo saddle, Speedplay Zero pedals, Veloflex tyres, Specialized carbon crank with integrated SRM power meter, Tacx bottle cages and, of course, a shield on the top tube inspired by his 'Spartacus' nickname.

Cancellara would be riding a special machine if he wasn't in yellow, though, as even his standard team-issue bike sports subtle accents to commemorate his status as Olympic time trial champion. Gold graphics decorate his SRAM Red rear derailleur and DoubleTap levers, chainring bolts and Nokon aluminium housing bits are anodised gold, Prologo provide a gold-accented Scratch TR saddle, and Speedplay even get in the game with gold pedal end caps.

Even Cancellara's standard bike is special, with gold-accented SRAM Red components

All things considered, Cancellara's yellow Tarmac was fairly easy to get together as Specialized supply each of their teams with a collection of appropriately painted framesets to build up as the need arises. The far more ornate finish of the Schleck brothers' bikes took a bit more work, though.

Both identically painted Schleck bikes proudly display the brothers' Luxembourg heritage with a gleaming dark chrome-like base coat plus lion-theme graphics similar to what's found on their national flag. Finishing things off are a few touches of red, white and light blue, blue cable end caps, and the custom Prologo Scratch TR saddles made for the brothers last year.

The Schlecks' custom painted frames gleam like metal but they're definitely carbon fibre

Finally, all three riders also share a propensity for Wolfgang Berner's unique rear derailleur modification, which comprises a longer pulley cage and oversized 13T/15T upper/lower pulley wheels spliced onto an otherwise standard SRAM Red rear derailleur (the Schlecks use it on their road bikes; Cancellara only uses it for time trials along with Team RadioShack's Lance Armstrong).

Why the fuss? The theory is that the larger pulleys require the chain to bend less as it makes its S-shaped path back up to the cogs, thus creating less friction.  SRAM road sports manager Alex Wassmann admits that the company are looking into the possibility of using the concept in production somehow, but says that instrumented testing thus far has been inconclusive. Guess that means we'll have to wait and see, but we wouldn't be surprised to see it as part of a 'Super Red' group we've heard rumblings about for 2012.

SRAM Red derailleurs fitted with Berner cages and pulleys are a hot item at this year's Tour

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