Tour de France tech: Thor Hushovd's yellow Cervelo S5

Plus Alberto Contador's speedy bearings

A closer look at Thor Hushovd's yellow-accented Cervélo S5

Reigning world road champion Thor Hushovd got a nice bonus present to go along with the yellow jersey he and his Garmin-Cervélo squad won in the team time trial on Sunday: a new, yellow-accented Cervélo S5 aero road bike with all the trimmings suitable for the current leader of the Tour de France.

In contrast to some other special leaders' bikes we've seen in the past, Cervélo continue with their latest trend of subtle accents instead of the full-blown monochrome treatment. Hushovd's S5 is mainly black, with yellow stripes and panels on the top tube and fork blades, a bit of yellow on the flattened top of the lower section of down tube, and a yellow "é" icon on the head tube.  The bar tape and SRAM Red lever hoods are yellow, too, but otherwise it's essentially standard fare – even the Fi'zi:k Arione CX Carbon saddle retains the usual red stripe instead of a yellow one (at least for now).

Hushovd's build kit is team-issue, including the SRAM Red transmission and brake calipers (but with a steel caged front derailleur and PG-1070 cassette), Rotor 3D+ crankset with round chainrings, 3T's Rotundo classic-bend aluminum bar and ARX-Team forged aluminum stem, custom rainbow-striped Arundel Mandible carbon bottle cages, a Garmin Edge 500 computer, and a variety of Mavic wheels to suit the day. Capping the spec list is a set of Shimano Dura-Ace aluminum-bodied SPD-SL pedals and a de-logoed AceCo K-Edge chain catcher.

Cables are fed into the top of the top tube on Thor Hushovd's (Garmin-Cervélo) yellow-accented Cervélo S5

Speedy bearings for Alberto Contador

On the surface, Alberto Contador's (Saxo Bank-Sungard) Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL3 is a regular production frame with a (very) fancy paintjob and a smattering of top-end components – heck, the SL3 could even be considered old now that Specialized have announced the SL4 and put some other sponsored Tour de France riders on an even higher-end McLaren development mule. However, as we've found with the Spaniard's bikes in years past, it's what you can't see that makes the difference here.

Contador's personal wrench, Faustino Munoz, has long been known to go far above and beyond when it comes to the mechanical details of his client's machine. First off, it's always immaculate whenever we see it (except during and after a stage, of course), with characteristically bleach-white bar tape that's exquisitely applied, a surgically clean drivetrain, and gleaming paint – even the tires look perpetually brand-new. 

Munoz pays the same level of attention to the inner workings – in particular bearings. Every rotating item on Contador's bike spins with an almost impossibly low amount of friction that puts even the best box-stock machines to shame. Flick the drivetrain backwards and the crank spins as if there's no chain attached; spin a derailleur pulley on its own and it whirs silently; lift the front end and the wheel oscillates almost perpetually like a powered metronome; and most impressively, even the nearly inertia-free Speedplay Zero pedals will whirl for a couple of seconds if you nudge one with your finger.

Saxo Bank-Sungard head mechanic Faustino Munoz has tweaked the rear derailleur pulleys on Alberto Contador's machine such that they spin noticeably faster and smoother than stock.

What's the secret? Unfortunately, like all top-shelf mechanics, Munoz wouldn't reveal his magic. In fact, he wouldn't even allow us to shoot a video of what we just described. Full-ceramic bearings are a safe bet, however, especially given what we know is in use by a few other riders in the peloton, plus extra-low viscosity lubrication (if any at all). It may even be possible that Munoz has removed a few seals in search of a faster roll (Contador's bike is fastidiously maintained after all – don't try doing this at home). 

Reliable sources have also suggested that Munoz is particularly obsessive in terms of bearing preload – something that's particularly noticeable in the bottom bracket, what with the relatively imprecise wave washer setups that are normally used in BB30 systems like Contador's. Our guess would be a finely tuned micro-shim configuration that allows for perfect adjustment.

Either way, to say that every measure has been taken to ensure that Contador's machine is as speedy as possible would certainly be accurate. So does bearing friction matter? In most cases, given the modest gains afforded by the multitude of mediocre 'upgrades' currently on the market, probably not. But the difference in friction between Contador's bike and one off the showroom floor is remarkable and anyone who experienced it in person would find it hard to argue otherwise.

Given a good flick, Alberto Contador's Speedplay Zero pedals will spin freely on their own for several seconds.

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