Grand Tours are always a prime showcase for new bikes and components, and this year's Giro d'Italia has faithfully upheld that tradition with fresh products spotted from SRAM,
Nearly all of Astana's Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL3 road bikes were fitted with compact 110mm BCD cranks – but not compact chainrings. SRAM have provided the riders with special team-only 'BlackBox' rings with standard-sized 53/39T ratios and extra-beefy construction to squelch flex.
SRAM road sports manager Alex Wassmann says these particular rings won't ever be offered to the public, though, as they were only produced as part of a development process for new consumer-market 110mm BCD size options.
"We'd been playing with different setups for ramps and shifting efficiency over the past couple of years," he said. "We'd settled on the 52/36 configuration for commercial purposes. These rings were part of that process, but we felt the larger 53t size crossed the line for front derailleur capacity in getting ideal shift performance in the consumer market."
Astana team leader Alexandre Vinokourov was the lone holdout with standard BCD Specialized rings mounted on his carbon crankarms. But his Specialized S-Works Shiv was spotted with an ultralight all-aluminium cassette just prior to stage 4's team time trial.
The perforated dome-like construction resembles that of SRAM's off-road XX cassette but European road sponsorship manager Jason Phillips adamantly denies that it's a SRAM product. Upon closer inspection, the tooth profiles don't match anything in the company catalogue and perhaps it's just as well, since Vinokourov didn't end up using it during the race.
We're still working to identify the exact make and model as we've already ruled out the usual suspects such as current models from KCNC, Token, Recon, Tiso and Sampson Sports. Team mechanic Chris Van Roosbroeck wouldn't reveal his secrets, but we'll report back once we find out more.
Several riders and teams at this year's Giro have shown up with prototype tubulars from Italian tyre company Vittoria. The tread pattern looks to be identical to the current Corsa Evo CX but Vittoria marketing manager Luca Cedroni tells us it's a preproduction version of a higher-performance model that will presumably be released to the public in the near future.
"We're experimenting with different compound, puncture protection belting and casing combinations in order to get even better performances out of our already top performing Corsa Evo CX," he said. "The aim is to get (for the teams) the best racing tubular without caring about wear.
"In this case, grip and rolling resistance are priorities (but normally the better the grip, the higher the rolling resistance) and we’re experimenting with different combinations of the above in order to achieve a fast, grippy tyre."
"Puncture protection material plays a big role in rolling resistance, too," he continued. "The better the puncture protection, the worse the rolling resistance and, again here, there’s a fine line between extreme performance and reliability."
Finally, French company O.symetric debuted some updated chainrings on Bradley Wiggins' Team Sky Pinarello Dogma. Wiggins' rings were machined, not stamped, and were built from thicker aluminium plate for less flex for improved power transfer and better shift performance. In addition, O.symetric looks to have revised their unique non-round shape.