Tech gallery: Tour de France prologue 2012

Time trial equipment influenced by UCI

This year's Tour de France began with a 6.4km prologue around the urban streets of Liège, Belgium – a pan-flat, blisteringly fast course that Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) completed with an average speed of 53.21km/h (33mph). Bike choice for the course was all about aerodynamics and efficiency, not weight.

Most of the gear was rather standard stuff, but a recent UCI technical ruling factored in. The sport's governing body have decided that add-on friction material (grip tape, for example) on saddles and handlebars will not be permitted if it wasn't built into the original product itself.

In other words, components with integrated friction features such as TT-specific saddles from Prologo, Bontrager and others are okay. But even bicycle-specific accessories such as Fizik's Grip Strip are not. How conventional bar tape fits into this scheme is currently unclear.

Riders still occasionally have a hard time maintaining their positions in the saddle, though, and now have to resort to other measures to add grip. Without the ability to increase friction, they've been tilting their saddle noses upwards slightly, maxing out the three degrres of variance currently allowed by the UCI.

We saw a lot of saddles marked with adhesive from recently removed tape

There were a few new bits in the team pit areas, too. Lotto-Belisol captain Jurgen van den Broeck's Ridley Dean was fitted with what we're told is a new disc wheel from Campagnolo, which will likely replace the Ghibli. We have no confirmed technical information at present, but the full-carbon construction is guaranteed to be heaps lighter than the Ghibli, with its aluminum tire bed and heavy sides. Van den Broeck's disc wheel was also equipped with an 11-speed cassette, which won't fit on a Ghibli.

Lotto-Belisol riders also sported new Lazer aero helmets for the prologue. In keeping with recent trends, the new lid has no forward-facing vents, in an effort to improve aerodynamics. There's also a gigantic shield to divert air around the face. Also visible were two ridges running left to right – perhaps an offshoot of similar features used on the team's time trial bikes intended to keep air 'stuck' to the surface.

Lotto-Belisol riders were sporting time trial helmets from Lazer

We didn't see any new items in the Saur-Sojasun team area but did spot one peculiarity. Time are the team's official bike sponsor but two camouflaged Trek Speed Concepts were hidden among the sponsor's RXR aero bikes.

Check out our image gallery for more tech stories from the Tour de France 2012 proglogue.

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