After nearly beating Alberto Contador in 2007, last year's Tour de France runner-up Cadel Evans goes into this year's race as one of the top favourites. And he'll be doing it on a Ridley Helium, the lightest frame that his team sponsor makes.
Evans' team, Silence-Lotto, is somewhat of a rarity in that it aims to win on all fronts: from the high-octane sprinting in the spring classics all the way through to overall victory in the Grand Tours. As such, team bike sponsor Ridley needs to supply the team with different machines to suit each rider's own aims and characteristics. Where the sprinters and classics riders like fellow Australian Robbie McEwen and Belgian Leif Hoste typically ride the company's powerhouse Noah frame, all-rounder Evans prefers the lighter weight Helium as the road heads skywards.
Ridley launched a redesigned Helium at the end of last season, just in time for Evans' overall ProTour victory. Much of the bulk around last year's bottom bracket has been shaved away and the new head tube is full-carbon, right down to the headset bearing races. Even though the new frame is lighter than the previous incarnation, Ridley claims it's also more rigid thanks to more efficient use of the remaining material and more careful selection of carbon fibre types.
The Helium's more rounded tubes look far different from the deep aero tubes of the recently overhauled Noah but the two frames share a number of features nonetheless. Both use a fully integrated seatpost for modestly lighter weight and a firmer pedaling platform as well as a tapered-and-oversized 1 1/8"-to-1 1/2" front end for more precise handling. According to Evans, the slightly curved forks were personally selected by both himself and McEwen over Ridley's more commonly used straight-bladed models, so those were the ones that the company ultimately decided to spec as standard.
Despite weighing a claimed 900g for the medium size with an uncut mast (Evans' small-sized frame is even lighter), Ridley claims that its tests show that the Helium is "the most durable lightweight carbon bike on the market." Not surprisingly, Evans appreciates the reliability saying that it's no good building something 200g lighter and then having to change it halfway up the mountain because it's broken.
Having said that, the Australian's bike tipped the scales at a barely-legal 6.81kg (15.01lb) without the benefit of weight-weenie extras. The full 10-speed Campagnolo Record groupset is only interrupted by a pair of smoother-spinning and slightly lighter FSA jockey wheels with ceramic bearings. Standard 53- and 39-toothed chainrings on the Record Ultra Torque chainset and a fairly wide-ranged 11-25T cassette provide Evans with a good descending and sprinting gear at one end of the range and a comfortable climbing one at the other.
Evans rides with Campagnolo Red Ergopower levers
Like most Campagnolo-sponsored riders in the peloton, Evans has a pair of Record Ergopower levers with those distinctive red graphics that show they have a slightly stiffer action than standard. With the recent launch of Campagnolo's new 11-speed groupsets, this will presumably be the last season we'll see this current-generation lever shape among the top pros, although a number of holdouts lingered after the last shape change several years ago. It may even be possible that some will be riding the upcoming Tour de France with the new components but we'll have to wait and see.
Campagnolo also supplies Silence-Lotto with wheels, and its Hyperon Ultras are some of the lightest available. With carbon-bodied hubs and full-carbon rims they are a claimed 1120g per pair for the tubular version that Evans uses. The team uses 21mm-wide Vredestein Fortezza Pro Tricomp tubular tyres, which at 270g each compare favourably with most of the other brands out there in terms of weight.
Bars and stems are provided by Oval Concepts
Team bars and stems are provided by Oval Concepts, a company better known for its time trial and triathlon cockpit components and unique Jetstream forks. Evans' bits are slightly unusual in that the handlebar clamp diameter is 26.0mm rather than the oversized 31.8mm that has fast become the norm industry-wide. The larger diameter isn't necessary according to Oval's Morgan Nicol, who insists it came about mostly because other companies had difficulties making a bar that was strong and light enough with the standard size. Regardless, the smaller diameter components are slightly lighter and so the entire Silence-Lotto team (as well as the Slipstream-Chipotle boys) are outfitted as such.
This Ridley Helium carried Evans to second place in last month's Dauphiné Libéré, just 39 seconds behind winner Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne). Come the Tour's finish at the end of July, the ProTour champion will be hoping that his greater consistency and experience over the more gruelling three weeks will help to reverse that result in Paris. If all goes according to plan, Evans will not only move up a step on the podium but will also go down as the first Aussie ever to win.