It is a rare case of trickle-up technology.
Typically, companies introduce a new feature at the top end of the product range, then gradually introduce the same or a similar thing down the range. With SRAM’s longer-cage WiFLi road derailleurs that allow for use of a cassette as large as 32-teeth, the trickle began at the bottom with the entry-level Apex group two years ago. Now, grand tour champion Alberto Contador is racing a WiFLi derailleur in the Vuelta a España on SRAM’s top-end Red group.
Every pair of Zipp 202 wheels Contador uses has an 11-28 cassette, and Contador even broke out a cassette with a 32-tooth cog for one stage in the steep mountains, said SRAM team liaison Ben Raby.
SRAM’s road PR manager Michael Zellmann said Contador asked SRAM for the longer-cage derailleur in advance of the Vuelta. ” Going back, he was originally part of the development of WiFLi years back when some of the steeper stages required much lower gears than were offered,” Zellmann said.
SRAM announced the addition of WiFLi to its second-tier Force group and top-tier Red group in April. Since then, SRAM’s sponsored teams have been provided with the Force WiFLi derailleurs, but only a handful of Red WiFLi derailleurs are available. Levi Leipheimer rode one to victory on the particularly steep final stage of the Tour of Utah, and his competitors took notice. “Levi had the new SRAM (WiFLi) on,” Timmy Duggan said of Leipheimer on the Utah stage. “I wish I had, too.”
When the Red WiFLi rear derailleur becomes available to everyday riders, it won’t come cheaply at $380/£239. However, the 167g piece features refinements beyond simply lengthening the cage for a larger cassette. As with the standard $358/£225 Red derailleur, SRAM tweaked the geometry of the lower pulley and added ceramic bearings for quieter operation, and used titanium for the cable fixing bolt to shave a bit of weight.
For now, SRAM does not have an 11-32 Red cassette, so riders are using Force cassettes or other options. SRAM recommends the use of the mountain bike X-Glide 11-32 cassette.
At the Vuelta, Contador is the only one in the peloton with the Red WiFLi derailleur. Whether or not he has the legs to overtake Joaquim Rodríguez remains to be seen, but now he certainly has all the gears he needs.