Christian Vande Velde once considered himself more of a super domestique than an overall contender but after last year’s breakout performances at the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, 2009 now brings bigger and better goals. Carrying him on the road stages in the recent Tour of California was Felt’s flagship F1 SL.
The F1 SL is Felt’s classic level top tube frame. It trades the aerodynamic performance of its latest AR and the Z’s smoother ride for lighter weight and snappier handling. Interestingly, Felt’s lightest road frame bears their oldest carbon shape, but continuous advances in materials and construction technologies have kept it current. Thanks in part to Felt’s latest Ultra-Hybrid Carbon fibre blend and carbon nanotube-enhanced resins, claimed frame weight is around 900g and the matching Felt 1.1 UHC-Nano fork adds just 300g more.
Though the latest iteration’s new fibre lay-up is lighter than before, team riders report stiffness approaching last year’s beefier and substantially heavier F1 Sprint variant, according to team mechanic Daimeon Shanks. Shanks adds that the more austere paint job – used since last year’s Tour de France – also saves approximately 60g alone.
Vande Velde and the rest of the team switched from last year’s Shimano Dura-Ace 7800 group to the all-new 7900 version and the team leader and five others also now have the option of the Di2 electronic version. Replacing the usual network of stainless steel wires and coil springs are buttons, wires and stepper motors – all powered by a small Li-ion rechargeable battery pack – for what Shimano claims is its fastest and smoothest shifting yet.
In addition to the alternative internals, the Di2 Dual Control levers are more svelte than the standard 7900 levers, whose girth had bulked up as a result of the new shifter spool location. The narrower body and more curvaceous shape is more in keeping with 7800’s original form so while Vande Velde obviously has to get used to a new way of shifting gears, at least the levers will feel mostly familiar.
In spite of the 100g or so of added weight relative to the standard 7900 package, Vande Velde’s complete bike still comes in under the UCI weight limit at 6.57kg (14.48lb) when fitted with Zipp 202 carbon tubular wheels. Depending on the particular configuration of the day, Shanks plans to wrap up short sections of chain links in bubble wrap and drop them into the seat tube to make the difference if needed.
As in years past ceramic bearings are fitted all around, including Zipp’s own custom cartridges in its all-new hubs and top-end hybrids from new official sponsor CeramicSpeed.
Though the entire Garmin-Slipstream team both raced and trained with Powertap power meters, Shanks says that this year riders have the option to go with or without depending on the situation and rider preferences. Vande Velde’s bike went without when we caught up with it in the days leading up to the Tour of California’s start in Sacramento.
Save for a swap to fi’zi:k’s more heavily padded Arione 2 saddle, Shanks reports no major position changes for Vande Velde. Garmin-Slipstream has switched from Oval Concepts to 3T for 2009 but the ARX Team stem is still slammed down directly on top of the short head tube and the new Rotundo Team carbon bar offers a similar traditional bend that the Illinois resident prefers. Since 3T currently offer only zero-offset posts – apparently the new Palladio isn’t yet in production – Vande Velde’s frame currently wears a layback Thomson Masterpiece.
Rounding out the package are Shimano Dura-Ace SPD-SL pedals, Arundel Mandible carbon cages and a coloured-to-match Garmin Edge 705 computer.