Every January, the rolling party begins again when the WorldTour season kicks off in Australia with the Tour Down Under. Although there are other early non-WorldTour events that attract just as many big name riders (such as Qatar), let's speculate on what tech we may or may not see at the first WorldTour race of 2016.
Tour Down Under is notorious for its excessive logistical expenses for the teams. No WorldTour has a service course on that side of the earth and so near everything must go by plane. And what a trip it is. With this, teams typically travel light and bring only the essentials. The TT bikes are left behind, as are the luxury team buses.
On the other hand, it's certainly less of a media circus and teams don't need to travel between stages, they just relax at the same hotel every night. Add in that the stages aren't as long or tortuous on equipment, and it begins to look like TDU has its perks if you're going to showcase some unproven gear.
With such logistic issues, all but the biggest name sprinters typically stick to the same bike for the week-long race. Such an example was seen with Andre Greipel last year who had both his Ridley Noah Fast and Helium SL where the rest of the team just had the Helium SL.
While some will seek aero to tackle the faster stages, most will likely err on the side of comfort to kick off their season. This was obvious with Trek Factory all racing the comfort-focused Domane last season, stating that the Australian roads aren’t the nicest going.
Of course, aero road bikes have come a long way in the comfort stakes. Sprinters are no longer forced to choose between speed or their teeth. With this, it's likely we'll see more choose an aero bike where they may have previously chosen the climbing-type frame.
If discs do appear, we’ll almost certainly see some non-typical racing frames, with a handful of brands only offering discs in more relaxed and endurance-type models currently.
Despite disc brakes now being open for trial, we suspect we won't see many in use until the European races. Logistics is the big issue, but TDU hardly offers the descents or weather to justify discs.
While Shimano and SRAM clearly have disc brake options, Campagnolo does not. We've heard rumours that such groups exist, although we've never seen it. Perhaps the Italian brand will do a soft reveal with one or two riders.
Some of the more euro-centric WorldTour teams could benefit from increased media coverage by having a rider or two on disc brakes, and so that may just be where we see the new brakes in use. Either way, we certainly don't expect many, if any, of the big name riders to move on from their caliper brakes just yet.
Shimano Neutral Service to bring disc-equipped wheels
Shimano provides neutral support to the Tour Down Under race, and so we got in touch with Toby Shingleton, national brand manager of Shimano Australia, to learn more about their preparations. “In 2015 the teams would have to inform UCI first about which races they would ride/test disc brakes, this will not be the case anymore. So all neutral support teams/cars will have to be prepared that riders/teams might show up with disc brakes. This means that also in TDU we will have wheels with (brake) rotors available.
“The specification which the UCI have decided for neutral support will be 12mm E-thru with 160mm rotors,” finished Shingleton.
With two WorldTour teams on SRAM for 2016 (Ag2R and Katusha), we expect to see a whole lot more wireless shifting. And unlike the previous TDU, this time we'll actually be allowed talk about it.
Plenty of SRAM sponsored riders are likely to be on eTap wireless
Last season the wireless system was clearly new to all, including the mechanics. Now with a full season behind the Ag2R riders, we suspect there will be a fair number of riders on the exciting system, including riders making use of the additional Blips shifters.
There have long been rumours of an FSA groupset coming, and it was originally supposed to happen during the season past. With this, it's possible we may see the Italian brand testing with a few riders in Australia.
New Shimano Dura-Ace? Probably not at TDU...
Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 is getting due for a refresh and is perhaps the biggest thing that likely won’t happen at TDU. That said, Shimano is at the end of its three-year product life cycle with the current generation, and so it’s bound to happen sooner or later.
Last season we saw riders moving toward wider rims and fatter tyres for the typically dead roads of Adelaide. While the majority were rolling on 25c tyres, we may see a few get comfortable with 28c tubulars.
Talking of tyres, IAM Cycling last year was working with Schwalbe and testing the PRO One tubeless prototype tyres on certain stages. We never did see the riders finish a stage on such tyres, even when we witnessed them starting.
Will there be some tubeless testing on the hot roads? Perhaps, but it'll be very few, we suspect.
Where there isn’t likely much new in the rubber, the opening of disc brake trials may see some new wheels rolling around. For an example, a look through Shimano’s 2016 catalogue shows no 12mm thru-axle equipped road wheels and so the Shimano Neutral Service vehicles are likely to have something special on hand.
Shoes and helmets
Suomy made its cycling appearance at TDU in 2015
Although it's typically scorching hot, the flatter stages of TDU have seen a full assortment of aero road helmets appear. Last year was the first sighting of the Bontrager Ballista, Giant Rivet and Suomy’s return, and perhaps we'll see something new from another big brand this time round.
As for footwear, what started with Taylor Phinney as a style piece has become a true trend – laces. More and more brands are looking to tie the knot (sorry) and we don't doubt we'll see a few trade in the ratchet buckles and boa dials for a lighter and more precise fitting option.
Are you naked?
We previously saw a handful of riders don the 'climbers' type clothing pieces and skinsuits to cope with the heat in Adelaide.
The materials of these garments are thinner, and a whole lot lighter of past clothing items. Sure your nipples are visible, and it's clear just how far they shave past their thighs, but if Australian temperatures continue the way they're going, we're sure riders, team directors and fans will all be dressed rather similarly.
What will we see? Your guess is as good as ours right now, so please dive into the comments with your thoughts. Stay tuned, as we’ll be on the ground when the Tour Down Under kicks off the WorldTour in 2016.