The WorldTour peloton is cycling’s equivalent of Formula One, but unlike Bernie Ecclestone’s circus, the fans are allowed close to the machinery on which their heroes compete.
The technological developments that will one day become standard fare on shop-bought machines typically are showcased in the first instance on the bikes ridden by cycling’s elite professionals.
Technical trends are easy for the practiced eye to spot, but more interesting still are the idiosyncrasies that make a rider’s bike – a tool of the trade at this level – his own.
The biggest names in the sport distinguish their machines with custom paint schemes, or equipment either just released or not yet available to the public. Look closely, however, and you’ll see that every machine is as individual as the rider – even those of the domestiques.
We’ll set the scene for a host of pro bike features coming to RCUK throughout the
Giro d’Italia with a look at some of the more interesting details from the paddock at Belfast’s Titanic Quarter.
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In the pink
Bike manufacturers invest serious money to supply WorldTour teams. When a rider leads a Grand Tour, they waste little time in producing a special edition. Less than 24-hours after Svein Tuft pulled on the first maglia rosa of the 2014 Giro d'Italia, Scott supplied a custom Foil Team Issue in the race's signature pink.
Eyes on the prize
Overall victory may be beyond Tuft and his Orica-GreenEDGE team-mates, but the Canadian will certainly know what lies ahead. A graphic describing the entire parcours of the 97th Giro d'Italia has been layed across his top tube.
Fight for pink
Tuft also recieved a special editon of SRM's Power Control 7 power meter. The German brand had until recently held almost a complete monopoly on power meter supply to the WorldTour peloton, but with Sky switching to Stages, and Garmin-Sharp finally able to use the Vector pedal, it's grip has been loosened.
Fly the flag
If you're not leading the race, there are still many ways to distinguish yourself from the bunch. OPQS leader, Rigoberto Uran, had a Colombian-inspired Specialized Tarmac on hand.
World number one, Joaquim Rodriguez, has a saddle paying homage to his nickname 'Purito' - Spanish slang for small cigar. He earned the monicker by affecting to smoke an imaginary cigar while passing his team-mates on a training ride. We'll be bringing you much more on Rodriguez' bike in a separate feature.
Purito's chief lieutenant, Dani Moreno, also has a custom paint scheme. His mechanic wheeled the bike away from interference from other power meters in the Belfast paddock while he re-set Moreno's unit.
If your team won't meet your demands for a custom paint scheme, you can show your individuality by selecting a different model from your team-mates. Manuel Belletti rolled out in Belfast on a Bianchi Infinito CV, while his Androni-Giacottoli colleagues rode the Italian brand's Sempre Pro.
Stand out in a crowd
Team Colombia's Edwin Avila is another who refuses to follow the crowd. While his team-mates ride Wilier's aptly-named Zero 7 (each frame guaranteed to weigh less than 800g, and so a sensible choice for a team of climbers), the 24-year-old has chosen the Italian brand's Cento1AIR aero-profiled road bike, finished in Colombian colours.
Three's a crowd
Trek's Giacomo Nizzolo was the third rider we noticed with a spare bike on hand different to those of his colleagues. The 25-year-old had a Trek Domane at his service. The American brand's 'endurance' bike was designed with input from his colleague, Fabian Cancellara, and ridden by the Swiss to victory over the cobbles at the Tour of Flanders, is a machine intended to deliver comfort rather than pure speed.
Nizzolo was more in step with his colleagues and rivals in his choice of a 35mm rim for the expected blustery conditions of stage two. RCUK tested this hoop last year and found it to be supremely stable in cross winds.
Variation on a theme
Tinkoff-Saxo's joint leader, Rafal Majka, opted for a slightly deeper rim than Nizzolo, but still one considered on the safe side of stable. Zipp's 303 Firecrest has a 45mm rim depth. The 32mm deep Zipp 202 is also likely to have been available to him, but is more typically deployed on mountain stages.
Less expensive than an SRM power meter, but perhaps equally valuable to its owner is this Garmin 500, spotted on the handlebars of Omega Pharma-Quickstep's young Italian climber, Gianluca Brambilla.
Return to sender
Jan Polanc is taking no chances with his Garmin 510. The computer is clearly labelled. If found, return to Lugano, Switzerland - the registered address of his Lampre-Merida team.
Make mine an Xpresso
French brand Time may no longer supply bicycles to the WorldTour peloton, but their iClic pedals, including the Xpresso pictured here, featured on a number of the machines in the Belfast paddock. This particular platform is the property of Team Colombia's Fabio Duarte, who finished second on the queen stage of last year's Giro, after a heroic ride through the snow to the summit of Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
LOOK's new Keo Carbon 2 was recently tested by RCUK. This one belongs to someone, ahem, slightly faster - Astana leader, Michele Scarponi. His have the Ti spindle, too. We made do with chromoly. Marginal gains? Check back soon for a full feature on Scarponi's steed.
Appearances can be deceptive
Nacer Bouhanni rides for the PRO-supplied FDJ.fr squad, but the cap on his fork steerer does not give the true identity of the absurdly long stem, which is from FSA - a rival to the Shimano subsidiary, and not an official supplier to Bouhanni's team. The faceplate was unbadged.
Expecting rain (rightly), a few of the riders deployed a cut down bidon as a convenient store for a spare rain jacket. Lampre-Merida's Jan Polanc is our model.
Bikes for all seasons
Neutral support at the Giro comes courtesy of Italian tyre brand, Vittoria. It's fleet of spare bikes are equipped with various brands of components and pedals to support riders from rival teams, likely to be using shoe cleats and drivetrains from competing brands.
Shift of opinion
These neutral service bikes are equipped with Campagnolo Chorus and Shimano Ultegra shifters and drivetrains respectively. Spare bikes on other cars were fitted with SRAM components.
The neutral service bikes are equipped with pedals from competing brands too - Time and Speedplay, in this instance. Spare bikes on other cars were fitted with LOOK Keos.