Astana leader, Michele Scarponi, carries the number one dossard on his back and the numero uno on his bike.
The 34-year-old Italian has rolled out as first among equals in the absence of team-mate,
Vincenzo Nibali, the Giro’s defending champion, who this year will focus on the Tour de France.
Scarponi is no stranger to inheriting the Giro’s greatest honours. He was awarded overall victory in the 2011 edition after Alberto Contador was stripped of the title.
The Italian, however, is not one who gains any satisfaction from victories by proxy, and has always insisted that El Pistolero was the rightful winner three years ago.
He will bid again for victory in the 97
th edition, and will do so aboard Specialized’s new Tarmac. Scarponi’s machine, of course, is the top-tier S-Works incarnation. Let’s take a closer look.
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Meet the new bike...
Specialized pulled the covers off the latest iteration of its Tarmac racing bike earlier this month, but as is usually the case, the pro teams backed by the Morgan Hill concern had already deployed the new machine by the time of its official unveiling. The arcing top tube and bulging head tube remain, but the size-specific lay-up, intended to ensure handling consistency across the entire size range, is not visible.
Head of affairs
The new S-Works Tarmac will come in six sizes, from 49cm to 61cm, with the lay-up of each separately configured in what Specialized call 'rider first' engineering, a concept it claims to have inherited from collaboration with British F1 team, McLaren. The 174cm Scarponi rides the 52cm frame.
With the Tarmac’s most significant update buried in its fabric, the most obvious development to the casual observer is the integration of the seat clamp with the top tube. The absence of a conventional clamp at the top of the seat-tube exposes more of the post, intended to offer greater compliance in the area of the bike most likely to transmit shock from road to rider. The integrated cable routing, one of the many pleasing features of its SL4 predecessor, survives.
Extra compliance in the seatpost is of little benefit if the saddle is uncomfortable. Scarponi will spend up to six hours a day on this Specialized Romin perch, and its design and position will be of the utmost importance. If the bike is a pro rider's office, the saddle is his office chair. The Romin has a delta design with a ‘relief channel’ intended to remove pressure from delicate tissues. Scarponi’s perch has carbon rails, but not everyone is convinced of their merits. While the fabric is typically lighter and able to absorb vibration more effectively than metal rails, it is stiffer and consequently less likely to deflect impact.
Campagnolo Super Record RS is the venerable Italian brand’s latest groupset and its flagship mechanical offering. Supply is limited and Scarponi’s race machine was one of a handful we spotted in the Giro paddock wearing the new components (his spare bike ‘only’ has the standard Super Record 11). The shift levers are carbon units with Campag’s patented Ergopower mechanism. The Ultrashift technology allows multiple shifts up and down the 11-speed block, which brings us to…
Best of all worlds?
Scarponi’s cassette is Campagnolo’s Super Record 11, one equipped with a mixture of steel and titanium sprockets. The larger sprockets, with more teeth to spread chain load, wear less quickly than their smaller cousins, and so it is in this area (the largest six, to be precise) that Campagnolo have deployed the softer material. Titanium is also lighter, and so greater weight savings can be realised from using it for the larger sprockets. How marginal would you like your gains, sir?
The chainrings represent the greatest difference between the RS iteration of Campagnolo’s top-tier mechanical groupset and plain old Super Record. The differences are subtle (prototypes were stamped with a tiny RS so mechanics could tell the difference), but, say Campagnolo, significant: each tooth has a distinct profile, intended to offer faster and more efficient engagement with the chain. The chainset is offered in three chainring configurations. Scarponi’s machine, unsurprisingly, was equipped with the largest 53-39 offering. The crank arms are Specialized’s S-Works offering, fashioned from hollow carbon, and, like Campagnolo's own crank, equipped with a two-piece axle. Unlike the Italian firm's Ultratorque offering, it is compatible with Specialized's preferred PF30 BB shell. For this reason, the S-Works FACT crank can also be found on the Tarmacs of Tinkoff-Saxo and Omega Pharma-Quickstep, where they are dressed with SRAM rings.
Back to the future
Rigidity outscores low weight in the arena of the front mech, it would seem. Campagnolo’s RS edition, billed as the flagship, is aluminium, while its standard Super Record equivalent is carbon. Seasoned peloton watchers will remember SRAM-supplied pro teams opting for the front mech from the second-tier Force group in preference to the top-tier Red, until the arrival of a strengthened unit with Red 22.
Feeling the pinch
Everyone is making sacrifices in this age of austerity, even WorldTour team leaders. Scarponi’s steed is equipped with the plastic incarnation of the Tao bottle cage, one accurately billed by Dutch manufacturer Tacx as ‘the bottle cage of the pros’. At 32g, it's 3g heavier than the carbon version, but around £40 cheaper. We're all feeling the pinch, you know...