The coolest high and low tech at the Tour de France

The coolest high and low tech at the Tour de France

Sep 5, 2020, 15:12 IST

Super-fast carbon-fiber aero road bikes and deep-section wheels.

Super-fast carbon-fiber aero road bikes and deep-section wheels.

For nearly a century, the world’s best cyclists all rode steel frames. Later came along aluminum and titanium. But these days every rider in the Tour de France rides bikes made of carbon fiber, a technology borrowed from the aerospace industry. It’s light, stiff, fast, and a lot more comfortable than it used to be. Eventually, aero road bikes — which take their tube designs from time-trial bikes — came onto the scene. These bikes give a definite wind-tunnel-proven advantage and are now a mainstay of the peloton. The fastest sprinters ride aero rode bikes, including Mark Cavendish, who raced a Cervélo S5 and Enve aero wheels to four stage wins.

Indeed, officials were taking the threat of ‘motor doping’ seriously.

Indeed, officials were taking the threat of 'motor doping' seriously.

A thermal camera was used for the first time without warning at the Tour this year, in a bid to detect hidden motors in riders’ bikes, AFP reported. The camera was developed by the French Atomic Energy Commission and used alongside magnetic-resonance testing. “No one saw it, no one knew,” French secretary of state for sports Thierry Braillard told AFP. 

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Like fine wine.

Like fine wine.

The American Cannondale-Drapac team rode these Veloflex tubular tires, which were handmade in Italy. The tires were aged for two years in a cool, dark basement before being glued on. Aging hardens the manufacturer’s threading meshes and makes the rubber suppler, and that helps increase puncture resistance.

This Tour saw a number of custom paint jobs, perhaps more than ever before.

This Tour saw a number of custom paint jobs, perhaps more than ever before.

Peter Sagan, the world road champion, used two bikes, one being this Specialized Tarmac. The tastefully done custom paint job celebrates Sagan’s rainbow colors and Slovakian heritage.

But black bikes are still en vogue.

But black bikes are still en vogue.

This was Sagan’s other ride, a Specialized S-Works Venge, which he rode on sprint stages. As with Cavendish’s Cervélo, Sagan’s Venge is all black save for the white lettering. That’s been the dominant color for bikes for the past several years — especially the matte variety. And like Cavendish’s bike, Sagan’s Venge is an aero road bike, so in addition to the wind-cheating frame design, the “hidden” brakes, behind the fork and seat tube, also help Sagan go faster. It is claimed to be one of the fastest aero road bikes ever tested in a wind tunnel. Sagan’s mechanics added his world-champion colors to his deep-section aero wheels from Roval.

Cancellara’s one-off Trek Madone popped with color.

Cancellara's one-off Trek Madone popped with color.

Fabian Cancellara, the Swiss rider who says he will retire at the end of this season, rode a special-edition Trek Madone, its custom colors being a tribute to all the teams he has raced with. And where the down tube would normally say Trek, this bike honors the rider they call Spartacus, one of the top cyclists of the past decade.

At the Tour, special editions and custom touches are de rigueur.

At the Tour, special editions and custom touches are de rigueur.

We found one of the coolest personal touches on Cancellara’s oversize stem: a fantastic design showing an image of Spartacus and a pair of dice with his lucky number seven set against cobblestones in honor of Cancellara’s many victories in Europe’s cobbled classics.

Tour teams seem to have reached new levels when it comes to details.

Tour teams seem to have reached new levels when it comes to details.

This might be the most minute too: Sagan’s team had “Terminator,” his nickname, printed on a rear-derailleur pulley wheel.

There were many custom touches, like these shamrocks on Irishman Dan Martin’s Specialized S-Works Tarmac.

There were many custom touches, like these shamrocks on Irishman Dan Martin's Specialized S-Works Tarmac.

Trek-Segafredo incorporated its “Go and Take It” ad campaign into its custom paint jobs.

Trek-Segafredo incorporated its

Similarly, the Lotto-Soudal team worked in its “Live Your Dream” message.

Similarly, the Lotto-Soudal team worked in its

Elsewhere, the Tour saw a Sharknado roll through.

Elsewhere, the Tour saw a Sharknado roll through.

Vincenzo Nibali’s Specialized S-Works Tarmac had a cool paint job with little maps of France, Italy, and Spain indicating his grand-tour victories. There were images of sharks — Nibali’s nickname is the Shark of Messina — but strangely no mention of his 2016 Giro d’Italia win.

French sprinter Bryan Coquard’s BH had stickers of Le Coq, or the Rooster, his nickname.

French sprinter Bryan Coquard's BH had stickers of Le Coq, or the Rooster, his nickname.

And like fellow sprinters Cavendish and Sagan, Coquard opted for deep-section aero wheels. These are made by Vision.

And like fellow sprinters Cavendish and Sagan, Coquard opted for deep-section aero wheels. These are made by Vision.

Another Tour victory for Pinarello.

Another Tour victory for Pinarello.

It’s the rider who wins the race, but the bicycle manufacturer that sponsors him wins too. Chris Froome handily won this Tour, making it three wins in four years, and he did it on a Pinarello Dogma F8. Bradley Wiggins, Froome’s former teammate, also won the Tour on a Pinarello.

When you’re the best stage racer they put your name on your hubs.

When you're the best stage racer they put your name on your hubs.

As we noted previously, Froome rides weird chainrings.

As we noted previously, Froome rides weird chainrings.

The inventor claims the special non-round rings help a rider generate more power and save watts. Read about Froome’s Osymetric chainrings here.

Race numbers at the Tour come with timing transponders that track each rider in real time.

Race numbers at the Tour come with timing transponders that track each rider in real time.

A telemetry sensor is installed under each rider’s saddle.

A telemetry sensor is installed under each rider's saddle.

A second transponder is attached to the fork with a zip tie.

A second transponder is attached to the fork with a zip tie.

This was Pierre Rolland’s saddle with his transponder attached underneath.

This was Pierre Rolland's saddle with his transponder attached underneath.

Live images and telemetry are streamed into the press room, where up to 600 journalists pass through each stage of the Tour.

Live images and telemetry are streamed into the press room, where up to 600 journalists pass through each stage of the Tour.

Dimension Data is the company behind all the live telemetry and tracking.

Dimension Data is the company behind all the live telemetry and tracking.

“Technology has the ability to unleash innovation and allow businesses to transform — including professional sports such as cycling,” the company says.

“We’re applying our technology skills in areas such as data analytics, hybrid cloud, workspaces for tomorrow, and cybersecurity to bring a richer viewing experience to the greatest cycling race in the world: the Tour de France.”

Watch how the technology works in the video below:

Two-way radios allow riders to communicate not only with each other but also with their race directors back in the team cars.

Two-way radios allow riders to communicate not only with each other but also with their race directors back in the team cars.

As is now customary, the race leader rode a custom-painted yellow bike into Paris.

As is now customary, the race leader rode a custom-painted yellow bike into Paris.

And it had lots of tech you find on pro bikes these days.

And it had lots of tech you find on pro bikes these days.

Froome’s Pinarello Dogma F8 is itself a marvel of engineering. It’s light, fast, and handles beautifully, so we’re told by Max Levchin, who revealed that the F8 is his new favorite ride.

The world’s most consistent stage racer had the most extreme position.

The world's most consistent stage racer had the most extreme position.

I searched for the most extreme bike-fit position I could find at the Tour, and I kept coming back to Adam Hansen’s. That negatively sloped long stem, the super-low drops, and the maxed-forward high saddle. Hansen is the world’s most consistent stage racer, having now ridden 15 grand tours in a row, a record that may never be broken. It’s good he’s into yoga.

Speaking of Adam Hansen, he brought his own homemade shoes to the Tour.

Speaking of Adam Hansen, he brought his own homemade shoes to the Tour.

Hansen has an engineering background and designs his own carbon-fiber shoes. He wasn’t thrilled with the ones on the market, so he made his own. He eventually started a company called Hanseeno, which makes cycling shoes and apparel.

“If you want to improve 1% on the climbs, it’s extremely difficult,” he told Peloton. “To improve your power-to-weight ratio by 3% means a lot of hard training. But if you have a lighter bike and lose a few kilos it’s much easier. This is why I want a light bike and light shoes.”

Hansen has taken custom shoes to a whole new level.

Hansen has taken custom shoes to a whole new level.

If you look down at a pair of his Hanseenos, you might wonder how he adjusts them. But as Hansen himself showed Business Insider, all the action takes place underneath the shoe, where you turn a dial to tighten or loosen the wire system.

We saw Hansen wearing at least two different versions of his handmade shoe.

We saw Hansen wearing at least two different versions of his handmade shoe.

On his website, Hansen claims the shoe — which weighs under 95 grams — is the lightest in the pro peloton by a whopping 50%.

Weight is a constant consideration at the Tour.

Weight is a constant consideration at the Tour.

Every bike raced in the Tour must weigh at least 6.8 kilos, or 14.99 pounds, according to the rules of the International Cycling Union. The UCI came up with the rule long ago in an effort to make bikes safer, but observers argue it is an outdated regulation that needs to go. Still, teams put their digital scales to work daily to ensure their bikes make the cut.

Speaking of weight, mechanics had clever ways of making bikes race-legal.

Speaking of weight, mechanics had clever ways of making bikes race-legal.

The minimum-weight rule of 6.8 kilos/14.99 pounds presents a challenge because many carbon-fiber bikes today go below that minimum. The Cannondale-Drapac mechanics had a few tricks up their sleeves to make bikes heavier and therefore legal, including mounting a heavy steel rod with a screw inside the bottom-bracket axle. “We have different weights to get it as close as possible,” one mechanic told Business Insider. “We also use car-wheel balancing weights for small increases.”

Tour teams use all kinds of tape, and lots of it.

Tour teams use all kinds of tape, and lots of it.

Technology is still playing catch-up to the world’s fastest bike racers. One of many examples is seen when cyclists slip up and down and around their saddles as they try to generate more power to the pedals. As such, Lotto-Soudal mechanics put grippy Lizard Skins tape onto one rider’s saddle. This beats sandpaper, which can leave you with shredded shorts:

Bike computers show routes using GPS, but a simple print-out of the stage profile taped onto a stem does the trick best.

Bike computers show routes using GPS, but a simple print-out of the stage profile taped onto a stem does the trick best.

Froome had a printed stage profile on his stem. Little markings on the profile highlighted key points along the course; he could turn the loosely affixed profile as the stage went on.

As for Froome’s custom rhino graphic, it is a nod to his African heritage and “his commitment to the conservation of these animals.”

Froome had a printed stage profile on his stem. Little markings on the profile highlighted key points along the course; he could turn the loosely affixed profile as the stage went on.

As for Froome's custom rhino graphic, it is a nod to his African heritage and

Race leader Greg Van Avermaet had his day’s work cut out for him and taped to his stem. From top to bottom, there was a neutral rollout, a series of three climbs of varying difficulties, a sprint, a feed zone, a final climb, and then the finish.

Race leader Greg Van Avermaet had his day's work cut out for him and taped to his stem. From top to bottom, there was a neutral rollout, a series of three climbs of varying difficulties, a sprint, a feed zone, a final climb, and then the finish.

We spotted some mechanics putting Lizard Skins on pedals.

We spotted some mechanics putting Lizard Skins on pedals.

The tape gives riders’ shoes more grip on the smooth pedal surfaces.

The tape gives riders' shoes more grip on the smooth pedal surfaces.

A Cannondale-Drapac mechanic wrapped his scissor handles with Fizik handlebar tape for more grip, which comes in handy when hands are wet or greasy.

A Cannondale-Drapac mechanic wrapped his scissor handles with Fizik handlebar tape for more grip, which comes in handy when hands are wet or greasy.

How to quiet a rattling valve.

How to quiet a rattling valve.

Sometimes presta valves make a distracting rattling noise in deep-section carbon rims. One team simply put a piece of electrical tape over the valve …

… another inserted a piece of zip tie into the space between the valve and the rim …

... another inserted a piece of zip tie into the space between the valve and the rim ...

… another wrapped the valve with a piece of material that acted as a shim.

... another wrapped the valve with a piece of material that acted as a shim.

Sagan’s bike had the nicest treatment — a Roval-branded sticker.

Sagan's bike had the nicest treatment — a Roval-branded sticker.

Cooling down while warming up.

Cooling down while warming up.

On hot days, riders wore a cooling ice vest as they warmed up for their time trial. By keeping their core temperature down they avoid overheating, and that improves performance.

In addition to an ice vest, Tony Martin wore an ice wrap around his wrists to keep cool as he warmed up for his time trial.

In addition to an ice vest, Tony Martin wore an ice wrap around his wrists to keep cool as he warmed up for his time trial.

To cool down out on the road, soigneurs prepared ice socks for the riders. They are easy to make: Stuff ice cubes into a stocking and tie them up.

To cool down out on the road, soigneurs prepared ice socks for the riders. They are easy to make: Stuff ice cubes into a stocking and tie them up.

Riders stuff the ice socks in the back of their jerseys to keep their core temperature down, which improves performance.

Riders stuff the ice socks in the back of their jerseys to keep their core temperature down, which improves performance.

At least one rider was wearing sweatbands.

At least one rider was wearing sweatbands.

Cannondale-Drapac brought cooling mattress toppers called ChiliPads from the US.

Cannondale-Drapac brought cooling mattress toppers called ChiliPads from the US.

Many riders will tell you it gets harder to sleep as the Tour rolls on, especially if the hotel you’re staying in has no air-conditioning. 

This might be the most important technology at the Tour.

This might be the most important technology at the Tour.

If other teams take germs as seriously as the American Cannondale-Drapac team, then a simple bottle of hand sanitizer might be the single most important piece of equipment, second only to the bicycle perhaps. When I traveled with the team, there was always a bottle close at hand, whether at the dinner table, on the bus when you hopped on or off, and everywhere in between. At the Tour, riders’ immune systems are so depressed that it becomes incredibly easy for them to catch a cold, and if that happens, it could be game over for their participation in the race. That’s also why a lot of riders don’t like to shake hands.

Sunny days called for sunscreen, which these days riders can spray on as they ride.

Sunny days called for sunscreen, which these days riders can spray on as they ride.

Little things that could make a big difference.

Little things that could make a big difference.

The Cannondale-Drapac team didn’t just make the extra effort to get riders refreshing drinks on the hard climbs where there were no formal feed zones; it also attached energy and caffeine gels to the bottles in case the riders needed extra fuel for the finish — which was especially critical if they were bonking.

Alberto Contador prefers to have more grab and cushion on his handlebar, so he has his mechanics double-wrap his bars with two rolls of tape.

Alberto Contador prefers to have more grab and cushion on his handlebar, so he has his mechanics double-wrap his bars with two rolls of tape.

No matter who had the race lead and wore the iconic yellow jersey, that rider’s team customized his bike with yellow. In the case Greg Van Avermaet, the BMC Racing Team added yellow tape and a yellow cover for his SRM power-meter box.

No matter who had the race lead and wore the iconic yellow jersey, that rider's team customized his bike with yellow. In the case Greg Van Avermaet, the BMC Racing Team added yellow tape and a yellow cover for his SRM power-meter box.

Wearable tape: Many riders, including Tejay van Garderen, spent some time during the Tour racing with kinesio tape, which helps with recovery from injury by providing support and stability to muscles and joints without restricting range of motion.

Wearable tape: Many riders, including Tejay van Garderen, spent some time during the Tour racing with kinesio tape, which helps with recovery from injury by providing support and stability to muscles and joints without restricting range of motion.

Source: Kinesio Taping

Flat-top aero bars are now more widely used in the pro peloton.

Flat-top aero bars are now more widely used in the pro peloton.

We saw just one handlebar of this kind get a full tape job. Mechanics typically will wrap these flat-top aero bars only past the brake hoods.

Secret shifter: The inside of the handlebar drops on Peter Sagan’s bike featured a mini shifter so that he could change gears with a flick of his thumb when he’s sprinting.

Secret shifter: The inside of the handlebar drops on Peter Sagan's bike featured a mini shifter so that he could change gears with a flick of his thumb when he's sprinting.

Once always plain black, shoes are now blingy.

Once always plain black, shoes are now blingy.

World champ Peter Sagan wore custom gold-colored Specialized shoes. He also had green pedals to go with his lead in the green-jersey competition for most consistent daily finisher.

Sagan had custom world-champion kicks for all the podium ceremonies he had to attend.

Sagan had custom world-champion kicks for all the podium ceremonies he had to attend.

Custom yellow: Froome wore this custom pair of carbon Sidi SHOTs.

Custom yellow: Froome wore this custom pair of carbon Sidi SHOTs.

Yellow aero gloves and tape, all to complement Froome’s yellow jersey.

Yellow aero gloves and tape, all to complement Froome's yellow jersey.

Speaking of shoes, teams are always at the ready with exactly the right gear.

Speaking of shoes, teams are always at the ready with exactly the right gear.

When Alberto Contador crashed heavily on the opening stage, his team sprang into action. His teammates waited for him and then rode for him, and his support staff in the cars provided him with a spare bike and a clutch spare shoe to replace the one he’d shredded.

Dutchman Tom Dumoulin won two stages, in part thanks to his incredibly aero position. In the first time trial he wore the tallest aero shoe covers we’ve ever seen.

Dutchman Tom Dumoulin won two stages, in part thanks to his incredibly aero position. In the first time trial he wore the tallest aero shoe covers we've ever seen.

Speaking of aerodynamics: When I saw Geoffrey Soupe, left, I wondered if his beard possibly made him slower. Turns out a clean-shaven face will save less than 1 second over 40 kilometers, Specialized found.

Speaking of aerodynamics: When I saw Geoffrey Soupe, left, I wondered if his beard possibly made him slower. Turns out a clean-shaven face will save less than 1 second over 40 kilometers, Specialized found.

Source: Specialized

These days, rider numbers also show their number of Tour stage victories.

These days, rider numbers also show their number of Tour stage victories.

At the time we took this shot, Sagan had won five Tour stages during his career, but that number stood at seven before the race finished.

Many teams use electrical tape to mark a rider’s exact saddle height. BMC used a marker.

Many teams use electrical tape to mark a rider's exact saddle height. BMC used a marker.

Simple, time-tested things are hard to replace.

Simple, time-tested things are hard to replace.

Pro cycling as we know it and safety pins were invented around the same time, over 100 years ago, and to this day riders pin their numbers. And while pinning your number does not make for the most aerodynamic design, the safety pin shows no sign of being replaced any time soon, even if there is one company, Nopinz, trying to do just that.

A spoke is a multitool.

A spoke is a multitool.

Tour mechanics are incredibly resourceful, finding lots of different ways to fix and improve things. Here James Griffin of the Cannondale-Drapac team showed us how he used a discarded spoke to pick debris out of tires to prevent punctures. He did this after every stage. The team told Business Insider that at the Giro d’Italia in May, its riders had zero flats during the three-week stage race.

Water bottles are used for more than drinking: Cannondale-Drapac kept a bottle filled with vinegar on hand.

Water bottles are used for more than drinking: Cannondale-Drapac kept a bottle filled with vinegar on hand.

It’s all about making the rubber suppler.

It's all about making the rubber suppler.

Cannondale-Drapac mechanic James Griffin rubbed vinegar on all the riders’ tires before the start of rainy stages. He told Business Insider that the vinegar makes the rubber suppler, which means better traction on rain-slicked roads. The vinegar also helps prevent flats because a suppler tire absorbs bits of road debris better, debris that might otherwise puncture the tire.

Don’t try this at home: While it might be tempting to wash your bike with a high-pressure sprayer, it is not advised. The Tour mechanics are pros and know how to use the right touch when spraying bikes. If you’re not careful, you could end up getting water into places it shouldn’t go and risk corrosion.

Don't try this at home: While it might be tempting to wash your bike with a high-pressure sprayer, it is not advised. The Tour mechanics are pros and know how to use the right touch when spraying bikes. If you're not careful, you could end up getting water into places it shouldn't go and risk corrosion.

Traffic control.

Traffic control.

Team cars have GPS navigation devices with each race route preloaded into the system. This way whoever is driving during the race just follows the directions on the screen. Team directors have a lot of valuable information — including which way the wind is blowing and when the racecourse will change direction — and related it to the riders by two-way radio.

Every team car was outfitted with TV screens showing the race live, one up front by the radio and one in the back behind the passenger’s head rest.

Every team car was outfitted with TV screens showing the race live, one up front by the radio and one in the back behind the passenger's head rest.

Every Tour, we see faster and cooler helmets. The time trials bring out the high-tech lids, like this Lazer Wasp Air. Note the long tail.

Every Tour, we see faster and cooler helmets. The time trials bring out the high-tech lids, like this Lazer Wasp Air. Note the long tail.

Nairo Quintana time-trialed in a Catlike RAPID helmet. It’s shorter and doesn’t have that long tail that many TT helmets have, perfect for shorter TTs and in crosswinds.

Nairo Quintana time-trialed in a Catlike RAPID helmet. It's shorter and doesn't have that long tail that many TT helmets have, perfect for shorter TTs and in crosswinds.

Froome’s Kask TT helmet was somewhere in the middle of the two.

Froome's Kask TT helmet was somewhere in the middle of the two.

Meanwhile, Peter Sagan kept his man bun under wraps in his S-Works Evade aero road helmet from Specialized.

Meanwhile, Peter Sagan kept his man bun under wraps in his S-Works Evade aero road helmet from Specialized.

Each rider leading a classification at the Tour wore a custom helmet to go with the that leader’s jersey — as did Thomas Degent, who spent some time as the King of the Mountains leader and wore polka-dot shades.

Each rider leading a classification at the Tour wore a custom helmet to go with the that leader's jersey — as did Thomas Degent, who spent some time as the King of the Mountains leader and wore polka-dot shades.

Degent’s team went all out: He had a matching bike, gloves, and SRM power-meter box. It was fun while it lasted, but Poland’s Rafal Majka ended up winning the KOM competition.

Degent's team went all out: He had a matching bike, gloves, and SRM power-meter box. It was fun while it lasted, but Poland's Rafal Majka ended up winning the KOM competition.

Team Sky brought lots of horsepower to the Tour this year in form of the strongest team and a Ford Mustang, which served as a very fast support vehicle.

Team Sky brought lots of horsepower to the Tour this year in form of the strongest team and a Ford Mustang, which served as a very fast support vehicle.

Like Froome and his bike, the Mustang got the yellow treatment for the final stage.

Like Froome and his bike, the Mustang got the yellow treatment for the final stage.

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