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Race tech: Tour de France, July 24, 2007

Tour de France continues to yield new goodies

By James Huang

…but it's not the Orca you've already seen.
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The aluminum head tube badge and housing stop
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Orbea has apparently developed
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Michelin showed off its new Pro3 Race clinchers.
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Team Barloworld is using prototype tires
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SRAM introduced its ceramic bearing-equipped
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Unmarked SRAM Red levers made their TdF debut
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Just a splash of green
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Shimano's updated Dura-Ace rear hub
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Orbea introduced its thoroughly revamped Orca last year but we spotted the Euskaltel-Euskadi team still riding the company's old Opal model as recently as this year's Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. ProTour riders are renowned for prizing stiffness in their machines, and while the new Orca is said to be substantially more rigid than the outgoing version, the boys in orange apparently still found the Opal to provide a more solid platform and preferred to use it in competition.

That has changed at this year's Tour de France as the team has finally been riding atop the Orca, but not the one currently on storeroom shelves. The orange-and-black frames of the Basque team sported new one-piece aluminum dropouts (which should be both lighter and stiffer than the two-piece versions of last year) and lighter (and decidedly more trick-looking) carbon fiber Orbea head tube badges which still serve double duty as housing stops. We also wouldn't be surprised if Orbea had stiffened things up with the second generation as well, at least for the team. Although Orbea has yet to officially announce anything, chances are this updated version will be introduced as a 2008 model.

Michelin is still one of the only ProTour tire sponsors to supply its sponsored teams with clinchers when it comes to race time (as well as 'tubulars' as we've already demonstrated…). We were already accustomed to seeing its Pro² Race model on the wheels of the Bouygues Telecom team, but a new Pro3 Race reared its head at this year's TdF.

According to Tim Jamison, Michelin's North American Bicycle Marketing and Sales Manager, "you are looking at prototypes of our next generation racing tire. This is not the first race we have used it but it is the first one where it has a Pro3 Race patch on it. We are not prepared to release the details on this product at this time, but rest assured, the performance enhancements we have made are awesome."

Jamison's comments obviously offer up little in the way of substantive information, but the new tire clearly utilizes a dual-durometer tread, and likely compounds related to one of the company's motorsports divisions (the Pro² Grip borrows its compound from Michelin Moto Grand Prix and Formula 1 tires).

In other tire news, Team Barloworld's fantastic run at its first-ever TdF has been made on prototype Vittoria tubulars made especially for the team at the request of team mechanic Giancarlo Bianchi. The tires used to land wins on Stages 9 and 11 recycle an old tread design mated to Vittoria's newest compounds. According to Bianchi, the unique combination is better suited to today's "more polluted road conditions" that are typically littered with more debris and oil. No word yet on whether or not consumers will be able to enjoy those benefits for themselves in the near future, though, but we'll continue to keep you posted.


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Images by James Huang/Cyclingnews.com

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