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Race Tech: Tour de France, July 6, 2007
Boonen aiming for top step in London
By James Huang in London, England
With the start to this year's Tour de France less than two days away, the peloton already finds itself without Alessandro Petacchi (Milram), who undoubtedly would have injected a load of excitement into the first week's likely sprint finishes. To make matters even more dramatic, one of Petacchi's most potent sprint finish rivals, Tom Boonen (Quickstep-Innergetic), almost found himself without a ride for this Saturday's opening time trial courtesy of a few UCI officials.
Boonen hopes to carry the maillot jaune into his home country as the TdF crosses the English Channel into Belgium for Stage 2 and much of that goal will rest on an outstanding performance in Saturday's opening Prologue through the streets of London. To assist 'Tornado Tom' in that endeavor, team bicycle sponsor Specialized provided him with its brand-new Transition time trial machine, which was formally unveiled just last week at the company's global product launch in Spain.
Specialized frame designers were quick to point out during the press event that the radical dimensions of the new Transition just barely satisfied UCI requirements, saying that "[its] designers and engineers pushed right up to the legal limit in an effort to give riders the maximum aerodynamic advantage possible."
As it turns out, Specialized may still have pushed that envelope a bit too far as a swarm of UCI officials were seen carefully scrutinizing the bike in the pit area outside the team hotel as Quickstep-Innergetic staff nervously looked on. Luckily for Boonen (not to mention Specialized and the rest of the team), the UCI did eventually approve use of the Transition for Saturday's start, albeit begrudgingly if our information is correct. We weren't able to obtain an official UCI statement as far as what its major objection was, but rumor had it that it wasn't even related to the frame tubes themselves per se, which was apparently what Specialized had most concerned itself with. Rather, it supposedly had more to do with the range of adjustment allowed by the bike's rear-facing horizontal dropouts and its effect on the distance between the rear wheel and the seat tube.
Be that as it may, Boonen has averted disaster this time around, but the rumors in the pits suggested that the technically over-involved UCI was still wielding its meddling stick in regards to poorly worded minutia, seemingly with reckless abandon (and we still don't understand why the 6.8kg minimum weight restriction has yet to be lifted or modified). If those rumors are true, the UCI was apparently considering declaring 'modified' dropouts as unlawful modifications to stock safety features, and confusion over aero bar extension positioning had at least one team searching for clarification over the rules in fear of disqualification.
Regardless, at least one thing is for certain: the teams and riders already have enough to worry about without having to wonder whether or not filing the lawyer tabs from their forks will force a last-minute scramble for more equipment.
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Images by James Huang/Cyclingnews.com