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I'm a survivor
By Anthony Tan
Losing 70 bikes from a fire at their service course in Chambéry on December 28 last year, defending champion Mikel Astarloza and his Ag2r Prévoyance team were lucky just to make their first racing appointment at the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under less than three weeks later.
Thankfully, everything was insured (after all, Ag2r Prévoyance is an insurance company!) and while it was predominantly last year's models that were affected - although quite a few of the team's new time trial and road bikes were lost as well - General Manager Vincent Lavenu still had to do some major scrounging around among their bike and accessories sponsors to properly equip their squad of eight before the race began on January 20. Shaken but not stirred, Ag2r Prévoyance and their 2003 model Decathlon Penta Pro bikes did make it to Adelaide - but only just.
So with the delivery of the new Penta Pros still in limbo, what changes can we expect from one of the seven recently announced wildcard selections for the 2004 Tour de France?
Ag2r Prévoyance mechanic, Michel Succo, says the Decathlon bike division - just one arm of a massive retail sporting goods chain in France that also sponsors another French outfit, Cofidis - has come up with quite a few innovations for this year's Penta Pro series: "First off, the race bikes will have carbon seatstays and chainstays attached to the aluminium main triangle - this should give the riders are more comfortable and slightly more rigid ride," says Succo to Cyclingnews, who still has trouble comprehending how he and the team made the trip Down Under in time.
"All 19 riders will have custom-built frames and depending on their preference, they can chose to ride a compact or traditional frame. Also, some of the Classics riders like Kirsipuu will have special bikes that are a little heavier but also a little stronger. Oh, and this (pointing to the seatpost clamp) will be carbon," he says, sounding a little embarrassed to have mentioned such a minor detail.
Asked if the cagey Estonian sprinter has any personal preferences, Succo ponders for a moment before answering. "No, not really anything special - but Jaan prefers the old bar shape over the other [ergonomic] one and alloy cranks rather than carbon. " Which isn't particularly surprising, given the thought of a breaking a crank-arm when going head-to-head with Petacchi, McEwen, Zabel et al. at 70 kilometres an hour is, well, messy.
A collaborative effort between Decathlon, DT Swiss and rim maker Alex are the Penta 20 wheels; a rigid-looking, reasonably lightweight (claimed weight is 1,650 grams) pair of clincher hoops used for both training and racing. While there's nothing unusual about the ubiquitous Michelin Axial Pro Race tyres, Succo did let Cyclingnews in on a little secret: the French tyre manufacturer - also sponsor to Lotto, Panaria-Margres, FdJeux.com and Vini Caldirola - will be releasing a new race tyre called "Grip" very soon, most likely for wet weather conditions.
Completing the Euro-look are Time's Impact Mag-Ti pedals and carbon fork, Fi'zi:k's Poggio saddle, ITM bars and stem and Elite bottle cages. The Campagnolo Record group remains largely unchanged apart from two minor upgrades: this year, both the cage for the front derailleur and the pulley cage for the rear derailleur will be carbon fibre.
Images by Mark Gunter/Cyclingnews/www.pbase.com/gunterphotograph
Frame: Decathlon Penta Pro
Cranks: Campagnolo Record
Rim: Decathlon Penta 20, 1,650 grams per pair
Stem: ITM Millenium Super Over, 240g
Pedals: Time Impact-Mag-Ti, 240g per pair