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Since 1903, the Tour de France has been the apex of a professional cyclists’ career.  Rain or shine and sometimes snow, these athletes must endure all conditions in the fight for the yellow jersey.  Eighteen stages throughout France and hundreds of cyclists competing for a place on the podium—all participants are legends and rightfully so, they have to fight hard to win it.

Its unfortunate that the world of professional cycling hasn’t gained the same popularity it has in Europe.  Its even more unfortunate that the one individual who is accredited with propagating cycling in American soil got caught up in one of sport’s biggest scandals.  Yes, I’m talking about Lance Armstrong.  The very mention of his name defiles the integrity of a sport that breeds passion with unwavering determination.

But let’s be real for a minute, without our once-beloved Texan toughing it out amongst those weathered Europeans, who else would have stepped up to the challenge?  The answer: Anyone bold enough to experiment with advancements in bike technology mixed with the whole blood-and-sweat-ride-or-die type attitude AND patience, lots of it.

18th August 1951: Cyclists competing in the Tour de France riding through the French Alps. Original Publication: Picture Post - 5381 - The Greatest Show On Earth - pub. 1951 (Photo by Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Getty Images)

During the early years of the Tour, carbon-fiber frames and lycra clothing didn’t exist.  Men competed on bicycles made of steel, smoked and drank profusely in between stages, and wore wool jerseys.  The helmet, which made rare appearances, was constructed from straps of leather that encompassed the head, but didn’t offer much when it came to protection.  But one thing hasn’t seemed to change, and it is a truth that’s difficult to accept.  The sport of cycling has always been plagued by performance enhancing drugs.  Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx, legendary champions, did it and so have continuing generations of racers—its part of the sports’ culture.

With doping wafting in and out of the scene like an enigmatic ghost, does that mean no one has ever earned the title of the yellow jersey entirely on his own?  Do today’s athletes have what it takes to endure the Tour?  Battling inclines, fluctuating weather, muscle fatigue or have the fruits of illegal substances and technology spoiled them?  Anything that can shave off fractions of a second is a winning possibility, and those stakes are unusually highly when we’re dealing with something as prestigious as the Tour.

Stationed all along the finish line of each stage are hundreds of tents teeming with vendors, team experts and mechanics showcasing and displaying the newest gadgets and technology that sponsor these legendary cyclists.  From carbon fiber seatposts to electronic shifting, is doping still worth the risk when technology has made riding more efficient?  After all, these advancements seem to be the only things that pass the approval of judges when it comes to ‘cheating’.

In truth, the real eye candy is anything but the race.  Sure, seeing those sinewy arms and hulk-like legs take a grueling climb up the French Alps is impressive, but so are the two wheels and frame they ride on.


When it comes to winning, you need to know what gear will get you to the finish line.  And that starts with the basics.  You need a frame that is agile and super lightweight.  This is where Cervelo reins supreme, investing much of their R&D into developing some of the best design processes to date.  Their Project California lab has produced an astounding model, the Rca, and uses simplicity as its foundation for improvement.  Boasting sleek internal cabling with carbon interwoven in all the areas that count for an aerodynamic feel, the Rca weighs in at an astounding 667g/1.47 lbs., that takes some serious skill!  Previous models have already proven themselves with victories in the Giro d’Italia.

Another crucial element for performance racing is shifting and this is where traditionalists cringe and roll their eyes.  Most of us are acquainted with mechanical shifting which has its definite ups and downs, but still is a reliable favorite amongst many riders.  Companies like Shimano amazed us with their Dura-Ace tier, which eclipsed Ultegra by a long shot for its precision shifting, and shortly afterwards introduced electronic shifting to its Dura-Ace 7970 groupset, forever changing our minds about allowing battery-operated motors to control our drive chain and helped redefine the term ‘precision’.  Since then, SRAM and Campagnolo have followed in their wake releasing groupsets that also integrate electronic shifting and so far its been met with positive feedback.

And what of comfort?  Having the right saddle is especially important given the duration of some stages. You’re going to need something light with minimal cushion, but the right amount of curves to support the contours of your arse.  The folks behind the company Trigon have been using carbon fiber to build frames, wheelsets, and components over the last twenty years… so it would be wrong not to give their VCS06 full carbon saddle a go, right? Duh!


You might be wondering how a seat constructed from carbon would ride comfortably, but for a lot of people it does.  How is that possible?  For one thing, the saddle only weights 95g and due to their top-secret weaving technique, Trigon has been able to yield a product that is exceptionally durable and allows the ability to flex under the weight of a rider. (Surprisingly the VCS06 is not that expensive ~$151)

If you already have a nice setup and prefer to work on your technique, then Garmin has the perfect bit of gear for you.  Acting kind of like a Fitbit yet not quite, is the Vector, a device mounted to your pedals to have cadence tracked.  After all, pedaling is everything… well, mostly.  By reviewing pedal cadence, cyclists can learn to become more efficient with their riding style and save energy for inclines and sprints.  And more importantly, the Vector helps cyclists avoid pedaling habits that encourage leg fatigue.  Vector also has the ability to read power so you can monitor the strength of pedal strokes too.


However as the old saying goes… ‘If at first you don’t succeed,’ (after consistent last place finishes and you’ve no one else to blame for all the fancy equipment that litters the garage) one can—as last resort, submit to stem cell therapy and ‘try again’.  Apparently it’s the official non-cheating ‘cheating’ that many athletes seem to be doing these days and is still considering legal-ish.  What is stem cell therapy?  It’s when stem cells are injected into a patient, stimulating cell regrowth in tissue for faster recovery from injuries—or to grow muscle.  But you’re better than that and I was only teasing.  I’m still a firm believer in determination, passion, and hard work.  My personal favorite, Cadel Evans, believes so too and is certain one can win the tour without the need to dope.  Let’s just say if you want to see in improvements in performance, it’s going to come at a cost, but things will be definitely be lighter and involve more carbon.





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