We’ve been hearing a persistent rumor that Quick Step-Innergetic riders rode Specialized Tarmacs with Time forks this spring. We decided to check in with the folks in Morgan Hill to get the inside scoop. Nic Sims, Specialized’s media relations chief admitted yes, some riders—fewer than half the team—did ride Tarmacs with Time forks. When the team’s riders and officials were interviewed about the choice (Specialized wasn’t what you’d call thrilled) and what they could do to get the riders on their forks, the team said they needed a stiffer fork.
Specialized ordered some of the Time forks in question for testing. What they found was that their fork was no less stiff than Time’s. It is safe to assume that some readers will view this assessment with some suspicion, so we asked Sims to what degree the fact that Specialized’s American identity might be at the root of the rider’s mistrust of the fork. Sims says, “We constantly have to prove we have a right to sponsor a team like Quick Step. We are constantly proving the quality of our products to their riders. They are Belgian and have been doing things their way for many years; so it is hard for us to enter what they see as their sport, it is with the help of Mario Cipollini and more recently Lance Armstrong that American companies are now being regarded as some of the best bikes in the peloton.”
When asked if riders might have been afraid of the Specialized fork for no reason other than their unfamiliarity with it, Sims says, “Yes, we think that’s a big part of it.” Even so, they weren’t bothered by the riders’ request for a stiffer fork. “We have to do whatever we can to keep the spotlight on those riders by enabling them to win races. They use us to win. We use them to develop products. It’s a good trade.”
By summer, Tom Boonen and the other riders who most needed a stiffer fork were on Tarmac SL2s. Sims says that thanks to the beefed up blades and 1.5” steerer diameter at the crown, Specialized is confident Quick Step can’t find a stiffer fork anywhere.
Increased stiffness isn’t limited to just the fork. While all riders started on stock Tarmacs, the vast majority of the Quick Step team are on bikes with custom layups. The riders start with the stock bike and if they say it’s not stiff enough, they get a choice of two stiffer layups. The “basic stiff” (World Champion Paolo Bettini’s choice) weighs a bit more than the stock frame while the “extra stiff” (Boonen’s choice) is a bit more still.
Sims says one of the biggest challenges in working with Quick Step has been trying to respond in an efficient way to riders’ requests. You never want to keep a pro waiting for equipment, but communication isn’t ever simple. In the case of Paolo Bettini, measurements the Specialized staff received indicated the 52cm frame would be perfect for him. Bettini was given a 52. End of story, right? Not quite. Bettini took one look and said, “But with this bike I can’t ride use my 14cm stem.” So he rides a 49cm frame and runs a 14cm stem. Go figure.
The bike pictured above was specially painted for Bettini in the wake of his other bike being stolen. We’re told he sleeps with it in his hotel room.
Photo courtesy: Specialized.