It is barely past 8am, but Team Sky’s mechanics are busy in the large white tent that serves as a communal replacement for team trucks at the Tour of Qatar.
Alan Williams – laconic, amenable – is making final adjustments to the special edition Pinarello Dogma F8 that Sir Bradley Wiggins will ride in today’s stage three time trial.
Low profile bikes are barred from competition in the Tour of Qatar for logistical reasons: the race takes place some 6,500km from the European service courses of most teams. The special edition bike may see further action, however, should Wiggins roll out next month for the time trials at Paris-Nice.
His new machine has been the subject of press release-generated fanfare, but is unmistakably a proper job. The gold-on-white finish is elegant and entirely fitting for a reigning British and Olympic time trial champion; so too, the fade from Union Flag to rainbow stripes of world champion.
The top tube records only the most significant victories of a decorated career; the confines of space prelude “lesser” achievements on which other riders might have based an entire career. There isn’t room enough, for example, for Wiggins’ two Dauphiné triumphs, or his 2012 victory at Paris-Nice.
Williams has seen a few special edition machines pass through Sky’s Belgian service course, but even he is impressed. So too is its pilot, apparently. Wiggins rode the machine on his arrival in Doha last week and, declaring himself satisfied, returned the bike to the mechanics for final preparation.
When 1 visits, Williams is engaged in applying a new wrap of bar tape (“it has to be on this bike, hasn’t it really?”), having earlier fitted stem, bars, and new chainrings.
The stem is low (“he likes a negative rise”) and long: 130mm, though ’twas not ever thus: Wiggins previously used a 140mm stem, Williams confides.
Further evidence of Wiggins’ ever changing moods can be found in the chainrings: now circular, where once they were oval. He will push a hefty 56-44 on today’s technical and wind-blown 10.9km circuit in Lusail, allied to an 11-25 cassette.
The rear wheel – some 75mm deep – speaks volumes for the emphasis Wiggins will place on pure speed today, but the front wheel depth had yet to be decided when we visited, with a final decision set to be made on arrival at the course, a 30-minute drive from the hotel in Doha.
“We never talk tyre pressures,” Williams laughs, in response to 1’s enquiry. He confirms that Wiggins will use the same model Veloflex Carbon tubs on which he rolled out for the previous day’s road stage.
The saddle is positioned 82.5cm above crank centre by the proprietary seatpost supplied with the Dogma F8, and Wiggins will steer with a 40cm bar: narrow for a rider who stands 190cm in his socks and weighs 80kg for this race.
Williams’ finishing touch is to apply a coating of hydro-dynamic lubricant from Muc Off to Wiggins’ chain: a formula he says was developed by the Dorset firm last season at the team’s request for a light lube that would cover all conditions, from 40-degree heat at La Vuelta to the cold and wet of the Spring Classics.
It is not heat that will be Wiggins’ chief adversary today in Lusail, however, but wind. The flags in the hotel car park flapped furiously as 1 took leave of Williams and his colleagues.
In a few hours, their man will roll out for the first time in the rainbow jersey he won last September, and with retirement from the road after Paris-Roubaix drawing ever closer, Paris-Nice will offer two final chances to race as world champion. He has a bike that will do justice to his efforts.