Fausto Muñoz, Alberto Contador’s personal mechanic since the Spaniard’s neo-pro campaign, tilts his head and carefully considers the champion’s saddle angle.
The bike has been on and off the workstand and the measuring jig continually as the hours count down to the long-awaited fifteenth stage and the ascent of the Madonna di Campiglio.
Muñoz knows exactly what his friend and leader requires. Contador’s demands are very simple, he says: the bike has to be perfect. Unsurprisingly, neither of the Spaniards works on a modus operandi of “close enough”. Bike as tool for the job, essential but unremarkable, is not a philosophy to which Contador subscribes, Muñoz confirms. It is not how champions behave.
The mechanic warms to the topic. That Contador is a champion on the bike is a given. The most cursory glance at his palmarés confirms as much. It is by his conduct off the bike that Contador distinguishes himself, Muñoz believes. Similarly, the bare specification of the Spaniard’s bike offers only the slightest clue to the demands of its rider.
That Contador has chosen Specialized’s Tarmac, rather than its heavier, but more aerodynamic stablemate, the Venge, is unsurprising. Less typical is his preference for a mechanical transmission rather than the electronic drivetrains that have become de rigueur in the peloton for all but SRAM-equipped teams. Contador prefers the bulkier lever hoods, apparently: understandable for a rider whose signature is an upright, dancing style, raised from the saddle of his 54cm machine.
His preference for a bulky cockpit extends to a double layer of bar tape, an idiosyncrasy usually seen only at Paris-Roubaix, a race that is hardly the territory of a Grand Tour climber. Contador must conquer the pavé, if he is to fulfil his ambition for a Giro-Tour double. This year’s Tour features a cobbled stage for the second successive year. Contador lost nearly three minutes to Vincenzo Nibali on the fifth stage of the 2014 edition.
The tape covers an aluminium handlebar from FSA. Tinkoff-Saxo’s technical director Ricardo Scheidecker explains that aluminium is more crash resistant. Damage to a carbon bar can go undetected, concealed beneath the tape. Contador has crashed twice this Giro, though not by his own doing on either occasion.
“If you see a crash nowadays, the bike is destroyed very easily, because it is made from carbon,” adds Steven de Jongh, the team’s lead sports director. “The other day when Alberto had his crash, this part was totally out,” he says, gesturing at the right-hand seat-stay.
The weight saving offered by a carbon cockpit is barely worth the risk. Better to reduce the load and still comply with the UCI’s 6.8kg minimum weight where it will make you faster - at the wheels.
The hubs of Contador’s wheels are marked with a yellow dot, indicating that they are not Specialized’s standard Roval Rapide CLX40. Rather, they are a special, lightweight lay-up, Scheidecker confirms. The drive to reduce revolving weight no longer means using a shallow and less aerodynamic rim. (An aside: Rigoberto Uran’s hubs were similarly marked. Etixx-Quick-Step is another Specialized-sponsored ProTeam).
Variations in tyre performance offer a subtlety largely lost upon the cycling media and its myopic obsession with placing disc brakes on road bikes (an inevitability). Widths, pressures and compounds are rapidly attaining an importance previously afforded only by Formula One teams.
Katusha recorded the pressures of each rider on their Roubaix recce after each sector, and while the gains available from optimisation on such an unusual surface are obvious even to the layman, they are no less important to the Grand Tour rider, if Contador is a guide. He rides on 24mm S-Works Turbo tubulars. De Jongh is pleased, inviting us to consider the performance of rivals teams on wet descents. It is for the other manufacturers to step up to Specialized's performance, he says.
It is one of the reasons behind Contador’s controversial habit of swapping bikes before key climbs, De Jongh argues. Fresh, clean rubber and a similarly spotless drivetrain, can make a difference, the team believes. It’s a clumsy intervention, and of little help to a sport in which bicycles are now routinely inspected for motors, but if mid-stage bike changes work for Contador, expect his rivals to follow suit.
His drivetrain is comprised of an FSA K-Force light chainset, which for the coming ascent of the Madonna di Campiglio, is fitted with 53-39 chainrings and an 11-28 cassette.
Changes in equipment do not concern Muñoz as much as their set-up, one suspects. His primary concern is likely to be function, rather than form. Whatever material is supplied by the sponsor, it is his job to make it perform at its optimum. It has been this way since he began his career with Spanish team Colchón CR – a small squad, professional, but racing in a period before the designation of professional and continental teams.
Contador’s machinery has been under his charge since he took a job with ONCE, at the same time as a neo-pro from the Madrid suburb of Pinto. The rest, as they say, is history. Muñoz has declined opportunities to work with other teams to remain in Contador’s service.
The most important aspect of any job is the people you work with, he argues. Muñoz is in Contador’s corner year-round, at the winter training camps, as well as the races. It is not lost upon him that he spends more time with the rider than with his wife. For a champion, however, no sacrifice is too great.
Rouleur travelled with Saxo Bank's Ride Like A Pro programme. Click here for more information.