The peloton’s relationship with the wider cycling industry is clearest at the launch of a new model.
We are in Brescia for the unveiling of Bianchi’s new climbing bike, the Specialissima CV. Also here is Richard Plugge, general manager of Lotto-JumboNL, Bianchi's presence in the WorldTour.
Angelo Lecchi, ex-Del Tongo, Mercatone Uno, and MG-Maglificio, and team-mate variously to Bartoli, Bugno, Cipollini, Fondriest and Pantani, is Bianchi’s product manager. Beppe Guerini, winner on l’Alpe d’Huez at the ’99 Tour, is another member of the Bianchi family present in Brescia; so too, Fred Morini, the ex-Gerolsteiner man, who suffered terrible injury in a training crash and overcame the prognostic that he wouldn't walk again.
The Specialissima CV is Bianchi’s entry to the featherweight market (a black, 55cm frame weighs a claimed 780g), but with a twist: it contains a viscoelastic membrane called Countervail among the carbon to cancel vibration. Within the context of a bike intended to be ridden in the high mountains, its function is to increase control by smoothing out road judder typical on high-speed descents.
It’s little surprise then, when Plugge tells me that it is his four climbers who have been involved in the development of the bike: Laurens ten Dam, Robert Gesink, Steven Kruijswijk, and Wilco Kelderman. He expects all four to ride the Tour.
“Early in the process, Bianchi gave us an insight into what they were creating, so we could give them some feedback. Then we got the prototype and gave feedback again. We have four riders who are the best climbers on the team, and they have been involved. They train on it, give feedback, give the adjusted bike back, and train again. We build together. It’s good for Bianchi, and it’s good for us.”
Bianchi is an historic marque, and decisions are made with a sense of responsibility to its glorious past. The model name Specialissima has been used before, for Coppi no less, but the signature Celeste hue has been altered for the new bike. The model pictured is finished in a shade known to Bianchi as CK16 or Celeste Fluro.
The updated colour is a nod to modernity, even if the process – the frame, including details that would be decals on lesser models, is painted by hand – is reassuringly time-served. Elsewhere, it’s a very contemporary offering, compatible with mechanical or electronic transmissions, with a press-fit, 86.5mm bottom bracket and 27.2mm seatpost, widely considered more compliant than 31.6mm (and, critically in this context, lighter).
It shares a geometry with the Oltre XR2 that is the choice of Lotto-JumboNL’s flat-earthers, and some of its time trial sister’s aero inclinations: the pointed headtube profile, for instance, shows the influence of the Acquila time trial bike, another to use the Countervail membrane. Elsewhere, it is more slender, and, it must be said, very pretty, although Ten Dam, Gesink, Kelderman et al, are unlikely to care too much about its appearance on Pra Loup or l’Alpe d’Huez this summer.
Guerini will return to the Alpe in July for the first time since retiring in 2007. He has been riding the Specialissima since January. “This is my bike,” he grins, when I ask which of Bianchi’s current fleet he would choose were he still plying his former trade, but it is a new generation who will have the chance to make an indelible association with the new Specialissima.
Kelderman suffered at the Dauphiné on Pra Loup just as Bianchi pulled back the covers on the Specialissima in Brescia. He will hope for better fortune when he returns there aboard a new bike next month.