Saturday, February 21, 2009

Finally got to ride my new bike!

Today Team Bicycle Trip had it's usual big Saturday workout ride, up Swanton Road four times it turned out. I have always loved that ride, and today I also had the extra treat of riding it on my new 2009 Giant TCR Advanced 2. And it didn't rain! What could be better? How about good legs? Well, my legs felt great too!

The new bike is more comfortable on the bumps. Noticeably so. Giant claims that, and I can confirm it. Swanton has some fairly rough stretches but this bike does a better job of isolating the rider from them. The improvement is merely incremental, but still very welcome.

Giant also claims the frame is stiffer laterally. That may be so. But I haven't yet done any really hard jumps to really test it. Most of my sprints training is on my old aluminum Specialized. I did win the city-limit sprint, but that wasn't because of the bike.

[After several months of swapping between my bikes I can now say for certain that the 2009 Giant is way better in sprints than my old one. My old 2007 sometimes gets a real wobble when I sprint really hard, while my new 2009 just rides nice and straight no matter how hard I jump on the pedals.]

But one area really stood out: Handling. The old bike was always a bit wobbly in fast turns, which I attributed to the 30 mm deep-dish Easton EA50SL aero rims I use. But the new one corners beautifully... even on the same rims and tires I used on the old bike! So, it is the new frame that gets credit for the handling. I expected this, due to the massive head tube area. But it's nice to confirm that too.

I ended up liking the Fizik Arione saddle after all, so I am keeping it. It's pretty similar in feel to my Selle San Marco Aspide, but perhaps slightly nicer. It might even become my new preference!

Another improvement is in the weight: my new bike is 18.1 pounds per my fish scale, as ridden with the Ultegra gruppo and the heavier rims. My old bike is 19.9 pounds, though that includes a Bontrager aero wheel with a Power Tap hub and the 105 gruppo. Still.

So. Am I happy I upgraded? Of course! The difference in cost was only a few hundred bucks, and it was well worth it. But I would have to say that the improved high- speed handling is the only reason I say that. The other improvements are nice, but not that compelling unless the improved sprint stiffness proves to be beyond belief. [It is!]

Now I just need to win some races on it!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dennis's Amgen Tour of California, Stage 2, predictions

It's pretty exciting to have the world's best cyclists riding into my home town this Monday, riding on the same roads I have become so familiar with... usually seen through a veil of blood, sweat and tears as I struggle up the big hills! Putting one's predictions in writing for all the world to see is risky, to say the least. But it does help fight boredom! Here I go:

The long ride down Highway 1 from Sausalito over the Golden Gate bridge will probably face a strong crosswind. That, plus the many rolling hills, will likely tire out the sprinters and maybe even open up some gaps as the riders at the front form "echelons" to fight the wind.

Even if the peloton stays together down HWY1 (a head wind is also possible, and that could prevent breaks from succeeding) then the big climb on Tunitas Creek Road might break it up. It is big, and gaps will open up. Depending on who is (and isn't) in the lead breaks, it is possible that a motivated team, like Columbia for instance, could bring them all back together in order to get their sprinters to the front on the next section down HWY1 before...

I've ridden up the decisive Bonny Doon Road climb close to a hundred times (though it feels like thousands!). It is decisive because it is steep, long and close to the finish line in Santa Cruz. Breaks will form, guaranteed, as the various body-types work for or against the riders in the race; big sprinters will struggle at the back (e.g. Tom Boonen, JJ Haedo, even smaller sprinters like Mark Cavendish), while small climbers will fly up (e.g. Levi Leipheimer, or local favorites Andy and Ben Jacques-Maynes). The top of the 25-minute climb is followed by several miles of fast descending down Empire Grade, and some tricky turns through old neighborhoods, narrow streets and into downtown for the finish on Front and Cooper Streets. That means the guys at the front at the top of Bonny Doon will be very hard to catch before the finish line.

This course's finishing profile is actually a lot like that of Milan-San Remo, and that race usually ends with a small group contesting the finish, or even solo attacks that stick (remember Fabian Cancellara's win last year?).

In short I doubt the peloton will stay together for a mass sprint on Front Street. That means the stage winner will probably be an all-around rider who can climb pretty well, and sprint. Perhaps one of the one-day classics riders like Oscar Freire or Fabian Cancellara... or maybe Levi will try to make his mark on this one. Robert Gesink won the similar Sierra Road stage into San Jose last year. Others like him who can climb, but aren't small, could shine due to their combination of climbing ability and high power that will help them on the flatter sections. I would add Lance Armstrong, but he is still getting up to speed and is riding in support of Levi anyway.

There, I have written down my predictions! Shoot away....

Monday, February 9, 2009

My new bike is in!

Got my 2009 Giant TCR Advanced 2 on Sunday... on my birthday it so happened! It was raining though, and I still need to get some pedals for it, so I still haven't ridden it yet. But since it is a really good-looking bike, better-looking than the photos make it seem, I have been enjoying the mere sight of it. :-)

Though I know some people like subtle graphics, I like big ones. And the 2009 is a big jump up in that regard, with large white "Giant" logos and vivid blue stripes and "TCR" emblems really setting it apart. Even the saddle and bar tape are white with blue accents. Way cool! My 2007 Giant TCR C2 has rather dull gray-on-charcoal graphics, while my 2008 TCR C3 had nicer white highlights with small blue accents. But I really like my 2009!

What really is striking about the 2009 is the huge, ginormous even, frame tubes. Though they are so sculpted that calling them "tubes" seems like a misnomer. The head "tube" is simply enormous, bulging out beyond the headset bearing areas, and flows into the top- and down-tubes, lending what must be a huge increase in stiffness around the steering tube and its headset bearings. Can't wait to see how reassuring that feels at 52 MPH down Bonny Doon Road! I bet that they will be expanding on this in the future, and the current 1.25" and 1.1875" headset bearings will soon be considered small.

The down-tube is way bigger than on the 2007/2008 frames, and also has a semi-square cross-section to it. I suspect that squareness allowed the engineers to design in very different vertical and lateral compliance. And the bottom-bracket area is massively filled in, so much so that the fillet into the chain stays (behind the seat tube) almost touches the rear tire. It also has a nice aerodynamic seatpost and seat tube.

All of that should translate into a very stiff sprinting bike, but hopefully without excessive ride harshness; in fact Giant says that both these traits are improved and that seems likely to me.

Looking at my TCR Advanced 2, and comparing the photos with the higher-end TCR Advanced SL models (super light), it seems like Giant positioned my bike to be a real criterium racer's workhorse. Bingo! My frame isn't as light as the SL frames, but it looks stiffer in many areas, and maybe more aerodynamic too (judging from the looks of them). The components also seem better suited to the rugged demands of crit racers... why go too fancy? It would be nice to have an SL for hilly road races, but my budget doesn't allow for two new bikes!

One thing I will probably change is the Fizik saddle, even though the white/blue color is so darn good-looking on this bike. I use Selle San Marco saddles on my bikes, and my body has gotten used to them. Oh, and the standard Mavic Aksium wheels: My 2007 had these wheels too, and they made an annoying whistling noise at speed. Plus, they aren't particularly light, or aerodynamic, so I will be using my more-aero Easton EA50SL wheelset instead. And they are mounted with the Michelin Pro Race 3 tires that flatted in 5 of my races last year... argh!!! Vittorias for me, please.

OK, I haven't even ridden it yet, so I will have to finish this review when I have a few miles on it.