By Luke Friend
With an impressive win in the Alps on the final stage of the Criterium du Dauphiné, Sepp Kuss appeared primed for a Tour de France debut to remember. Now in week two of Le Tour, it’s a case of so far, so good for the American climber.
Kuss has been riding mostly in support of Jumbo-Visma’s team leader Primož Roglič. With Roglič in yellow at time of writing, expect the 25-year-old from Durango, Colorado to remain a prominent fixture as his Dutch team seeks to defend the race lead. That means his Bianchi Oltre XR4 will continue to receive plenty of airtime, too.
Kuss’ bike is an interesting machine. The frame utilises Bianchi’s Countervail carbon. According to the company it’s a “patented viscoelastic material with a unique fiber architecture". The result is reduced road chatter, with Bianchi claiming it cancels up to 80 per cent of all vibrations while improving the frame’s stiffness. If it sounds a little space age, it is. It was first created for NASA aerospace operations.
However, the Oltre XR4 was released in 2016, which, by pro team standards, means it’s getting on a bit. Because of this it’s heavier than some of its rivals. A 55cm frame has a claimed weight of 980 grams. Contrast this with the Emonda SLR used by team Trek-Segafredo, which weighs under 700 grams, and it’s understandable why Jumbo-Visma would look for ways to shave a few grams. They succeeded, finding them in some obvious, and not so obvious, places.
On stages with a significant amount of climbing, Kuss swaps from his traditional celeste coloured bike to a black version of the Oltre XR4. And here’s where it gets interesting. The black paint job isn’t about aesthetics. Rather it’s about weight. Bianchi developed a ‘unique paint system’ that reduced the molecular weight of the coating. The saving? According to Bianchi the black paint is 80 grams lighter.
But it doesn’t stop there. Look closer at Kuss’ climbing bike and you’ll see a set of logo-free black wheels; his celeste-colored bike that he uses on the flatter stages features Shimano wheels the team are contracted to ride. The unbranded wheels are in fact Corima WS+ tubulars. This wheelset weighs in at 1270 grams, some 100 grams or so less than Shimano’s Dura-Ace C40 wheels Jumbo-Visma has ridden in previous races.
Interestingly, Jumbo-Visma aren’t the only team at this year’s tour to swap out their Shimano wheels when the road points upwards. Team Ineos switch to the eye-wateringly expensive Lightweight Meilenstein Obermayer wheels during mountain stages. The team swapped to Lightweight wheels on climbing stages in 2019, too.
Kuss’ Bianchi uses rim brakes. While many teams have seemingly made the permanent switch to discs, Jumbo-Visma are keeping it old school. By doing so they’re also saving another 60 grams when compared to the disc version of the Oltre XR4. And that’s not all. Running rim brakes also means benefiting from the lighter rim-brake compatible groupset. In the case of Kuss’ bike, this is Shimano’s Dura-Ace Di2 set-up, which is almost 350 grams lighter than the disc-brake equivalent.
While a few of Kuss’ teammates opt for the slick-looking Vision Metron integrated bars, the American prefers a more traditional FSA K-Force two-piece cockpit.
As of next season Sepp Kuss, and the rest of the Jumbo-Visma squad, will switch to Cervélo bikes.
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