When Cavendish decided to run SRAM Hydro rim brakes at this year’s Tour de France, we were all rather surprised, but suspected that as with most things Cavendish, this had been some time in the making and was the outcome of months of strategic planning.
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To discover that it had in fact taken a little over a week from Cav being introduced to a final production version, to running it on his bikes, was a huge surprise, not least for SRAM and the Omega Pharma-Quick Step mechanics who were all of a sudden having to deliver the Manxman’s wishes.
“The problems with braking were exacerbated this year due to the incredibly poor spring,” said Ben Raby of SRAM. “Normally there are a few moans within the peloton about improving braking, but once the better weather comes along, it’s forgotten about. This year, conditions meant that the issues didn’t go away.”
Cavendish had especially suffered due to the needs of his small hands. He’d previously run his levers at 100 per cent of the reach adjustment to allow him to grab sufficient brake, and even then it still meant releasing his grip on the bars in order to use all four fingers to gain enough force. Running the brakes super-tight like this leaves little room for modulation and means tired forearms after a day reaching for the levers in the mountains.”
Conveniently sponsored by SRAM, it was a no-brainer that Cav would eventually be running it’s new Hydro brakes, which promise to meet his needs of better modulation and more efficient braking. But radical changes in technical equipment take time to filter through.
Buy-in is needed from several camps, but working with Specialized from the start of the Hydro project has made that element of the partnership easier to get Cav on board. However, it was not without apprehension that Specialized and SRAM presented Cavendish with a fully equipped Venge the day before the National Championships road race in Glasgow.
“Mark is known for technical fastidiousness,” says Ben, “we went with Specialized to present the bike, wanting to take Mark though the system early in the morning before going for a scheduled training ride at 10am. But he turned up just 10 minutes before the ride, so we just had to hand over the bike.
“It was mixed weather and we were expecting him to come back to the car and swap back to his usual bike, but he never did. The only time he came back was to tell us that he wanted to ride it at the Tour.”
According to SRAM, the HydroR system now allows him to brake with just two fingers at a 50 per cent lever reach adjustment. While the large hoods stand out, Cavendish gets the same comfort of the standard hoods but feels more secure.
But SRAM HydroR is brand spanking new – too new to have enough spares for a race. “After the thumbs up from Mark, we spoke to Omega Pharma-Quick Step technical director Rolf Aldag about the next steps and he requested we get four systems up and running.
“We finally managed to get a test bike to him in Corsica on Friday and he went for a training loop on it that night. Halfway through the ride he decided he wanted to race on it.
“We were stoked, but it’s nerve wracking. We managed to finish building the other three bikes overnight; the only other change from what we presented was him wanting to ride the saddle from his original Venge.
“This kind of thing just never happens normally. It took all three teams to come together at the right time and be willing to move in the same direction so quickly. It’s a credit to the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team mechanics – they are the ones really making this happen.”
The sprinter’s stable
We snapped Cav’s number-two S-Works Venge equipped with SRAM’s Hydro brakes while he was busy warming up on his number-one bike in advance of the stage four team time trial. He has four bikes in total with slightly tweaked set-ups, and chooses what to ride for each stage.
Alongside the hydraulic braking system are SRAM Red shifters and mech. With Zipp part of the wider SRAM family, the partnership has been extended to the cockpit, which sees Cav depart from his signature Pro Vibe range, and instead run the huge Zipp 145 carbon stem. Clearly the 145 has the Cav stamp of approval as he’s now running it across his full fleet of bikes.
Though this is Hydro bike number two, the set-up mirrors number one with regard to wheel choice – a Zipp 404 front and 808 rear wheelset – the 808 having been specifically build for Cavendish with tighter than standard spoke tension.
The spare bike also runs on the same prototype Specialized TT tubs that the whole Omega Pharma squad used in the TTT. While Specialized was keeping its cards close to its chest regarding its specific properties, technical staff did mention that they have been working on several different compounds and thread counts to reduce rolling resistance and maintain grip levels.
This article was first published in the July 18 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!