Head socks and sandpaper saddles: tech tricks and fashion failures at the Tour de France

We cast a critical eye over the new equipment on display at the world's biggest bike race

Specialized S-Works TT5 time trial helmet
(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

The Tour de France (opens in new tab)'s opening weekend gives cycling fans an opportunity to eyeball the latest and greatest tech from the professional teams.

There were state-of-the-art new bikes from the big Italian arch-rivals Pinarello (opens in new tab)and Colnago (opens in new tab) that we saw battling it out on stage one.

Custom carbon components like moulded time trial arm rests are delightful details that we also love to fawn over.

What stole the show - but unfortunately for its manufacturer not the win - was the new Specialized S-Works TT5 time trial helmet (opens in new tab). The radically bulbous design that incorporates a Gregory Porter-esque built-in balaclava, or 'head sock', was worn by all the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl riders except Yves Lampaert, who swept over the line to take the first yellow jersey (opens in new tab) beating big favourites Filippo Ganna, Wout van Aert, Tadej Pogacar et al... wearing the outgoing snoodless version.

Let's take a look at that new lid and other shiny new things photographed exclusively for Cycling Weekly by Dan Cavallari.

Specialized S-Works TT5 time trial helmet from the rear

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

Specialized S-Works TT5 time trial helmet from the rear

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

The Specialized S-Works TT5 helmet incorporates a balaclava-style face wrap that covers the rider’s chin, ears, and back of the head. This supposedly smooths out the air over the rider’s face, further enhancing aerodynamics.

The back of the helmet features what appears to be an exhaust port - quite welcome as we imagine in warmer conditions things will be getting a little stuffy in there.

Mads Pedersen's custom moulded TT bars and sandpaper-enhanced saddle

Mads Pedersen's custom TT bars

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

The ends of Mads Pedersen's TT bars

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

Mads Pedersen's TT bars with integrated computer mount

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

Former world champion and Danish favourite - or one of them - Mads Pedersen sported a unique cockpit on his Trek Speed Concept. It appeared to be custom-molded but we understand it was made by Trek's in-house component brand Bontrager.

The SRAM bar end shifters integrate neatly into the tips of the extensions, which meet the main body of the extensions. That part is much thicker to support Pedersen’s forearms. 

The extensions also feature an integrated computer mount. 

Pedersen finished with a strong sixth place just 15 seconds behind winner Yves Lampaert and a fraction of a second ahead of the other big Danish favourite Jonas Vingegaard.

Mads Pedersen's saddle

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

Sandpaper on Mads Pedersen's saddle

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

Contrasting with the slippery cockpit, Pedersen used rough tape on his saddle to prevent his body from shifting during the time trial. That may sound uncomfortable, but it also probably came in handy during the rainy, slick stage.

The most famous proponent of the sandpaper-enhanced saddle was Tony Martin, who in the 2015 World Championships chose too coarse a grit and shredded both his skinsuit and his skin beneath. (opens in new tab)

Close up and personal with the swoopy new Colnago TT rig

Colnago TT1

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

Colnago TT1 rear stays

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

Perhaps the most notable design cue of the Colnago TT1, as ridden by Tadej Pogacar to third place on stage one, is the horizontal chainstay that meets a diagonal chainstay arm. This eliminates what would otherwise be a drag-inducing top section of the seatstay - and looks pretty fast too. 

Colnago TT1 fork and front wheel

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

How about those mega-deep fork blades? The UCI revamped some rules recently, and it’s clear Colnago has taken full advantage of the new design constraints. 

Relatively normal-sized MET helmets for UAE

Rafal Majka in a MET time trial helmet

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

Despite the array of massive new TT helmets in the paddocks - Kask had a huge new helmet for Ineos too - Rafal Majka and his UAE teammates still sported the more ‘normal-sized’ Codatronca helmet from MET.

Fabio Jakobsen's bad hair and Kasper Asgreen's bad knees

Tour de France time trial techx

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

Fabio Jakobsen removes his Specialized S-Works TT5 helmet and balaclava - the thing that is destined to become a new primary culprit of bad hair days in the peloton.

Tour de France time trial techx

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

Kasper Asgreen’s knees have seen better days. 

John Degenkolb's '20% faster but with a built-in rear light in case you still get dropped' new Scott Foil RC

John Degenkolb's Scott Foil

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

Veteran moustachioed German Classics legend John Degenkolb debuted the brand new Scott Foil RC (opens in new tab) on stage two. Its manufacturer claims this bike is 20% faster than the old one and it has an integrated rear light in the seatpost.

Degenkolb is now 33 but hopefully won't need that rear light. If he gets dropped by the peloton and benighted it's definitely time to retire.

Chris Froome's customary custom hacks

Chris Froome's TT bars

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

If you’re ever on the hunt for unique setups and tech hacks, look no further than Chris Froome’s bikes. The extension mounts here appear to have been dremeled down to accommodate position, weight savings, or both. 

Chris Froome's chain guide

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

Froome has long used chain guides with his Osymetric chainrings. This 3D-printed piece sits behind the chainrings and the frame on his raceday bike that he’s likely to use on mountain stages. 

Chris Froome's Hammerhead computer out-front mount.

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

Froome also appears to have a unique mount for his Hammerhead computer. The stock unit comes with a plastic mount, whereas this one appears to be aluminum. 

CeramicSpeed OSPW Aero derailleur fairing

(Image credit: Dan Cavallari)

And finally... Danish riders got to fly the flag with the special CeramicSpeed OSPW Aero pulley system (opens in new tab) so that they were boosted not only by the the home crowd but also got a micro-watt of savings. 

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Simon Smythe

Simon Smythe is Cycling Weekly's senior tech writer and has been in various roles at CW since 2003. His first job was as a sub editor following an MA in online journalism. In his cycling career Simon has mostly focused on time trialling with a national medal, a few open wins and his club's 30-mile record in his palmares. These days he spends most of his time testing road bikes, or on a tandem doing the school run with his younger son.