This year's Tour de France has been anemic, at best. I mean, the most fascinating story line was the rivalry between Sky's leader Bradley Wiggins and his first lieutenant—and likely the stronger rider—Chris Froome, and in the end it was a drama that never materialized. That and yet another big-name doping positive, this time due to "poisoning"—surprise, surprise.
But if the race has failed to give viewers many thrills, it has left us with a more tangible and lasting reward: lots of cool new bikes and gear. Many manufacturers use the Tour, the biggest race on the planet, as a launching pad for their latest, greatest product, and this year didn't disappoint, with a handful of strikingly fast new frames on display. Here are some of the coolest we've seen. As always, if you have the budget, you can purchase (or will be able to soon) these bikes. And even if you can't afford the pro spec, the technology and design will soon be trickling down to models you can afford.
Vive le Tour—or at least its bikes.
RADIOSHACK-NISSAN-TREK MADONE 7.9
Though the beleaguered American team looked set to shake off all the controversy of the early season with a commanding prologue win by Swiss superstar Fabian Cancellara (and seven subsequent days in yellow), they've since sunk back into the mire. The team can't blame the bikes, though, as Trek pulled out all the stops with their latest Madone 7.9, which finally gives the American company the aero bike that has been missing from its lineup. Like the Scott Foil, Trek has foregone the full aerofoil tube shapes in favor of a Kamm-tail design, which is said to yield all the aero benefits as well as a much better road feel. The bike also moves the rear brake below the chainstays (à la many time trial machines) for ever better performance in the wind. A replica frameset runs $4,800, while a complete team bike (with Di2 9000 and Bontrager Aeolus 5 wheels) will set you back an eye-watering $11,800. The new frame shape will carry into lower-priced models.
VACANSOLEIL-DCM BIANCHI OLTRE XR
Officially, team Vacansoleil is racing on the standard aero Bianchi Oltre, which came to market last year. In truth, though, they guys are piloting test versions of the spiffy new Oltre XR, which Bianchi launched on the Tour's second rest day. The XR stands for "extreme rigidity," and the bike is said to be 20 percent stiffer than the original Oltre but still 30 grams lighter (895g for a 55cm frame). The stiffness comes by way of crisscrossed carbon fiber strips that are molded into the head tube and bottom bracket area. We recently had the chance to ride the standard Oltre (look for a review shortly) and have to admit that it's hard to imagine a bike being any smoother or faster—meaning the XR must be one heck of a ride. The new framesets will be available to consumers this fall.
LAMPRE ISD WILIER TRIESTINA CENTO1SR
Wilier Triestina rolled out a fully revised Cento1, dubbed the SR, for Michele Scarponi, Alessandro Petacchi, and all the guys at Lampre ISD. The bike is a broad departure from the previous generation, with stout, squared-off tubes replacing the orginal round shapes, a super stiff BB386 bottom bracket, trick internal cable routings for mechanical or electronic shifting, and a Kamm-tail fork design for increased aerodynamics. The frameset retails for $4,000, and a complete bikes start at $5,500 (with Campagnolo Chorus).
LOTTO-BELISOL RIDLEY HELIUM SL
For Lotto-Belisol team leaders Jurgen Van den Broeck and Jelle Vanendert, Ridley put its current climbing-oriented bike, the Helium, on a diet to create the Helium SL (as in superlight). The biggest changes to the bike include a switch from an integrated seat mast to a slender 27.2mm seatpost, a PF30 bottom bracket, internal cable routings compatible with both mechanical and electric drivetrains, and needle-thin seat stays for improved road comfort. It all adds up to 780 grams for a bare frame, which is nearly 200 grams lighter than the current Helium. Pictured above is the Helium SL paint scheme that will be for sale in the U.S.; the bike is so new that Ridley didn't have a chance to photograph it in the Lotto-Belisol colors before shipping it to the team for the Tour.
KATUSHA CANYON ULTIMATE CF SLX
At the start of the Tour, Russian team Katusha had high hopes of being the race's dark horse, with a stacked roster that included Denis Menchov, Oscar Freire, and a host of other big-achieving, but underrated riders. They also had a brand new bike from Canyon, the Ultimate CF SLX. The bike is said to be a whopping 200g lighter than its predecessor, for a total frame weight of 800 grams. And though the tubes are much bigger and broader than the previous version, the weight savings come through the use of higher modulus carbon. For now, Canyon isn't distributing in the U.S., so you'll have to truck off to Germany to get one if this is the new bike of your dreams.