With this trio of race bikes set to go head-to-head at this year’s Tour de France, we arranged our own little preview
Cyclist heads to France to test three of the bikes that will go head-to-head for the general classification at the Tour
Sinking a cold beer on a warm summer’s evening, looking out across a lake backdropped by mountains, is a blissful way to end any day. We’re in Aix-lesBains in the Savoie Mont Blanc region of France, the lake is the Lac du Bourget and the mountain, tinged pink by the setting sun, is the Mont du Chat. It’s a serene scene. Ten minutes ago, though, things were not so calm.
While building my Pinarello Dogma F10 for our latest bike test, I managed to drop the aluminium seatpost wedge into the seat tube. These things happen, and I wasn’t initially concerned, but when I turned the Dogma upside down, expecting the wedge to fall back out, nothing appeared.
Stage 9 boasts three key climbs, each with an average gradient of close to 10% for the entire length
I shook it. Nothing – no sound of anything inside the frame. My companions all had a go, but it seemed there was no dislodging the component from wherever it had become stuck. It eventually took a team effort, with Steve being chief bike-shaker and photographer Juan attempting to shine a phone light through a tiny hole while I attempted to tease the wedge out with tweezers donated by the hotel receptionist. It was like the kids’ board game Operation, only using a very expensive Pinarello race bike.
The wedge was eventually retrieved, with bike unharmed. Good thing too, as it’s about to be put through its paces in our three-way Tour de France bike shootout.
For this test we’ve brought together three bikes likely to do battle at the sharp end of this year’s Tour, and where better to test them than the place where they will get their first taste of the mountains in the 2017 race?
Stage 9, a ride of 181.5km from Nantua to Chambéry, is the first of five mountain stages and boasts three key climbs, each with an average gradient of close to 10% for their entire length. That’s uncharacteristically steep even by Alpine standards and in total the day’s
elevation gain adds up to a hefty 4,600m. First on the menu is the 1,325m Col de la Biche, followed immediately by the 1,501m Grand Colombier (with a maximum gradient of 22%) before the Mont du Chat rounds off what is likely to be a particularly arduous day that will almost certainly trigger a shake-up in the GC.
We’re not going to follow the entire route. Instead our man on the ground – Bruno Toutain of tour company Cyclomundo – has planned for us a 125km loop. Starting in Aix-les-bains, we’ll follow the lake north before tackling the Grand Colombier from Culoz (riding up from the opposite side to the Tour) before descending and heading south to join the official Tour route for the final 50km, where the Mont du Chat awaits before the finish in Chambéry.
Chambéry is described as the doorway to the valleys of Savoie, and the Tour has visited this picturesque region of France on almost every single running of the event. However, 2017 will mark the first time Chambéry itself has hosted a stage finish, and the final climb of the day, the Mont du Chat, which will no doubt be decisive on the day, hasn’t seen Grand Tour action since 1974, when an ageing Raymond Poulidor dropped Eddy Merckx – only for the Cannibal to catch him on the descent.
Let me introduce the contenders for our hypothetical three-man breakaway group. James, Cyclist ’s features editor, will assume the role of FDJ’S Thibaut Pinot, aboard the Lapierre Xelius SL 70th Anniversary. Steve, a selfconfessed Strava addict, will be Movistar’s Nairo Quintana (although somewhat taller), aboard the Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 Ltd. That leaves me on the Pinarello Dogma F10, Team Sky’s weapon of choice, so I guess that makes me Chris Froome. Well, someone had to be.
All three bikes boast winning pedigree. Pinarello’s Dogma needs little introduction as the bike Froome has piloted to the yellow jersey in Paris for the past two years. The F10 recently replaced the F8 as top of Pinarello’s shop and although many of the F8’s features have carried over, the F10 does have a newlook down tube that, Pinarello says, is based on learning from its Bolide time-trial frame. The sculpted shape conceals the water bottle from the wind, which Pinarello claims makes it a lot more aerodynamic – and therefore faster. Just being Team Sky’s bike is enough to put it straight to the top of many riders’ wish lists, but its curvaceous silhouette, with distinctive bowed forks, doesn’t always sit well with those of a traditional predisposition. At £7,750 it’s also the most expensive of the trio.
The Lapierre Xelius SL, meanwhile, won the Alpe d’huez stage in 2015 with Pinot on board, so it also knows a thing or two about winning in the mountains. It certainly has a divisive appearance, starting with the 70th anniversary colour scheme but particularly the way the seatstays curve up from the rear dropout, bypassing the seat tube before blending into the underside of the top tube, leaving the seatpost a little out on a limb. For the record, Lapierre says this is all in the name of making this lightweight climber’s bike more comfortable.
The Canyon is the stealth fighter of the three. It’s black, with extra black. Campagnolo’s Super Record groupset is a discerning choice, and although Steve continually refers to the inner shift buttons as like ‘little elephant ears’, he’s clearly happy with its crisp and precise shifting as we settle in over the early kilometres. The Canyon offers considerable value, being £2,500 cheaper than the Lapierre, and £2,750 less than the Dogma. It’s also the lightest here, dipping slightly under 6.5kg.
Having passed though Chanaz, a charming village Bruno tells us is known as ‘France’s Venice’ due to its pretty arched bridges that span the Rhône, the Grand Colombier looms ahead.
The climb immediately bites hard. Gradients don’t budge much from 9-10% and the air is
Just being Team Sky’s bike puts the Dogma top of many wish lists, but it’s also the most expensive of the three
muggy in the forested slopes. Soon we’re all sweating. Steve seems to be relishing the weight advantage his Canyon offers, dancing happily out of the saddle as James and I grind the pedals from our seated positions.
That said, the Dogma carries itself well. I’m not really a huge fan of its looks, if I’m honest, but I can’t deny it’s a treat to ride. It responds valiantly to every effort I make on the climb.
James has stayed fairly quiet as we continue our slow ascent of the Colombier, but with just a few kilometres remaining he decides to push hard for the summit. As he increases his wattage, hulking the bike aggressively around the hairpins, the Xelius SL shows no sign of flex or brake rub, indicating the frame and Mavic wheels are both holding firm.
Steve and I work hard to stay on James’s wheel, and by the top we’re all panting hard. Each of the three bikes seems to have taken the Colombier in its stride. Next, though, comes a true test of any road bike’s mettle.
The descent down the steeper side of the Grand Colombier (the side the pros will have to ride up) has sections of 22% and a flurry of hairpins to test the bikes to the full, with plenty of sharp braking and tight cornering, and little chance to savour the views of Mont Blanc in the distance.
When we reach the valley floor, pumped with adrenaline, we decide now would be a good time to stop for a coffee and discuss the relative merits of our bikes when it comes to descending.
I’m really starting to like the Dogma’s handling, but James seems a little less sure of the Xelius, which he feels is a touch twitchy and unsettled when the speeds nudge 75kmh. Which leads us on to the topic of braking.
There’s not a disc brake in sight, yet we’re all singing the praises of our respective braking set-ups. My Fulcrum Racing Zeros are a great reminder of how consistent aluminium braking surfaces are, and while the Lapierre has little piles of yellow brake dust around the callipers from the rapidly disappearing Swissstop pads, James is happy with their performance. Steve can’t fault the Canyon’s Bora One 35s either, although he’s not convinced the glossy braking surfaces would cope well in the wet.
James is starting to look out of sync with the Lapierre, which appears to be a little skittish over the bumps
The cat’s whiskers
With full stomachs (we couldn’t resist a few plates of French food while musing over the
bikes) we rejoin our route. It’s rolling roads for the next 20km, which we hope will settle our lunch before we reach the Mont du Chat.
Pros aren’t paid to have a cushy ride. They’re paid to put their noses in the wind and suffer hour upon hour, and as a tool for that there’s something satisfying about the way the Dogma eats up the road. However I’ve started to notice it’s at the sacrifice of some comfort. At least that’s what my tender posterior is indicating as our next big climbing challenge begins.
A few kilometres into the Mont du Chat, the group splinters for the first time. ‘Froome’ edges away from ‘Pinot’, who has in turn dropped a flagging ‘Quintana’. The Pinarello again feels well defined, with a solidity both in and out of the saddle. The gradient is slightly steeper and a little more relentless than even the Colombier had been. At 10-11% for large chunks of the 14km climb it’s a brute.
It’s also incredibly tranquil, with no sound other than the breeze stirring the tree canopy above our heads, and we haven’t encountered a car in ages. However, not even the light and nimble Canyon can save Steve (or should I say Quintana?). At the top he admits he was in damage limitation mode, churning out a rhythm to survive the arduous slope. James admits he too was glad of the Lapierre’s superb climbing capabilities, which he attributes mostly to the stiffness in the bottom bracket area, without which the Mont du Chat may have taken a greater toll. Steve is quick to defend his Canyon, however, saying it was only the fear of regurgitating lunch that was holding him back.
Back down to earth
The descent to Chambéry is the final test for our superbike threesome. The Dogma feels eager beneath me, but it’s still James who is setting
the tempo. Steve has only recently recovered from a nasty road bike crash that left him with crushed vertebrae in his neck, so understandably doesn’t want to take unnecessary risks. He backs off the pace slightly, leaving a straight-up fight between Froomey and Pinot.
From my vantage point a few bike lengths behind, James is starting to look out of sync with the Lapierre, which appears to be a little skittish over the bumps and undulations in the road surface. The Dogma, on the other hand, is entirely surefooted. I nip past James and find myself in an exquisite zone where the bike feels perfectly connected to the road, tipping left then right through successions of S-bends. I might be riding at my limits, but the Dogma still feels well within its own.
By the time I reach the lake, I’m sold. It’s perhaps the best-descending bike I’ve ever ridden. It’s little wonder that Team Sky’s tacticians now consider descents as a realistic way for Froome to make time gains.
I quiz James about what was going on with the Lapierre. His thoughts seem to mirror my observations – the frame maybe suffers slightly from being too stiff and light, causing it to feel jittery at high speed on the rutted road surface.
Steve is down safely too, and as we pedal along the lakeside we’re in agreement that it has been an incredible ride on some incredible bikes. Steve can’t get over how comfortable the Canyon is compared to his Cannondale Supersix Evo Nano, which he says after a ride this long would have left him feeling much more beaten up. James is still going on about the ugly orange cables on his Lapierre, although he admits that is nit-picking at an otherwise surprisingly effective all-rounder.
Personally I’d like to know how the Pinarello hides its puppy fat. At 7.1kg, it’s a bit portly for a bike in this elevated category, but I was never conscious of the extra weight, even on the most severe gradients.
What is certain is that all three of us will be even keener to see how the real race unfolds on Stage 9, and whether one of these bikes will find itself being ridden into the history books. Stu Bowers is deputy editor of Cyclist and was always going to be Froomey in our Fantasy Tour de France
By the time we reach the lake I’m sold. The Dogma is perhaps the bestdescending bike I’ve ever ridden
Above: The three bikes of our TDF test – the Lapierre Xelius, Canyon Ultimate CF SLX and Pinarello F10 Previous pages: What goes up, and all that… The descent of the Grand Colombier is steep, and a great test of handling
The Dogma F10 is the heaviest bike on test, but you’d never know from on board. It holds speed brilliantly and rewards hard efforts
The Dogma has already forged a slight lead on the upper slopes of the Grand Colombier, and if we had to call it I would say the F10 deserves its place at the front when it comes to sheer descending delight
Once we’re out of the tree line, the final few bends of the Mont du Chat reveal some stunning vistas