Tour de France Tech: Ridden once – A look at Sylvain Chavanel’s special yellow Eddy Merckx bike

A look at Sylvain Chavanel's special Eddy Merckx bikes used for his day in the yellow jersey.

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2010 Tour de France Tech: Chavanel's special Eddy Merckx
Chavanel's special Eddy Merckx

Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel scored a huge opportunity in his stage 2 breakaway. More than making up for the absence of Belgian sprinter Tom Boonen, Chavanel seized both the points leader’s green jersey and the race leader’s yellow jersey in one attacking ride.

And teammate Jerome Pineau scored the polka-dotted climber’s jersey, adding a third feather to the team’s cap. It was a special coup for the Belgian team and its sponsors,  considering the stage transpired entirely on Belgian soil.

Unfortunately for Chavanel and his team, he lost leadership in points and the GC just a day later on stage 3. But team bike sponsor Eddy Merckx had wasted no time capitalizing on the window of opportunity.

“We were in a business meeting just yesterday when our main sales guy called us up and said, ‘Are you watching this race?’” recounted company product engineer Dave Luyckx, on the morning of stage 3. “We said, no, we are not, and he said, ‘You better start watching because it’s going to be interesting,’” said Luyckx. “And then starting at five o’clock we started working on the three frames.”

The company delivered three new frames to the team for assembly in time for the start of stage 3. One was covered in red polka dots, for climber’s jersey wearer Pineau. Another wore yellow paint, for Chavanel to ride as long as he remains in the jersey. The last bike was painted half green and half yellow in honor of Chavanel’s “dual citizenship” in both the yellow and green jerseys for the day.

“We delivered all three frames at 3 o’clock this morning to be able to finish them for the start today,” said Luyckx.

2010 Tour de France Tech: Chavanel's special Eddy Merckx
The green honors Chavanel's other jersey. And highlights the unusual tube shaping.

Some teams roll to the Tour de France with solid expectations of what their riders might be able to achieve. For example, Saxo Bank team sponsor Specialized brings a few yellow Tarmac SL3s to France ahead of time. The preparation is based on the fairly reasonable assumption that one of their riders might end up in the yellow jersey, even if only for a few days. Likewise, Trek Bicycles has historically been quick to have specially painted frames ready for team leader Lance Armstrong when he gets close to wearing yellow.

But without Boonen on the Tour course in 2010, Quick Step and Eddy Merckx can be forgiven for not predicting Chavanel’s coup. Fortunately, the company is headquartered in Brussels, just an hour away from the race’s current location, and the team’s EMX-5 bikes are painted in-house.

“We have the decals available and we have the paint available,” said Luyckx. “We had to get the painters back in. They were all having their dinners last night and we said, ‘You have to come over right now – it’s going to be night work. You have to finish these frames by tonight.’”

Luyckx said that his company banded together to make the frames happen and make the most of the rare opportunity. “We’re a very small company; everybody knows each other so we could easily get everyone in motion and start to move things,” he described.

The final flourish to Chavanel’s bike came from The Cannibal himself. According to Luyckx, his company didn’t have an appropriately colored Eddy Merckx signature decal for the green seatstay on Chavanel’s multi-colored machine.

The solution? Mr. Merckx simply autographed the bicycle himself.

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