Contador unhappy about UCI decision to ban bike

Alberto Contador isn’t happy about the UCI’s decision to ban his Specialized Shiv time trial bike on the eve of Sunday’s decisive final TT in the Volta ao Algarve.

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Bike maker faults late notice from UCI

Alberto Contador isn’t happy about the UCI’s decision to ban his Specialized Shiv time trial bike on the eve of Sunday’s decisive final TT in the Volta ao Algarve.

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The UCI says the Specialized Shiv doesn't comply with strictly applied rules.

The UCI notified Astana and Saxo Bank team management via e-mail Friday that the Shiv time trial bike – which was unveiled as a prototype in last year’s Tour de France – did not conform to UCI’s rules.

“I am not happy about it, but we are working together to get something ready. It was a surprise for everyone,” Contador told VeloNews on Saturday. “I’ve been training on the Shiv for months and now I have to race on something I’ve never ever ridden before. The other bike is no better or worse, it’s just that it’s a different bike. Tomorrow we’ll just to do the best we can.”

The point of contention is a reinforced section of frame between the head tube and down tube that helps flow air around the down tube and provides extra stability. This section of frame extends beyond an 8cm “box” measured across the cross-section of the tube as outlined in UCI rules.

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It's this area behind the headtube that has the UCI concerned.

When measured off the head tube, the bike fits within the rules, but because this part of the frame wraps around to the down tube, the UCI also insisted that a measurement also be taken off the down tube. It was here that the bike ran into trouble and extended beyond the 8cm limit.

The ruling immediately affects riders at both Specialized-sponsored ProTour teams, Astana and Saxo Bank. Saxo Bank riders competing in this week’s Ruta del Sol also will not be allowed to use the bikes. The bike is still “street legal” for use in triathlon.

Company officials in Portugal told VeloNews they have been working closely with the UCI since last year to assure that the Shiv would be compliant to UCI rules. Dating back to last summer, Specialized twice changed design aspects after the UCI raised concerns and met face-to-face with UCI officials to discuss the frame.

Despite a month’s long dialogue with UCI officials, they insist they didn’t hear about the UCI’s concerns until late January, and by then, the bikes were already in the hands of riders preparing for the first major races of the 2010 season.

“We are extremely frustrated, because we were in contact with the UCI since last year and we never got a clear indication there was a problem with the bike until January 29,” said Simone Toccafondi, sports marketing manager for the road Specialized. “We want to fully cooperate with the UCI and comply with their rules. We believed we were doing the right thing.”

UCI officials could not be contacted for comment on this story, but the UCI has been making noises about stricter enforcement of design guidelines dating back to last year’s Tour of California.

There’s been some confusion and different interpretations of UCI rules language and how they are applied to time trial bike design.

Stunned by the UCI decision, officials from Astana and Specialized on the ground in Portugal put aside their frustration and mobilized Saturday to prepare a new bike for Contador’s defense of his yellow jersey.

Instead of racing The Shiv for the first time, Contador instead will compete on a 2009 Transition TT frame that was modified to meet UCI requirements. Mechanics literally sawed off 2cm of two reinforcements off the bike to fall within the 8cm rule.

The pieces could be trimmed off the Transition frame because they were not an integral part of the frame material. It would be impossible to cut them off the Shiv, however, without damaging the integrity of the carbon-fiber frame.

Contador briefly rode the modified bike following Saturday’s stage to get a feel for the bike and to get the best fit possible. Although other Transition frames arrived, the other Astana riders will likely ride on their road bikes with aero wheels and handlebar extenders because the focus was on pulling together Contador’s bike.

The ruling underscores the sometimes thin line that bike manufacturers must straddle in trying to comply with the UCI’s rules, yet try to push the envelope when it comes to bike design and development.

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