Cavendish goes all in on aero on the hunt for 35

New shoe covers, bottles, socks, race suit, and saddle for the Manx man.

Ronan Mc Laughlin
by Ronan Mc Laughlin 01.07.2024 Photography by
Ronan McLaughlin & Cor Vos
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Tour de France start zones are a little hectic; riders spend as much time in the team bus as possible and zoom from the bus to sign on and back again at warp speed, rarely hanging around outside where our cameras can catch them. As such, we sometimes get the chance to line up a shot. Other times you have to point, shoot, and hope.

That was the case today as Mark Cavendish sped towards the start line. I’d seen every one of his teammates head to the start with their shoes wrapped in a BOA dial cover à la the old S-Works Sub 6 laces cover, and so I wanted to see if Cavendish had the same. But Cav was late. Very late. One of the last riders to make his way from the bus to the start …

Point … shoot … hope …

I got what I hoped for; Cav has gone fully aero for stage three, the first stage-win-35 opportunity. What I did not get was a good shot in focus. But crucially, what we can see are a host of stage three aero interventions from the Manx Missile.

Cavendish has made several significant changes to his setup for stage three. Let’s start with the most interesting: Cav’s shoes. While Cav wears Nike-branded shoes, the pro-only Nike cycling shoes were, for the longest time, rebranded DMTs and almost certainly still are. That’s not the interesting thing here, though. For stage three, Cav and all of his Astana teammates had these partial shoe covers with what appears to be some “trip strip” style texturing to them.

The covers have a very sock-like appearance to them, but (un)fortunately, I did not get a chance to rub Mark’s feet to get a feel for myself.

But those shoe covers weren’t the only updates to Cav’s setup. While everyone on the Astana team used the shoe covers, Cav was the only rider we spotted using Elite’s Chrono CX time trial aero bottles. The aero-profiled bottles certainly look like they do as they say on the tin, with a tall aero profile and dimpled surface replacing the round and very un-aerodynamic standard bottle and cage.

Unlike the new Trek RSL aero bottles and Cannondale’s aero bottles delivered with the new SuperSix Evo, the Elite aero bottle cages are not compatible with standard round bottles and so replacing bottles mid-stage and keeping Cavendish hydrated does get more complicated and will require soigneurs and teammates to get him replacement aero bottles.

Astana has also upped its aero clothing focus for this season, with Biemme-branded aero socks and a new race suit with textured arms. Unlike the current trend of adding trip strips and textures to a base layer beneath the outer layer, the Astana suits – much like the Team UAE Emirates suits – seem to add texture to the sleeve of the suit itself.

Either way, the goal is the same: adding some texture to the bicep, a terribly un-aerodynamic cylinder, trips the boundary layer of flow over the arm, helping reduce the aerodynamic drag off the arm. The exact make up, height, and spacing between strips is are key components in how potent the resulting aero gain is, with various speeds having varying optimal solutions. But unlike some aero interventions, adding such textures is almost certainly going to offer a gain without the risk of an intervention that looks more aero but actually introduces increased drag.

Cavendish mid-pack during stage three. Photo © Cor Vos

There are other subtle aero hacks for Cav’s bike. Today he is racing with the deeper Vision Metron SL 60 wheelset, and he is also using a Vision Metron 5D Integrated handlebar. Finally, while Cav’s teammates all ride Prologo saddles, he appears to be racing a classic Fizik Arione. This saddle change has been kept somewhat under wraps, as I’ve only ever seen a bike with Cav’s paint job, race number, and Prologo saddle on each visit to the Astana bus.

Will these updates help him achieve that record-breaking stage win? Who knows, what they do tells us, though, is just how seriously he is taking aerodynamics.

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