Pro Cycling’s Other 2010 Battle – Trek vs. Specialized

While many focus their pro cycling fanaticism on athlete vs. athlete, one of the more interesting spins to come out of the Lance v. Contador mental battles has been the escalation of the battle between bike industry icons Trek and Specialized.

As with most things in cycling, change is a constant – riders change teams, teams change sponsors.  The standard reaction is usually all you read about – Rider X is really excited to be on a new team and really likes his new bike.   Specialized came into the mix when Contador’s status with Astana was still up in the air with an astounding $1,000,000 individual sponsorship, targeting the top step of the Tour de France podium.   This new sponsorship also caused an unceremonious split with Quick-Step which, call me crazy but sponsoring a Belgian team with Belgian cycling heroes Devolder and Boonen as well in 11 other Belgian cyclists, given the fact that Belgium is well…Belgium.   I’m guessing there was a pretty high PR and related sales as a result of their efforts.

When Lance retired in 2005 and Trek (temporarily) lost its Icon, sales suffered.  The Big Red S took steps forward, primarily at Trek’s expense.  Even having Contador riding Trek to his earlier Grand Tour victories didn’t seem to have nearly the desired impact.  However, Specialized didn’t get to where it is without marketing savvy.   Factor the probability that Contador could win again multiplied by an X factor of (insert insane value here) as a result of the magnitude of press that comes in the media coverage of Lance v. Contador Part Deux, apparently your answer is $1,000,000.

What has been surprising so far is Contador’s gushing love-fest statements about his new Specialized ride.  Statements reflecting that he “demanded the best” and therefore “required” Specialized as part of his conditions for staying with Astana.  Recent items from press conferences and releases included Contador stating that the additional stiffness and power of the his Tarmac SL3 required “a couple of days to get used to” and that he was very happy with a recent BG-Fit and work with Dr. Andy Pruitt, which had helped his positioning and power output on the bike.

If you read the various reviews, the reality is that he’s not speaking out of line or making absurd claims.  Most reviews absolutely rave about the Tarmac as a precise, efficient Pro Tour-caliber steed.  By comparison, the reviews on the Madone seem less enthusiastic – usually stating “it’s a gre..good bike, but” with quick references to how the Madone doesn’t have the stiffness and acceleration found in other top bikes.  Obviously, the magazines don’t want to rip on a review for fear of losing an advertising buck.  My experience with these bikes echoes the same sentiment, to the point where I recall test riding a Tarmac and being astounded by the stiffness, quickness and power (but slightly nonplussed by the excessive road feedback on a road that recently had the summer pea gravel/tar treatment).

Now the “if” parade begins.  If Contador loses with a team dedicated solely to him and given better equipment, is the only reason that the team wasn’t that good?  (Yep) If Specialized has so much vested in Contador and Astana, why the contrasting Red/White/Black paint? (Either they thought Contador was going to Caisse d’Espargne or realizes Astana’s color palette is so awful they didn’t want to make a bike they couldn’t sell)  If Armstrong pays his typical obsessive attention to detail, will he realize he might be giving up a couple transferred watts and have Trek go away from the ‘off the rack’ mentality and add a couple layers of magic black fabric? (He might want to)  If Contador sits on top of the TdF podium this year, does it equate to Specialized giving a quick rabbit punch behind Trek’s ear?  (Who knows?)

In either case, as long as Lance is around, Trek sales will rebound/rise.  However, if Rocky Contador loses his Apollo Armstrong, is the value to Specialized as great or won’t we know until he’s reached the 5+ win club?  Either way, I’m sure the magazines will be able to sell a few more ad pages this year.

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