Team Liquigas’ Ivan Basso will make his return to pro racing on October 26th at the Japan Cup on fi’zi:k’s new Antares road saddle. The new light-weight, low profile saddle introduced at the fall Eurobike and Interbike shows with a scheduled November aftermarket release, has been on his Cannondale Supersix since mid-August.
“I’m very happy to finally be riding fi’zi:k,” Basso said. “I know that both some of my rivals and comrades developed lasting relationships with fi’zi:k because they like to work closely with the athletes for development and feedback. I’ve visited their Pozzoleone headquarters several times and their European Marketing Manager, Gabriele Benedetti, has taken the time to work with both me and our mechanics. I tested a few saddles but I can say, honestly, that the Antares is the best saddle I’ve ridden in my entire career.”
In comparison tests with other ultra light high-performance saddles, the padded Antares has 300% more nose padding and up to 15% more surface area. Introduced on the Arione CX early in 2008 the foam formulation adds no bulk but yields a super low-profile with added comfort. As Basso explained, “The padding and flat surface provides support to eliminate pressure on the prostate area and the wide nose provides support when I’m climbing in the saddle.”
Carlos Sastre, the 2008 Tour de France winner, is riding the Antares Only a few months after his long-sought after Tour de France victory, Carlos Sastre left the team and director that had provided their unrelenting support toward that end in order to sign with the new Cervélo Test Team. For Sastre, some things remained the same - specifically, his frame sponsor, his long time pedal sponsor and his relationship with Cervelo brand owner Gerard Vroomen. Some things however, required change – namely, his saddle.
Changing saddle brands, particularly for professional cyclists, can be a challenging requirement that is ultimately dictated by sponsorship contracts. Depending on who you are, one can ‘bend the rules’ or ‘seek exception to the rules’ and receive a waiver to use product outside of the contracted sponsor. Often times, product change requirements are more psychological than physical but nevertheless, they can be challenging. For Carlos Sastre, the transition has been a smooth one. It was a simple matter of Sastre’s innate ability to adapt, his positive disposition, and the fact that this transition meant upgrading to the number one racing saddle brand available today: fi’zi:k. Perhaps more enticing for Sastre was the early invitation to test the new Antares, the third A in fi’zi:k’s successful generation of road racing saddles: the Aliante and Arione.
During the the first Cervelo Test Team training camp in Locarno, Switzerland fi’zi:k’s Sports Marketing Manager, Gabriele Benedetti, approached Carlos, “Would you like to try the new Antares?
“Yes, of course I would.” Sastre replied.
Two months later, Sastre declared, “Antares is my saddle of choice.
“Since the first time I tested it,” Sastre explained, “I felt truly comfortable and confident on it. I’ll use this for the season, for the Giro d’Italia and for the Tour de France. It’s just the right amount of flexibility for my back. The Antares has made it easy for me to transition to a different saddle brand with optimum and greater comfort than I’ve had before.”
Michael Rogers: To Tell You the Truth... I Was Really Nervous.
2009 marks fi’zi:k’s first year of sponsorship with Team Columbia, the second United States based UCI registered Pro Tour team. As with Garmin-Slipstream, and similar to a game of Russian Roulette, there are still prominent cyclists who have never been on a fi’zi:k saddle. The brand, after all, is only thirteen years old. In contrast, most professional cyclists who have been racing for ten years or longer, have had the opportunity to race on both of our Italian competitors at one time or another. Those brands have been around, after all, for 160 years combined.
When we first started negotiating with Team Columbia, key management expressed concern that two key cyclists might have difficulty transitioning to another saddle brand without major issue. One of those cyclists was Kim Kirchen who had been riding a ‘saddle with a hole’ for several years. Kim is now preparing to launch his season at the Tour of California on the Antares.
The other rider in question was Michael Rogers, three-time World Time Trial Champion.
“To tell you the truth,” Rogers said, “I was really nervous about switching saddles because I’ve been on the same saddle pretty much since I was born.”
It turns out that Rogers actually hadn’t been riding the same saddle since he was born, but he had in fact, been riding the same brand for the last ten years. Admittedly, that’s a long time to be on the same brand, thus Rogers was justified to feel slightly anxious.
...and in the end? Michael Rogers will line up along side teammate Kim Kirchen at the Tour of California on the Antares, ‘the only fi’zi:k saddle he’s ever tried.’
While fi’zi:k has been a sponsor of professional road cycling teams for as long as the brand is old, and while there have always been a handful of Americans racing for European professional teams, until recently there had been very few famous American roadie names associated with fi’zi:k. Statistically, there has been only one American-UCI registered team in the Pro peloton during any given time. There was 7-Eleven. There was Motorola. And then there was US Postal (and its spin-off, Discovery Channel).
As a component manufacturer, if you weren’t a part of the one-and-only US-based team, the opportunity to have a famous American riding your product was left only to chance as Americans began bouncing from team to team in Europe. For fi’zi:k, chance was never on its side.
For the longest time (dating back specifically to fi’zi:k’s start in 1996) there were but a handful of US cyclists racing at the top level: Kevin Livingston, Jonathan Vaughters, George Hincapie, Freddie Rodriguez, Tyler Hamilton, Christian Vandevelde, Tom Danielson, Floyd Landis, Chris Horner, Dave Zabriskie and Lance Armstrong. Until 2008, none of these guys had ever ridden fi’zi:k while racing in the Pro Tour classification. (Chris Horner used the Arione while riding for the US Continental Webcor and Jonathan Vaughters rode the Pave when he first returned to the US from Credit Agricole to ride for Prime Alliance).
Then came Garmin-Slipstream (Slipstream-Chipotle/H30 in ‘08).
Now in its 2nd year as a Pro Tour team the Garmin-Slipstream Pro Cycling Team represents a true United States UCI registered squad with more US born citizens than has ever been on a Pro Tour team. For fi’zi:k – the brand that has dominated the US Pro peloton for the last six years while still lacking a US superstar - Garmin-Slipstream was a long time coming.
For the professional cyclist, sponsorship contracts often add to the stresses of the start of each season. Suddenly, the saddle you’ve been using for the last four or five years is no longer an option. And while most would claim otherwise, there is probably no saddle manufacturer that has not had its challenges with a pro rider or two along the way. Saddle fit, after all, is an individual matter.
With the exception of Lance – there probably is not one American Pro Tour cyclist who has now never been on a fi’zi:k sponsored team. Among those listed above – and others not listed (Tyler Farrar, Pat McCarty, Charles Dionne, Tim Johnson) perhaps a more compelling story is that of Dave Zabriskie.
When we first learned that Zabriskie would be riding for the 2008 Garmin-Slipstream team (Slipstream-Chipotle), it was with trepidation that we contacted him for some insight into his saddle history. We knew part of that history: some seriously bad luck defined by near career ending crashes. Fortunate that he can even sit on a bike, let alone challenge for World and Olympic titles, Dave Z put it simply, “I’ve been riding a saddle with a big giant nose – like a tri saddle; I sit on the nose,” he said.
In effort to make the transition smoother for the new-to-fi’zi:k cyclists arriving to the Garmin-Slipstream team, in 2008 saddle choice was open. The idea was to offer as many choices as possible since so many had been riding different saddles. Infinite choice meant that many of the guys ended up using an old mtb model on recommendation from Danny Pate who’d been riding the same saddle on his road bike for the better part of eight years. That model’s days in the line-up however, were numbered, and in 2009, nine guys that’d been using that model were told they’d have to choose something new. Dave Zabriskie was among those nine guys.
When it was first known during the summer of 2008 that DZ would be joining the Garmin-Slipstream team, we sent him a box of saddles to start testing: Arione, Arione Carbon, Arione Tri, Aliante and Pave CX. As stated, Dave ended up on the mountain bike seat. For whatever reason, none of fi’zi:k’s road saddles were working for him. Perhaps what is most interesting among saddle manufacturers and passionate marketers is that even though we won’t always admit it, we often blame ourselves. “Hmmmm,” we think, “what are we lacking that we can’t get Dave comfortable?” Most of us sometimes neglect to think, “What is it about the way Dave rides that makes it tough to fit him?”
Late last summer one of the first Antares prototypes came available and Dave Zabriskie was the first professional cyclist to receive a sample. We called this: Project DZ. Zabriskie was recovering from another serious crash – one more episode of horrific bad luck – having slipped on a cattle grade at the 2008 Giro d’Italia during stage one while his teammate, Christian Vandevelde, was in pink. DZ left the Giro that day with a broken back while Vandevelde went onto to finish one second out of the maglia rosa. The wise man knows that the team was more devastated to have lost Dave then to have lost the jersey.
Dave’s loss that day was not just the Giro but also the Tour de France and possibly the Beijing Olympics where he was favored to medal. With Dave recovering, not having sat on a saddle for more than several weeks, the timing was perfect to introduce him to something new….that is, if he was willing. The story goes that he was and apparently, it worked. In early September, Dave Zabriskie showed up at the Greenville start gate to defend his US National Time Trial title on the only Ares TT in existence (the Antares little brother) and the next day was at the start line on the prototype Antares.
Ever since the injuries – Dave’s had a tough time connecting with the saddle. He sits – mostly - on the front, thus the saddle with the big front end. He’s a TT specialist, so it’s not as though that doesn’t make some sense. But he sits there on his road bike as well. When we heard that he was still riding the Antares (along with Irish National Road Champion Dan Martin, and Jason Donald), we had to probe.
“It’s hard for me to get on my sit bones – and the wider nose in front helps me with that. But I’m finding on this saddle that I’m starting to use my sit bones a bit more. I guess that’s not a bad thing, right?”