Soudal Quick-Step pro bike: Julian Alaphilippe’s Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL8

Frenchman will be hoping to replicate his past successes on the Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL8, specced with Shimano and Roval components

Clock14:22, Friday 26th January 2024
Julian Alaphilippe's Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL8


Julian Alaphilippe's Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL8

Only released ahead of the 2023 Vuelta a España, the Specialized Tarmac SL8 is a newcomer to the WorldTour peloton with only a few months of action to its name. What it lacks in experience it more than makes up for in pedigree and the bike is the latest in the long and successful series of Tarmac bikes.

Its predecessor, the SL7, was a world conqueror that counts back-to-back men’s road race world titles on its palmarès. Those titles were claimed by Julian Alaphilippe in 2020 and 2021 and he will be hoping to return to that former glory in 2024, but can the Frenchman team up with his new Tarmac SL8 to conquer the world once more?

We caught a close-up glimpse of the Frenchman’s bike on his season debut at the Tour Down Under and there were some trend-bucking features hidden within.

A big year for Julian Alaphilippe and the Specialized Tarmac SL8

2023 proved to be a tricky year for Alaphilippe which only returned two wins. For some riders that would be successful but for the former two-time world champion it was a barren season.

Read more: Julian Alaphilippe calls into question his Soudal Quick-Step future and possible retirement

There were signs that 2024 may be more fruitful in the Frenchman’s first outing of the season at the Tour Down Under where a sixth-place finish overall and some tentative attacks gave early signals that the 31-year-old is discovering his old form.

Those results were delivered atop the Specialized Tarmac SL8 which took over from the SL7 in August. At first glance, you may be hard-pressed to notice too many differences between the bikes, with the latest model retaining the traditional Tarmac silhouette. On closer inspection, there are some significant changes, with some performance benefits to go alongside them.

The biggest, and most noticeable, is the bulbous head tube. Labelled as the ‘Speed Sniffer’ by Specialized, it is much deeper than the head tube on the SL7, but also thinner. This combination has been devised in the name of aerodynamics.

Sticking to the front of the bike, the SL8 also benefits from the latest Roval Rapide cockpit which, unlike its predecessor, is a one-piece bar and stem. Both of these new features contribute to a bike that, according to Specialized, is more aerodynamic than its now-defunct Venge.

The Venge was the brand’s aero road bike but it was discontinued in 2020 upon the release of the SL7 as Specialized wanted to combine both aerodynamics and a lightweight into one package. With the more aero design of the SL8, it seems to have achieved that.

Completing the other side of the equation, the SL8 is also lighter than the SL7 too.

Specialized-owned brands dominate build

Alaphilippe’s build was dominated by Specialized-owned brands, including the Roval Rapide CLX II wheels.

These combine a 51mm-deep front wheel with a 60mm rear and both wheels have different shapes too. This, of course, is partly inspired by aerodynamics, but Specialized’s main motivation for the design was stability. If the claimed extra 25% stability is anything to go by, the design has worked.

Sticking to the Specialized theme, the brand’s Turbo Cotton tyres accompanied the Roval wheels and this is where the bike bucked trends thanks to their 26mm width. At this point, virtually every team uses 28mm tyres but Specialized teams are the clear outliers, with Bora-Hansgrohe riders generally also sticking to 26mm widths too.

Alaphilippe ditches a wider cassette

The emergence of 12-speed groupsets hasn’t only added an extra gear to riders’ arsenal, it’s also led to a wider range of gears. This is something most of the peloton is now taking advantage of in the form of - for teams running Shimano Dura-Ace like Soudal Quick-Step - 11-34t cassettes.

Alaphilippe had shunned this option for his bike when we encountered it ahead of stage 1 in the form of an 11-30t option. The choice isn’t too surprising as the day ended in a bunch sprint, so the wider range of gears may not have been deemed necessary. Even so, most Shimano-sponsored bikes we encountered were still specced with the more generous 11-34t offering.

Things conformed to norms a little more up front in the form of a 54/40t chainset which, combined with the cassette, will have provided ample gears for what was far from the most challenging route the Frenchman will encounter this season. The chainset contained a built-in power meter.

Elsewhere, a K-Edge chain catcher was neatly positioned on the down tube to, as the name suggests, catch the chain if it jumps off the inside of the chainrings.

K-Edge also provided the computer mount while the Specialized S-Works Romin was Alaphilippe’s saddle of choice.

Bike Specification
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    S-Works Tarmac SL8

  • Manufacturer


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