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Sarah Piampiano: How I helped develop the P5X

The Ironman champion was uniquely involved in the pioneering process that produced the ultimate triathlon bike, which she then rode to 7th place at Kona.

ST. GEORGE, UTAH — I’m sitting on a couch next to Heather Wurtele, Trevor Wurtele, and Mathias Hecht, the three other Cervélo athletes who just competed in the 2013 Ironman 70.3 North American Championships with me.

A trio of Cervélo engineers are in the room with us, and the video cameras are rolling. They ask question after question about the P5, Cervélo’s latest superbike: How did it handle on the climbs? On the descents? On the flats? What did we love about it? What would we change? How did we set up our bikes for fuelling and hydration? What was it like to travel with the bike? How easy was it to make fit adjustments?

We all respond enthusiastically — it’s refreshing when a sponsor takes such a keen interest in the experiences and opinions of its athletes. Cervélo staff also took photos of us racing, and when I ask how the pictures turned out I’m surprised to learn that every single athlete was photographed.

I’m in my second pro season with Cervélo, and I’m under the impression that all this feedback is being gathered to develop the next-generation P5. Little do I know that they have something much more ambitious in mind.

At the 2013 Ironman Mt. Tremblant North American Championships three months later in August, and at Ironman Austria the following June, the engineering Q&As keep coming. I see more pros being interviewed, and Cervélo’s cameras continue to line bike courses around the world. Their curiosity is insatiable! Soon emails start flying back and forth, seeking feedback on the bento box on my toptube and the rear hydration mount fixed into my seatpost.

Then, at the 2015 Ironman World Championships, Cervélo reveals plans to launch a new, faster time-trial bike some time in 2016. No details are forthcoming, not even a name. Talk about suspense! Everyone knows the bike will redefine the triathlon world — because that is what Cervélo does — but none of us know how.

A few months later I’m invited to fly down to Palm Springs for four days. All I know is that I’ll be riding the new bike, and that the trip to California is top secret.

By the time I arrive, Cervélo’s team is ready and waiting: David Killing, Richard Matthews and Stuart Munro, three of the key engineers who worked on the bike design; a film crew to document it all; renowned bike fitter Mat Steinmetz, mechanics Shawn Armstrong and Jason Losey and Lesley Loughlin, Cervelo’s triathlon manager. The other athletes in attendance: The Wurteles, Caroline “Xena” Steffen, and retired ITT legend Dave Zabriskie.

On Day 1 the group sits down together in a room with two tarp-covered bikes. No one outside these four walls has ever seen the new bike. The project is so closely-guarded that a secure design and development lab was built in Cervélo’s Toronto headquarters. The engineers don’t tell us anything else, as they want to document our initial reactions, comments and questions. The tarps come off — drum roll please — and we feast our eyes on the P5x.

Surprise is soon replaced by limitless excitement and curiosity. We discover how the engineers worked on the bike’s development. They had no preconceived notions of what it would look like. Rather, they set out with specific goals and parameters. They were unwilling to compromise stiffness, and sought to improve aerodynamics for Ironman and Ironman 70.3 set-ups. They wanted to create the most versatile triathlon-specific bike in the world, while at the same time giving us the best and fastest riding experience.

Now that’s a tall order! We discuss aerodynamics and weight and position set-ups, and how dynamic and functional the new bike will be from a fit perspective. We discuss storage and how, when working in the wind tunnel, they had considered factors like an average rider’s fueling set-up. It’s fascinating to learn about all the functional details they incorporated: A Bento bag with side pockets, a pill tray and a zipper that doesn’t flap in the wind. Adjustment markings on the seatpost and riser post. An integrated rear bottle mount. An access window for the Di2 box in the stem. Not having these features has always been a nuisance to us, but we’ve tolerated these shortcomings for years. No more!

Over the next three days we time-trial the bike on a flat, fast circuit. We climb, we descend, we corner. We test the bike in every way we want, and in short, I am blown away. I love my P5, but I love this bike too! The way it handles, the way it climbs, the stability I feel on descents, the power generation — it exceeds my expectations and hopes in every way. I walk away thrilled, inspired and giddy with excitement over playing a part in the development of this new and industry-defining bike.