Till Schenk is a German sports event announcer and endurance junkie who loves to ride anything with two wheels and pedals. In his own words, this is the story of the most recent addition to Till’s stable of two-wheeled machines, the lust-worthy S-Works Venge Vias Disc—lovingly dubbed, Jolene.
It’s mid-June and I am parking my car in a small town along the Adriatic coast of Italy. I am on a road trip to announce Ironman 70.3 Pescara, and in the back of my car; a Venge Vias is waiting to be tested. With the warm feeling of the sun on my skin, the coastal wind in my face and the rolling roads of the Adriatic coast in front of me, my legs are twitching, ready to go.
The first easy pedal strokes are done as two cyclists are coming from behind. As I get out of the saddle to go with them all I can think is, ‘holy snap this bike is going forward!’
Three hours later it has become clear to me. This has to be my next bike, but two things need to be changed. First, the mechanical 2x shifting—this bike is made for racing, attacking and riding hard and for that it either needs an ‘ingeniously simple’ 1x groupset or ‘crisp shifting’ SRAM RED eTap to allow the bike to show its full potential. Second, it needs to have disc brakes. After all, I will be riding this beauty not only up and down the coast of Italy, but also in my home, the Black Forest, where there are a lot of descending Strava KOMs to be broken. Imagining my dream bike, I continue the road trip to Pescara with a big smile on my face.
A few weeks later the plan is hatched with my friends at SRAM. My new weapon will be a Venge Vias Disc with eTap HRD.
My first ride on the new bike is in Dusseldorf in the week prior to the Grand Depart of the Tour de France. What better setting is there for a maiden ride? The Zipp 404 Firecrest Disc wheels, Zipp cockpit, Quarq Powermeter and SRAM eTap HRD are making the beast look pretty. Thinking of Dolly Parton and her song Jolene (your beauty is beyond compare…), I’ve decided to name the latest addition to my bike collection, Jolene.
The first kilometers are fun, but it's a group ride with the media. I need to find a way to push the Venge a bit, so I let myself fall back to then attack and close the gap back to the group hammering down the damn along the river, slicing through the wind and evening sun with endorphins rushing through my body. It is crazy how much this bike wants to go forward, but I know the true test will be to take it to the Black Forest to see how it climbs, descends, corners, and attacks.
A week later it is game time. 200+ kilometers through the vineyards near the Black Forest, past the flats of the Rhine River and up and down the Vosges mountains in Alsace, France will show the true abilities of my new ride.
Reaching the climb to Grand Ballon, Alsace it is a mystical morning. There is fog with close to no vision and light rain coming down. Ahead is a 12 kilometer climb. Time to go and play. The Venge climbs and climbs. One switch back after the other, one crisp eTap shift after another. Upon reaching the top of Grand Ballon it is a long descent through the rain and fog. I put my rain jacket on to protect me from the wind because one thing is for sure: It is going to be a fast ride. The Zipp tires are going smoothly through the wet corners of the descent and just as I take this sharp right hand turn the clouds open up and ahead of me lays cycling paradise. The sun is coming out, endless switchbacks are ahead and the roads are dried up. ‘Let’s try the stiffness of the wheels’ I think to myself chasing the two cars four switchbacks ahead of me, and as I have the feeling I need to wear knee protection if I lean anymore into the turns, I am nailing down the hill, giving it another full push out of the saddle as I am passing two cars on a quick straight before the next turns, quickly shifting up, powering over the little hill, and attacking the next descent.
After a 150km of pure bliss and pushing the bike to the limit, I can’t get the grin off my face. I enjoy the final 50km in the sunshine through the rolling vineyards back to Germany, stopping for a nice cup of coffee before the French-German border.
What I feel coming home is a sense of accomplished tiredness and endless stoke. This bike and this set up is even so much more than I expected.
Thousands of kilometers later, endless little city sign sprints and chased down trucks later, I still feel the stoke of the bike and it’s set up right every time I get to ride it.
I have set records for my longest nonstop ride, I have set personal bests on almost every descent I have ridden, some of which were in rain and fog, but were simply fast thanks to the perfect control of the disc brakes and the stiffness of the Zipp 404 Firecrest Disc-brake wheels but what I have done most of all is have more conversations about this bike than about any other bike before. No matter if it’s the old French gentleman at my old golf club, cyclists I meet along one of my tours, or athletes at the expos of races I announce, Jolene is a beauty beyond compare and is an animal inside.
A full Zipp-loaded bike with a perfect frame, the reliability of eTap HRD under pressure, and the symbiosis of comfort, stiffness, and agility like this one is as close to a dream bike as I have ridden… and hey, it’s pretty as well.