Lost In Thin Air

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I’ve never seen a Tour de France with this many kilometres above two thousand metres, nobody has & nobody really knows what to expect in the final week. Which is why I predict we’re going to see another thing nobody has ever seen before, a Colombian winner in Paris. Let me explain myself, with some actual evidence (not common these days).

Last 5 years of Colombian top 20 GC riders

2018:

10th: Nairo Quintana @14’18” (won Stage 17 finishing at 2215m, was up to 5th @3’30”, but crashed on Stage 18)

15th: Egan Bernal @27’52” (working for Sky leader all Tour)

2017:

2nd: Rigoberto Urán @54″ (Urán won Stage 9, where he lying at 55 seconds to Froome, he gained more time & was 29 seconds behind Froome by Stage 12, he moved within 27 seconds by Stage 17, dropped 2 seconds on stage 18, then lost only 25 seconds to Froome on the Stage 20, 22.5km TT.)

12th: Nairo Quintana @15’28” (A very poor Tour for Quintana)

18th: Carlos Betancur @37’47”

2016:

3rd: Nairo Quintana @4’21”

12th: Sergio Henao @18’51”

19th: Jarlinson Pantano @38’59” (Winner Stage 15)

2015:

2nd: Nairo Quintana @1’12 (Note Quintana was 1’59” down after the Stage 9 TTT)

19th: Jarlinson Pantano @1hr 09’08”

2014:

What happened to the Colombians?

2013:

2nd: Nairo Quintana @4’20” (winner of Stage 20)

 

Quintana – Short Mountain Stage Specialist?

Lets go back a few years & look at every ‘short’ mountain stage since 2013. Contrary to popular belief, Quintana isn’t so much the diesel, he excels at the short stages, maybe his attention span is sufficient for these stages?

2013: Stage 20 – 125km Mountain Stage: Took 29s on Froome, overall winner on GC.

2015: Stage 19 – 138km Mountain Stage: Took 30seconds on Froome, overall winner on GC.

2015: Stage 20 – 110km Mountain Stage: Took 1min 20seconds on Froome, overall winner on GC.

2017: Stage 13 – 101km Mountain Stage: Took 1min 48seconds on Froome, overall winner on GC.

2018: Stage 11 – 108km Mountain Stage: Lost 59seconds to Thomas, overall winner on GC.

2018: Stage 17 – 65km Mountain Stage: Took 47seconds on Thomas, overall winner on GC.

So on all but one short mountain stage, Quintana has gained time on the final winner in Paris. If we take an average, including the loss, he gains approximately 39seconds on a short mountain stage.

The 2019 Strategic Moments

Time gaps may not appear on stages 18 & 19, but serious damage will be inflicted on those not as naturally predisposition to riding at altitude. If the Iseran is ridden full gas by Movistar or EF Education, even though it’s mid-stage, we’ll know if the Colombian onslaught is going to happen, they’ll need to cause as much damage as possible to limit the normally aspirated riders recovery.

Stage 18 (208km): 9km above 2000m to summit of Col du Galibier (2642m), followed by a 19km descent to the finish.

Stage 19 (126km): 10km above 2000m to summit of Col du l’Iseran (2770m).

Stage 20 (130km): Finish at Val Thorens 2365m.

The Gist Of It

I think a Colombian is going to win this Tour, the last few days appear too hard & too high for anybody else to recover sufficiently to not lose time at altitude, or suffer from extended time racing at altitude & crack on the final mountain day.

Of all the Colombians, the sensible money is on Bernal, he has the best team, they know how to win the Tour, but does he have the experience?

Urán looks undercooked, and is also innatentive, losing time in the crosswinds on Stage 10, which may have put him out of contention.

We often forget, since Quintana has been around for so long, he’s still only 29, coming into his prime as a Grand Tour contender.

Whoever wins this Tour will deserve it. My money is on Quintana, everything is set up for him to win, the final three back-to-back high altitude mountain stages, with the last two being short mountain stages, which we can see are a speciality for Nairo, when all the normally aspirated contenders are desperately trying to recover from getting blown to pieces in thin air.

A Geraint Thomas in last years Tour winning form would need at least 3 minutes lead after the TT on Stage to survive the last few brutal days in yellow, he can’t just kick at the end & win these, there’s not enough oxygen. The main issue with Quintana is his attention span, he often loses time form innatention, but this year looks a little better & was scrapping in the Dauphine to ensure he didn’t lose time, maybe he’s got some focus, or maybe it’ll all go up in flames as usual.

This is Quintana’s chance, he should take it.

 

 

 

(p.s. I expect pelters for this, so bring it on)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colombians & Manzana Postobon team at la Vuelta

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As always, I follow the Colombians in Grand Tours with sheer fascination, the 2017 Vuelta has the added interest away from the established Colombian stars taking part such listed below, along with a Colombian team with a historical sponsor from the 80’s era when Colombians previously appeared in the euro peloton, Postobon, which is basically Colombia’s answer to Irn-Bru.

Non Manzano Postobon Colombians taking part:

  • Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo)
  • Esteban Chaves (ORICA-Scott)
  • Carlos Betancur (Movistar Team)
  • Darwin Atapuma (UAE Team Emirates)
  • Miguel Ángel López (Astana)

Manzano Postobon Colombians taking part (7 of 9 from the team):

  • Aldemar Reyes
    • Team leader, most impressive performance this year is 6th place in the 7th Stage of the Volta Cyclist a Catalunya, a select group of 16 world climbing stars in same time as winner Valverde, sandwiched between Dan Martin in 5th & Romain Bardet in 7th. Should try & pull a surprise result.
  • Hernan Aguirre
    • 17th on GC in 2017 Vuelta a Burgos, won by Landa.
  • Hernando Bohórquez
    • Finished 7th in World U23 Road Race on two occasions, in 2012 & 2014.
  • Fernando Orjuela
    • 10th place on GC in Tour de Langkawi 2017
  • Juan Felipe Osorio
    • King of Mountains in 2017 Volta ao Algarve em Bicicleta, Dan Martin was 2nd in this classification.
  • Juan Sebastian Molano
    • In 2015 Tour of Turkey, he finished 4th in a bunch sprint, Cav won.
  • Bernardo Suaza

As you can see, this is a solid team & when given the chance to perform against the World Tour teams, they get results. Add the fact that this is their biggest chance to show their skills to the DS’s of the big teams. They’ll be in breaks in the mountain stages, don’t be surprised to see their considerable climbing talent & bright pink kit in obvious view when the road tilts upwards for the next three weeks. When is the last time there were this many Colombians in a Grand Tour?

 

Format, rider, or both?

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This years Tour is incredibly close after 2 weeks, the top four are within 29 seconds of each other, with the next 4 within another 2 minutes from 4th place. This is unheard of at this stage in a Tour, after 60 hours in the saddle the time gaps are minuscule, without Porte’s crash involving Dan Martin & the time he lost there, he would be up in 2nd place @ 11s. This is a tight race, but why?

There’s several reasons, which have conspired together to reach this point, it’s not solely course design, other factors had to come into play in order to make the standings this close. A huge factor is who is not there, team leaders such as potentially the strongest rider in the race, Porte, but also protagonists Izagirre & Gesink. The non-mountain stages were also shaped by a missing Sagan, who’s presence would have changed tactics, even yesterday, would Sunweb & BMC have worked so hard if Sagan was there, meaning Aru may not have lost time?

Of great interest is the impact of missing ‘super-domestiques’, Thomas would have strengthened Sky, allowing them to more easily revert to their tried & tested (but fan-boring) mountain-train strategy, Fuglsang, fresh from Dauphine victory would have provided back up for Arg in the mountains. More interesting & potentially a huge impact is Valverde, he crashed due to his commitment, meaning that he thought he wasn’t just here for back-up, he meant business, and probably quite righly so after Quintana diluted his performance by racing the Giro to win. His team leader Quintana is hovering around the bottom of the top ten, Valverde was as good as ever, likely would have become team leader by performance.

Finally, we have the course. Fewer mountain top finishes to focus all GC contenders attacking on one type of effort, favouring riders like Froome. Less time trialling early on, again favouring strong time triallists like Froome who then command a seemingly unassailable lead early in the race. The short mountain stages also provide the springboard for opportunist attacks, which probably wouldn’t happen with an extra 90 to 100km in the legs.

All these features have conspired to produce a close race, which in turn produces attacks. If the gaps are small riders think they have a chance to take the jersey. If the gaps on GC are 2 or 3 minutes, the riders go into damage limitation mode, being realistic that they are unlikely to gain more than a few seconds. If the gaps are a few seconds, anybody who’s still within those margins can realistically take the jersey.

What we can see from this, is that by designing a similar course next year, we probably won’t see a similar Tour. As usual, it’s the riders that make the race, injuries, dropouts, crashes & in some cases performance reducing naturally with age (Bert). I’m looking forward to the next week, I don’t believe we’ll see as close a finish as 8 seconds in 1989, but I do suspect we’ll see do-or-die attacks from the likes of Bardet & Uran. If the Colombian can pull something off, he can time trial very well, having won a TT over 40km in the 2014 Giro, with Froome not looking quite as strong as usual, he may not have to pull back as large a buffer as most imagine in the final TT. An interesting week ahead.

 

Blood & Skills

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I continue to hear pundits & those involved in ‘skill based’ sports defend themselves against EPO use & blood manipulation as if it wouldn’t benefit them. I beg to differ. The following should at least show that there’s little chance of getting caught in other sports & there’s huge benefits to most sports people in the use of banned substances like EPO (Erythropoietin). Next time you hear that they don’t test because “they don’t have a problem”, maybe consider that they don’t test for another very obvious reason, opening the doors to what’s actually going on.

Fitness V Skills

In ideal circumstances, where there is a level playing field, any elite athlete or sportsperson would have to dedicate a large amount of time to developing their aerobic fitness. This could give them a competitive advantage in their sport, allowing them to outperform their rivals, keep playing at the same level throughout a game & potentially recover better from injuries. More time devoted to fitness training, then less time devoted to skills training obviously results in a less skilled player than one who has devoted all that time to skills.

Imagine if there was a shortcut which sports competitors could use that would reduce the huge amount of time required to gain the very high levels of aerobic fitness required in most sports these days, allowing them to spend most of that time on improving their skills. Do you think they would take that shortcut, especially if there was virtually no testing for it, as the sport’s hierarchy had decided that nobody needed it as EPO & blood boosting are not a problem in their sport?

With almost zero chance of getting caught for its use, a pharmaceutical product sourced in a jiffy-bag relatively cheaply from China (I googled it, it’s quite shocking how easy it is to acquire), it’s almost a no-brainer for any manager under pressure from sponsors & sponsor company directors to make a dodgy decision. You have to ask, why wouldn’t they? The vast sums of money available if players move up to the next level are a huge motivator, they appear to be willing to do it in cycling to secure a deal on the UCI minimum wage, if millions were on offer, morality doesn’t get a look-in.

Minimal Testing

There’s been a myth generated within these ‘skill based’ sports that EPO & other drug use is not widespread, they devote much less funding towards testing for it, as “they don’t have a problem”. We know that doping has existed for some time in football, in 2013 the German government released a report which revealed that the team who won the 1954 World Cup had been injected with the amphetamine Pervatin, which had been developed by the Nazi’s to make their troops fight longer & harder.

Take football & tennis as examples, there’s an estimated over 65,000 professional footballers in the world & all are eligible for testing. In tennis the ATP Tour have 1,814 players & the ATP Tour 1,106, so 2,920 in total. In road cycling, there’s around 1200 WorldTour & ProContinental riders + around 2300 competing in Continental Tour events, circa 3500 professional riders.

Summary: Football 65,000 professionals, Tennis 2,920 professionals, Road Cycling 3500 professionals.

If we take 2015 as an example, the WADA report reveals the following:

Football

  • Total in-competition urine tests: 24,654 (37.9% chance of being tested)
  • Total out-of-competition urine tests: 5,618 (8.6% chance of being tested)
  • Total in-competition blood tests: 697 (1.1% chance of being tested)
  • Total out-of-competition blood tests: 617 (0.9% chance of being tested)

Tennis

  • Total in-competition urine tests: 2,523 (86.4% chance of being tested)
  • Total out-of-competition urine tests: 929 (31.8% chance of being tested)
  • Total in-competition blood tests: 166 (5.6% chance of being tested)
  • Total out-of-competition blood tests: 829 (28.4% chance of being tested)

Road Cycling

  • Total in-competition urine tests: 6,460 (184.6% chance of being tested, i.e. more than once)
  • Total out-of-competition urine tests: 4,123 (117.8% chance of being tested, i.e. more than once)
  • Total in-competition blood tests: 407 (11.6% chance of being tested)
  • Total out-of-competition blood tests: 569 (16.2% chance of being tested)

I’ve made some assumptions in the testing probability, that the vast majority of testing is on the professional athletes in each sport & that tests are carried out across the entire available players/riders (we know there will be target testing, so I’m just keeping it simple). In cycling there are also figures for track, bmx, mountain biking, cross etc, but these are not included in these figures, we’re looking solely at the most tested area of cycling, which is road cycling.

The Gist Of It

When I googled EPO from China, sources appeared on the first page of results, selling it for the use of athletes, with full instructions. If you’re keen on using it, you’ll have already done this, so I’m not exactly revealing anything here for those who can use google & are idiots willing to inject stuff with no traceability that’s sent in a jiffy bag. It seems reasonable to assume that any sports team could ‘prepare’ their team members for about £500 each, use their existing doctors to safely administer it & result in a team with new-found superskills looking like it had “run rings around” their rivals (remind anybody of anything?). Whenever I hear that phrase in sports reports, I do always wonder, because as we know, in sports like football there are virtually no tests for EPO, especially at domestic level.

As this 2008 paper reveals, EPO also provides some considerable injury recovery properties. So I ask again, why wouldn’t highly paid footballers be taking this, it’s cheap, easily accessable & there’s only a 1% chance of being tested, which would have to be in the short ‘glow time’, while a cyclist has over 16% chance of being tested. I’m sure proper testing would reveal some very disturbing truths.

2017 & Mens Pro Cycling

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Men’s pro cycling, the main focus of the cycling media, has been causing me some motivational problems as a cycling fan the last few months.  Living in the UK, the story of the jiffy bag & the tiresome Bradley Wiggins attitude has been dominating proceedings, with it getting murkier & murkier as time progresses, it really looks like the beginning of the end for  Brailsford, although he’s likely to slip into a highly paid role in another sport, these people usually emerge somewhere else. There’s obviously been a cover up, but covering up what nobody really knows, it looks unlikely the full facts will ever become available in the public domain due to the amount of mistruths that have already been told.

In general, it looks like there’s been a large turnover in riders in the peloton this year, with plenty of retirements, so there is potential for a bit of a renewal, hopefully without the same level of scandals, but I’ll not hold my breath.

Predictions

  • Team Sky to have an obvious split into two factions, those loyal to Brailsford & those loyal to Froome, who’s obviously unhappy. It could go the other way than expected as far as results outside the Tour go, it may mean that the highly talented riders that get burnt up as bunch engines benefit from the lack of unity & get their own chances, especially as they may be thinking about contracts in other teams for 2018
  • Spring Classics – Nothing particularly surprising here, showdowns between Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet & a revived & healthy John Degenkolb, with Boonen to win Roubaix & retire.
  • Giro – Esteban Chaves.
  • Tour – Bauke Mollema.
  • Vuelta – Tom Dumoulin.
  • UCI President to be a Frenchman by the end of the year, Cookson to be ousted in a big bun fight after British Cycling becomes more embroiled in the jiffy bag situation, with no realistic answers, tarnishing the organisation & Cookson himself.
  • Worlds – Peter Sagan (again).

 

Rest Day Predictions

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When somebody who looks perfectly capable of attacking & doesn’t attack, it either means they’re not interested, or they have a serious plan. I’m putting my thoughts for a thrilling final week of the Tour out there. As far as predictions go, I’ve got past history of being very wrong, so don’t place any bets based on this.

WeeQ

I’m more convinced than ever that Nairo Quintana is going to win this Tour now. He’s had ample opportunity to have a go, but has refrained. We’ll not see anything happen on GC until Thursday, when the big gaps start to appear among the top 20. Even on Ventoux, I’m still convinced Quintana won’t have an all out attack, he’ll maybe try a probing attack to see how Froome is feeling. After last year, he knows that rather than wasting energy when Froome is still fresh in the first 2 weeks, he can instead take possibly minutes in the finalé of a 3 week Tour.

The day after Ventoux, we have an undulating 37.5km time trial, if things are going to Movistar’s plans, Nairo will lose no more than 30 seconds here, likely less, his time trialling has improved alongside his other abilities.

The Final Week

We get more mountains on Sunday preceding the final week, which could be animated, not by Movistar, but by Sky, if the time gap in the TT is less than expected (which I think is likely), we’ll see panic mode. This plays into the Colombians hands, wearing out his rival team & isolating his main challenger for the final climb of Lacets du Grand Colombier.

WedsStageProfile

Looking at the profiles, Wednesday looks to be the springboard for a Quintana time grab. The final 30km include the Col da la Forclaz (no, not that one, we’re in Switzerland) & a summit finish at Finhaut-Emosson (note final kilo at 12.3%, at over 1900m). The Movistar pace on the penultimate climb could reduce Froome’s domestiques to 1 or 2, then we encounter an ever steepening 10km climb to the Emosson Dam. If there ever was an uncontrollable summit finish, this is it, with two climbs in succession to split teams & leave is with a battle of the leaders. Looking at Quintana’s confidence, it looks like he’d relish the chance of a man to man battle with Froome, to me it would seem they might not be alone, Dan Martin might quite like this stage finish too. I suspect after this stage the overall time gap between 1st & 2nd overall will be very close.

Thursdays mountain TT is made for Quintana, expect the jersey to change hands here.

Friday & Saturday are more of the same, big mountain stages, with Quintana taking control of the GC. He left it until the final mountain stage last year, this year I predict he’ll choose the 3 final mountain stages & the time trial. Not the gamble everybody seems to be suggesting he’s taking by leaving it until the end, there are plenty of opportunities.

The Rest Of Them

Unless one of them have a really bad day, I expect Froome & Quintana to have a 4 or 5 minute gap to the fight for the last place on the podium. It looks likely that the most risk averse of the other likely podium contenders will be Porte. He’s more likely to hang on, not attempt to win a stage & result in a high overall place from being dropped last by Froome & Quintana. On the other hand, Dan Martin may lose loads of time trying to win, but I suspect he can make the top 5 this year. The other top 5 in Bardet, who could make the podium if he did a ‘Porte’, but is also likely to try & win a stage himself. Adam Yates is riding superbly, but probably still a bit early in his career for him not to suffer from a bad day, he’ll have other chances for a podium in this race. I’m putting Kreuzeger in 6th, which will be some achievement, after all his team have gone home & Oleg hires a Megabus for the final stages. Funnily enough, Oleg is exactly the kind of person you expect to meet on a Megabus. Place your bets, or don’t, it’s up to you.

My top 10:

  1. Quintana
  2. Froome
  3. Porte
  4. Bardet
  5. D.Martin
  6. Kreuziger
  7. Yates
  8. Van Garderen
  9. Mollema
  10. Meintjes

A Complete Cav?

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Earlier in the year, I wrote about Cav being the wrong person to take the GB place in the Mens Omnium at the Rio Olympics, how wrong was I?

In the meantime, we’ve had an injury in the other likely contender, and more importantly, a resurgent Mark Cavendish, who is looking to have worked harder than ever to meet his goals for the season.

Job Done

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So far (during stage 4), Cav has won two stages & held the yellow jersey in the Tour for the first time, he’s taken his tally of stage wins up to the level of Hinault. Cillian Kelly (@irishpeloton on twitter & regular on the Velocast podcast) has run the numbers, only Merckx has more stage wins (34), with Cav & Hinault level pegging on 28. But as Cillian points out, if you remove time trial stage wins, Cavendish is far ahead in the number of ‘hands in the air’ victories, 28, compared to Merckx’s 17 & Hinault’s 7. It’s an incredibly impressive achievement for the Manxman.

This set of statistics can likely relieve some pressure from Cav in the run-up to the Olympics, suffering on to Paris may not be the ideal preparation for a series of short track events in Rio, so he probably won’t finish this Tour. He can realistically pick & choose what he wants to do now, 2 stage wins & a yellow jersey is enough for most teams to be happy with at any Tour, he can decide his ideal route to Rio now, having surpassed what his employer (his pro team) realistically expected from the sprinter.

I think what we’ll see is Cavendish making it through the Pyrenees, possibly with another stage win at Montpellier on Stage 12 where he’ll retire from the event, notably, the day before Ventoux. Nobody can really fault him for that.

Track Training

From what we’ve seen so far, his stage 1 victory was in a howling tailwind, ideal circumstances for a high RPM track rider to take advantage of the situation. He’s probably been doing plenty of jumps past dernys (or more likely a motorbike) on the track, so his late surge should be no surprise, this has probably been his bread & butter the last few weeks.

Stage 3 played into his hands too, assuming he’s been doing much more high intensity training & much less endurance, if the stage of over 200km had been ridden hard, it could have blunted his sprint. The peloton decided to cruise along at a very leisurely pace, which must have had him smiling like a Manx cat. We also saw a perfectly timed lunge, with Greipel lunging a little too early, again, we can assume this is part of his track training. Lunges for the ‘Devil’ (elimination race if you’re a UCI commissaire) would surely be practiced again-and-again, probably again coming off a derny or moto on the track. You can lose a lot of points in the Omnium by getting pulled out of the ‘Devil’ early by a well-timed lunge from one of your opponents, his timing was absolutely perfect on Stage 3.

Another factor may be focus. Up to now we’ve been used to Cav taking a few stages to get himself into the zone & actually win one, this year he did it on Stage 1. Don’t discount the mindgames that may be going on here, in the Omnium a moments hesitation can lead to a large loss of points, and the loss of a medal. You need to be focussed for every event, from the very beginning, there’s no allowance for any dithering. I’m assuming that he’s brought this mindset to his road riding now, which could be just as big a factor as his current physical condition.

The Gist Of It

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It’s highly likely that Cav will have achieved well beyond his greatest expectation at the beginning of his career by the end of the 2016. With 28 (+) Tour Stage wins, winning the green jersey, becoming world champion, wearing the yellow jersey, all that’s left is that Olympic medal. Seeing the focus & ability of Cav in the first few days of this Tour, I’d now be surprised if he doesn’t win a medal in Rio, my expected podium of Gaviria & Viviani, now includes Mark Cavendish, I think gold is just as likely for him now as any other rider. Maybe Shane was right, maybe Cav was the correct choice after all, the doubters like me were perhaps all very very wrong, the boys got his sparkle back.

 

Aero-Aware

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Bike racers have been aware of the advantages aerodynamics gave them for decades, perhaps from the very beginning of competitive cycling itself. Up until the 1989 Tour de France, nothing had made the differences more stark, than a colourful mix of imagery, marketing & race winning choices, to propel Greg LeMond to an 8 second advantage, turning around a 50 second deficit & winning the Tour de France on the final Paris time trial stage. Things have never been the same since, it set the scene for the public’s awareness of the importance of aerodynamics in cycling, which is still influencing professional racers, club riders, sportive riders & marketing departments to this day.

80’s to 90’s

Up until the 80’s, it was perhaps the UK time trialing scene that you could have looked to for some extreme examples of bicycle aerodynamics, Rouleur recently ran a story on Alf Engers & his realisation that drilling holes in everything actually made him slower (Rouleur issue 62: Drillium). Aerodynamics had been progressing right through the 1980’s, silk jerseys for time trials were replaced with full lycra skinsuits, we had carbon disc wheels, and we had Francesco Moser, pushing the limits with radical bike designs & wind tunnel testing (amongst some other stuff). Moser2These changes could all be considered ‘marginal’, the position was still relatively the same, just finer tuned with the help of technology. Once we got to the end of the 80’s, LeMond started working with Boone Lennon from Scott USA in developing a position using an innovation from triathlon (there’s also an argument it was first used in 1984 in the RAAM). The advantage this new arm, shoulder & body position, allowed by the use of tri-bars provided a ‘step-change’ in aerodynamics, almost overnight in cycling terms, this wasn’t a ‘marginal gain’, it was a Tour winning gain. The advantage of containing the arms within the frontal area of the body was so large that within a few months almost everybody was using the new position in the pro peloton, even Sean Kelly, still riding toe straps until the bitter end, took it up relatively quickly.

Wind Tunnels

The factor which multiplied the gains from the 80’s onwards was wind tunnel testing. Although the emerging aeronautical industry had been using these since the late 1800’s, their commercial availability & cost were out of reach for sports people, especially cycling, which had traditionally been poorly funded & relied on internal sponsors (i.e. bike manufacturers) to fund most of the top teams until a few decades ago.

As we now know, small changes can make all the difference, with the advent of wind tunnels cars completely changed shape & pro riders could now quantify every single change in equipment, components, position & clothing material, if they had sufficient funding. This introduced a new aspect to pro cycling, but wind tunnel time was expensive, so teams with bigger budgets could now use their cash to outperform their rivals, with very significant gains being made in this early period, compared to the current marginal gains we hear about in todays peloton. This was a game changer, 1989 shook the teams who hadn’t embraced the change, or hadn’t realised what could be achieved. We still saw riders with their jerseys flapping in the wind, you won’t see that now in your local race such is the level of knowledge available now.

Greg LeMond V Past & Present

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A rider at the top of his game (for the 2nd time) during this transition period of aerodynamics was Greg LeMond, he was also the most prominent rider embracing it in the pro peloton, but he wasn’t the only one. If we look at how his position & the technology he used developed we can see the innovations that appeared in greater detail. The photo above is from 1986, differing from todays TT setup, note the shallow front rim profile, drop handlebars on standard road frame, no shoe covers, non protective aero shell helmet & more importantly, the lack of tri-bars. On the other hand, the skin suit looks as fitted as todays, but lacking the longer legs & sleeves we see in todays peloton.

Fignon-FrontLemond-Front

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The contrast displayed in the 1989 photos above, of LeMond’s tucked position, his arms in line with his legs & an aero helmet (which we now know is much faster than a bare head), to Laurent Fignon’s more classic time trial style marks a turning point in position, a stark contrast between the old & the new. It also marks the beginning of pro riders not just looking for small advantages in equipment & clothing, it marks the realisation that technology could provide huge gains over your rivals, not just refinements. Also note that LeMond’s skin suit has grown longer sleeves ahead of its time, which is standard now, as we know lycra is more resistant to drag than skin. Fignon’s position looks very similar to Lemond in 1986, but he’s perhaps gone for a front disc in desperation rather than common sense, while it may work in a windless velodrome, it may have cost him energy outdoors fighting any crosswinds, as we saw him “bouncing of the barriers” in the final 200m.

For comparison, just look at the image below of Tom Dumoulin in his aero position on a modern time trial bike. His position is further refined, rotating his body around the bottom bracket while maintianing hip-torso angle & therefore power development. Dumoulin’s helmet seems profiled to be in line with his back, LeMond’s was a last-minute UCI approved shortened (hacksaw presumably) version of a Giro triathlon helmet. Unlike LeMond in ’89, Dumoulin has a deep section front wheel with carbon spokes & an aerodynamic frame (and forks) with every tube profiled to the limit of the UCI rules (LeMond’s was more or less round tubing, apart from some added fillets). We also have minimal brake levers & various other details that all shave off watts, the big similarity remains the use of tri-bars.

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The Gist Of It

Stage 21 of the 1989 Tour was by no means the first time aerodynamics was considered of prime importance, but it was the event that caught the imagination & made ‘aero’ position & equipment just as important as training.

Just consider if the 1989 final stage had been a sprint into Paris rather than a time trial, if this event had not taken place in the spotlight of the world, how different would pro cycling look today? Would the UCI have rapidly banned ‘tri-bars’ without the drama & revenue generated from a thrilling end to the Tour to preserve the look of the machine to the Merckx era, as with their Hour Record rule changes. In UK cycling, would ‘that Lotus bike’ have existed, would Obree & Boardman have been able to use their innovations & skills on the world stage? Would the various people & technology that combined to create the advances that allowed British Cycling to rapidly ride to international track winners, and the subsequent influx of riders being provided a living while rising to the higher echelons or world road cycling, like Wiggins & Armitstead?

This defining event in 1989 opened all sorts of opportunities in cycling, ‘aero’ had been done many times before, but not displayed previously in such an establishment shocking manner. Development in cycling aerodynamics had been a slow boil most likely due to tradition, significant gains had been made, this blatant new position could not be ignored, it was the catalyst for others to look further & see what could be achieved. The results are now evident in your local bike shop.

(Note: All non-Getty images were identified as having a ‘Creative Commons’ licence on Google image search & Flickr.)

St David

 

JamesDavid_BW

Since I heard the news that David Millar would be mentoring British Cycling Academy riders in Italy, I was initially conflicted. On one hand, he’s an individual with a vast amount of experience within professional cycling, who could provide valuable advice to young riders, on the other he made a decision at one point to inject EPO into his veins in order to cheat & temporarily win a World Championships, hardly just a little mistake.

I have no doubt that David Millar’s heart is in the right place, that he would do his utmost to ensure that none of our young riders committed the same sporting frauds that he took part in, but is this really the message we want to send to the rest of the world? That British Cycling is willing to employ riders who have doped at the highest level, while a step up the ladder, the extension of British Cycling, Team Sky, is excluding anybody who has any unsanctioned association to doping. Some of these riders may end up in that team, but will have started out in an organisation where they’ve been forcibly associated to a doper. When I say ‘forcibly’, I’m under no illusions that if Shane Sutton said you were to be mentored by David Millar, and you refused, I assume you’re on the next plane home & destined never to return, potentially damaging your future cycling career.

I put these things into a personal perspective, if your child had worked all those years to get to the point of being selected for the Academy, with all he sacrifices from themselves & family. They progress through the British Cycling system with ethical coaches, given all the advice they require regarding anti-doping, supplements etc. Then they reach the Olympic Academy, are taken to another country & you find out an ex-doper is mentoring them, how would you feel about that? Lets put it in perspective, if it was 2002 World TT Champion Santiago Botero, would you think he was a good mentor for young riders?

David Millar may speak very well, he may be committed to anti-doping & working with WADA towards catching cheaters. But if you want to be taken seriously by the rest of sport, in the current climate, he’s the last person you’d choose to mentor our young riders. They could progress to a fiercely anti doping association team like Sky having already been forced to associate with a former doper.

I have no doubt Millar would do a good job, and that he would in no way glorify doping, but that’s not the point. It’s a tragic message that we have nobody better than an individual who damaged the sport in the UK so badly in the past. In every interview we’re going to hear his introduced as ex-doper & British Cycling mentor David Millar. Can they not just get him in to do a couple of presentations on avoiding doping, does he really have to be with them every day?

 

 

 

Tomorrows World

As the year draws to an end, we’re going to have a look into the future, to see what may happen with technological developments in the bike industry & in the sport itself in 2016 & beyond.

ASO V UCI

All ASO events to be allocated to European calendar in 2017, allowing ASO greater freedom to select whichever teams they like to ride their events after the World Tour reforms are in place. ASO are organisers of many of the biggest races in the world, including the Tour, while our governing body, the UCI, have little punch in this fight & will undoubtably lose. In the meantime we’ll have a war or words from both sides, perhaps a few threats, but it’s hard to imagine what the UCI can actually do to counter ASO, the most likely answer is that they can’t. It’ll be getting plenty of press in 2016.

2016: Year of the lightweight

With the UCI likely to remove the 6.8kg rule completely (see this previous blog to see why it’s a nonsense), we’ll see a push from ‘everything aero’ to seeing more marketing aimed at light weight bikes & components.

The last few years have been dominated by aerodynamic improvements, partly due to the 6.8kg limit imposed by the UCI. Once it was easy to get a bike down to that weight, other things had to be done to increase sales. The marketers sold us ‘aero’, even if you were 30kg overweight, you were sold a bike with aerodynamic features. If you’d eaten less cake, you’d not only have saved money on your groceries bill, but your new sleek shape would cut through the wind much more efficiently than moving your rear brake under the bottom bracket, the worst place for brake block dirt collection. But that’s not what it was about, riders like to ride the same bike as the pro’s, so everybody needed aerodynamic components (a proper bike fit would likely gain much more for almost everybody).

So in 2016 we’re going to see some superlight bikes appear in the pro peloton, but they’ll have to pass the UCI tests first. Which consist of the manufacturer sending some samples to Switzerland & the UCI ‘testing’ them, as far as I can see for frames, it’s just measuring them. They then also have to pay several thousand Swiss Francs for each size, where these frames end up is anybody’s guess, but I doubt UCI friends & family are short of any of next years models. Having witnessed what destructive testing on frames involves, the UCI measuring-tape method doesn’t guarantee safety in any way, unless I’m missing something, have a read for yourself HERE.

By 2017, the manufacturers will have developed their new lightweight bikes, claiming there’s more gains from losing 100g than having an aerofoil shaped down tube, and so it will go on. Very pleased with an opportunity to buy a new bike, the manboobed Rapha kitted-out men will absolutely lap this stuff up. At least a bike weight saving allows them an excuse for another slab of chocolate cake, which I expect will be the biggest effect on a normal cyclist to the lightweight bikes we’ll see at the end of 2016, simply more guilt-free cake for everyone.

Disc Road Bikes

See above for the reason, I’m not sure this will become quite as popular as anticipated, which I’m happy with. The removal of the 6.8kg weight limit will undoubtably affect disc brake development in road bikes. With the beefed up forks & heavier brakes required, the rule change may scupper the development to some extent, it’s hard to imagine pro riders choosing a disc equipped bike if it’s a fair bit heavier (with no lower limit for bike weight being introduced). Maybe we’ll see them in the worst conditions, very wet stages, Paris Roubaix in the mud, but otherwise I’m predicting they’ll not be the weapon of choice, simply due to the 6.8kg rule disappearing. That rule would have allowed plenty of scope for the added weight of disc brakes to be incorporated, but not anymore.

Power Meters & Gadgets

We’re going to see more pedal based power measuring systems, they’re much more practical for riders with several bikes, plus may may see some shoe based systems coming out of their development phases (cue the £1000 ‘power-shoe’ by 2017). The 6.8kg rule will also affect power meters, currently the pro riders can fit a power meter & still hit 6.8kg, but with that limit removed, we’re going to see the push for development in even lighter power meters than the ‘Stages’ single-crank ones currently in use.

As weight & cost reduces for power meters over the next few years, it opens up some other practical uses for them other than simply athletic performance. I’ve noticed that Scottish motorbike chain lubing specialists ‘Scottoiler‘ are about to release an automatic oiler unit for bicycles. Rather than lube at set periods, as power meters shrink & become more affordable, a system like this could develop further & lube itself when needed (read the link, they’re claiming up to 12Watt savings with their system). With the use of two power meters, one at the pedals & one at the rear hub, if the differential in the readings between the two units reaches a certain value, then the system could automatically lube the chain until the efficiency returns to the desired level. Bingo, a system based on actual measured chain efficiency. Things like this could also shed light on gear choice, with efficiency reducing as the chain crosses at an angle, it could alter chainring & cog sizes that are normally available (we know Moser did some work on this & claimed that large cogs & chainrings were much more efficient). Power meters shrinking, reducing in cost & being easier to incorporate onto bikes can only be a good thing.

Power meter head units are currently quite large, compared to the bike computers of old, so expect to see them start shrinking too, in line with the rule change. At the extreme end of development for this, would be to remove it from the handlebars altogether. A heads-up-display in the riders glasses would be the ultimate weight saver, and the new ‘must have’ gadget for the techno hungry cyclists out there. You can be sure somebody has a prototype Ant+ compatible pair of glasses getting tested right now (cue the £1000 ‘power-shades’ by 2017). [Edit: I’ve been made aware Ant+ glasses already exist, see HERE]

Rio

The Rio Olympics is in some serious danger of getting overshadowed by the continuing deeper doping hole that Athletics is finding itself falling into. It appears as if systematic doping has been widespread for years & almost completely ignored by the authorities. Rio may be more about who’s not there, than who actually wins a medal. This could tarnish past icons, pundits commentating on the event, current athletes, national governing bodies, it’s hard to see who may not be involved if things look as bad as they seem. If this transpires as I suspect, there will be a clamber for good news stories among the madness, so there’s a potential for Cycling to take some glory from Athletics self manufactured & endemic problems. But we know a thing or two about those, Athletics looks much worse than cycling was around the time of the Festina affair, and we thought we had problems!

 

Sagan – The Combine Harvester

SaganCombine

The 1989 Tour was memorable for the incredible victory of Greg LeMond over Laurent Fignon in the final metres of tarmac in Paris. But something died that year, something that had a special charm to it, a jersey that the Tour de France could really benefit from re-introducing, sitting quietly on the shoulders of Steven Rooks, it would never reappear. It’s been won by giants of the peloton like Merckx, Zoetemelk, Hinault & LeMond. It was distinctive, yet a patchwork of the other jerseys, some didn’t like it, but there was something very special about it. There’s one man in the current group of riders who would really embrace the flamboyance & daring of taking this jersey from the hands of the Tour leader, I bring you the perfect partnership, Peter Sagan & ‘The Combine Jersey’.

The combine jersey been introduced & reintroduced several times since 1968. In its initial guise the combine jersey was pure white, it finally emerged as the patchwork styled jersey in 1985, but built quite a following in the small number of Tours it was present in. It represents the rider who’s doing best in all three classifications, with points awarded for general classification, mountains & points competitions. So to win this, you’d have to be reasonably well placed in all classifications, you’d have to be a strongman. There’s currently no rider who could be described better than a ‘strongman’ as Tinkoff-Saxo’s one man army Peter Sagan, he has more impact on the race than some entire teams, and he does it relatively all by himself while also helping out his team leader.

I’ve been hugely impressed by him during this Tour, it’s almost a blessing for the cycle fan that he’s not won a stage so far, his exploits off the front may be blunted if he stops hunting that win. If a jersey like this was up for grabs, we could have riders like Sagan sprinting for cat 3 & 4 mountain points, desperate to get into breakaways & then hanging on for as long as they can to the GC men as the altitude gets higher.

This is our 26th Tour without a Combine Jersey, maybe it’s about time that ASO thought about bringing it back. I’m sure Sagan’s a bit bored with the Green Jersey now, he needs a new goal. It may also allow them to focus the Green Jersey even more on sprint stages. I can see plenty of other riders with very different skills who could really challenge for this, among them Kwiatkowski, Teklehaimanot, Rolland, Gallopin etc. It’s an opportunity for the Tour to re-invigorate itself, to give the good all rounders something to fight for, or a consolation prize for former GC hopefuls.

The young rider jersey is won by a rider who can stay with the front group in the mountains, the same for the mountains jersey, so all we have left is the green jersey. The combine can be a goal for teams who’s best rider is a classics star, other than occasional stage wins, this gives focus on a day-to-day basis for these teams, adding another dynamic to the race. Lets get this one back, it looks great on Sagan’s shoulders.

(Thank you very much to my excellent photoshopper, I’m in no way talented enough to make Sagan look any good in the jersey, great work)

2015 Tour, stages 1&2

Embed from Getty ImagesI’m only going to comment on any stages I get a chance to watch, so it may be few & far between, here’s my initial observations.

Stage 1

The time trial didn’t really tell us much, just that none of the favourites has bad form. There’s been much made of Pinot’s placing (41seconds down on Dennis) ahead of the other favourites, but ahead of him we have some riders who could be potentially high on GC, given a bit of luck. Robert Gesink has some decent form, he’s fresh from a 9th place in the Tour de Suisse, plus a 5th on GC in the Tour of California, both hinting that he’s still got something left in the tank. Neither of these imply a top finish in the Tour, but they do suggest that he could still be up there until the final week, when things get ‘a bit stickier’. On the same time as Pinot was Rigoberto Uran, we know he can perform in a grand tour & he’s now the top placed GC rider. If Rigo’s time trialling well, he’s probably got some decent form, so if anybody gives him some space to get some time, they’d be making a big mistake.

Stage 2

A crosswind devastated stage that could end up reasonably decisive if the favourites are as closely matched as it looks. The winners were Contador, Froome, Van Garderen & Uran (and my young rider tip Barguil) who were in the front group of 24 riders. Froome gained an additional 4second advantage over the others from a small split on the finish line. Big losers were everybody else, including Quintana, Pinot & last years champ Nibali who suffered additional “unluck” (©Sagan) with a late puncture, which required some team car surfing to get back to the group which lost 1min 28s on the leaders. Even further back at 5min 4s were riders like Rolland, Kruijswijk (7th at Giro), Ten Dam (9th in Tour last year), Hesjedal & the Yates bros, effectively writing off any team support for a high overall place, although they may creep up later. Notable time loser was Voeckler, who allowed himself to lose over 11 minutes, we all know what that means in the next few days. It was obvious that BMC, Sky & Tinkoff-Saxo had domestiques with their leader, which could make a huge difference in the next few days, Movistar were riding hard but losing time to the front group, so may not be as strong as we imagine.

Looking Forward

As I’ve said, none of the top riders look to have a huge advantage over the others.These stages show us who’s serious about winning the Tour, they can also create ‘mountain-like’ time gaps, which create big problems for some riders in a couple of weeks, it means they’ll have to drop their rivals to have any chance of getting the time back.

If the riders are on a similar level this year, each stage, or specific mountains may play into the hands of a different protagonist each day, with their different skill-sets, as a fan, you’d certainly hope so. In the past we’ve seen the final winner make mincemeat of their rivals on the opening time trial or prologue, this didn’t happen in 2015, there doesn’t look to be anyone head & shoulders above the others. If this is the case, we get to see more changes in the yellow jersey, pure climbers who can change pace excelling on climbs like Alpe d’Huez (especially from the lower slopes), while the diesels struggle to hang on, the same goes for the steady climbs where the diesels excel. It looks like a great Tour ahead.

Hour Record – Pre-Wiggins attempt

Embed from Getty ImagesAlex Dowsett was the fourth rider to break the mens record after the recent rule change, he followed Jens Voigt (51.115km), Matthias Brändle (51.852km) & Rohan Dennis (52.491km). Dowsett seemed to be the least physically stressed by his record-breaking ride, nearly punching through the 53km barrier with 52.937km covered in the hour on the Manchester Velodrome. On Sunday we are being treated to the most anticipated attempt, that of Bradley Wiggins, who most expect to blow the record apart with talk of going above 55km, I’m not so sure.

Things are trickier for Brad, he wants to put the record out of sight for a while, having stated that he’s only going to attempt it once, this is in stark contrast to the manner in which Dowsett attacked the record, pegging the previous one & accelerating at the end. It’s a very different thing to ride within yourself for an hour, only needing to beat the current record by a few metres in order to succeed, than to ride the entire hour on the limits of your physical ability. The Wiggins attempt is more along the lines of the Jack Bobridge one, where he went out incredibly hard when he should have just been pegging the current record & seeing what he had left at the end. We can safely assume that Brad, the seasoned & vastly experienced campaigner that he is, can pace himself better than anybody, plus his support team should be at least on par with Dowsett’s, who looked superb & controlled things perfectly. So it’s unlikely that we’ll see any similar  ‘blowing up’ on Sunday, but here lies Brad’s problem.

Wiggins Problems

If Wiggins rides on his absolute limit, he runs the risk of imploding, if he runs slightly below his absolute limit, he may leave the door open for somebody else to have a go in the near future. I suspect he want’s to knock this record out of the park, which is where the danger lies as Dowsett looked like he had plenty left in the tank. I suspect he’ll play it slightly safe & ride his tried & tested negative split style, gradually increasing pace as the hour progresses. Different to Dowsett’s highly succesful tactic, ride at record pace for the majority then accelerate. Brad can’t do this if he wants to smash the record by a significant margin. Wiggins is riding to beat future attempts, not past ones.

There’s another potential spanner in the works, as one of the most knowledgable authorities on hour records, Michael Hutchinson (@doctor_hutch) said on twitter today. He reckons atmospheric conditions are not favourable for Wiggins, plus the track is slower than Manchester, which in combination he reckons will cost Wiggins a whole kilometre! That’s incredible, but I have to take Doctor Hutch’s word on this, he knows his stuff & I’m pretty sure he’s basing this on genuine data he’s collected. High pressure is forecast, Dowsett set his record in low pressure. This means that the primary inhibitor to forward motion for a cyclist, aerodynamic drag, is higher, it makes a significant difference. It could also cause issues for pacing, if he’s not had the opportunity to test at Sundays pressure, it could force him to ride well within his limits, even gearing down for the harder conditions & slightly slower speed, he may encounter some unknowns.

The Gist Of It

So if we take the above into account, and if we assume that Wiggins was now aiming for something around 55km, then we’ve dropped to 54km for the same power output & the record isn’t looking too far out of reach if Dowsett attacked it again in the next year. It could even open the door for what might be considered an unsporting attempt at altitude by another rider.

I had initially assumed that the Wiggins attempt would kill off the Hour for a few years. But I now think that if Wiggins doesn’t break the 54km barrier, as I suspect, that we may see a new flurry from some more young talented riders in the next couple of years. Things could get interesting.

The record can be seen on the various ways on THIS linked Sky webpage (including youtube), The Cycling Podcast will be covering it live from the Velodrome too, so you’ll not be short of information hopefully. It’s Sunday (7th June) evening between 6:30 & 7:30pm.

 

 

Malboro Gains

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With the marginal gains philosophy entrenched across the majority of the top teams these days, I find it surprising that most use a bulky radio system in time trials to communicate to their team car. It looks like they’ve stuffed a packet of fags up their skin-suits, surely there’s a better way than this?

Radio Technology

When all of us carry a mobile phone, pro cycling teams are using a much larger & bulkier unit than an i-phone to relay information to & from their riders. I’m was very confused about this, it blatantly gets in the way of the airflow over the rider, a device like a mobile phone would have a much smaller profile & save a few more watts.

After my ranting on twitter about this, I think I’ve overlooked a few things, these radios are not designed for bike racing, and mobile phones only work if they’re in range of a transmitter. When we see bike races, we admire the amazing scenery, but as anybody who’s been to the mountains of Europe (or the general rule in Scotland, if you’ve got a nice view, you’ve got no phone signal), they probably don’t work for the majority of European race routes, traversing 200km of wilderness.

So lets imagine somebody who’s in charge of in-race communication at Team Sky, we’ve discounted the light & compact mobile phone option as unusable during any normal race, so we go back to radios. As anybody who’s experimented with anything other than ‘CBs’ in domestic race organising, as soon as you use the light & low power radios, once the event gets split up, or there’s a hill bigger than a railway bridge, you can probably forget communication. So we generally revert to ‘CBs’, but even these get out of range pretty easily & voices become crackled. Now what units are available? Not many that meet our requirements unfortunately, it has to be slim, aero, without a giant antenna. It may be the case that Sky & others are using the least worst option here, finding communication more important than the lost watts they incur by having a ‘packet of fags’ under their jersey. There are other very short distance radios that are much smaller, so I’m assuming that riders are not just communication with the following car, but also getting info in time trials from other sources who also have radios.

Aero Profiles

The placement of the radio on the back may seem like the worst place to put it, but perhaps this is simply to get the best signal at all times. We saw Fabio Aru with a pocket sewn into the outside of his skinsuit to carry his, which must be an even worse option than the under-the-suit position. The radios we see also have very sharp corners and as anybody who’s done even basic studying of aerodynamics, this is far from ideal, smoothing out corners to even slightly rounded can have a significant effect (I can’t find an actual photo of the Sky radio unit anywhere, can anybody help?).

There are likely some other places to put these units, but maybe these have been tried & discounted. Such as under the tail of the helmet (may raise tail & disrupt flow), inside the helmet (probably against UCI rules), fitted aero on the bike (again UCI rules) or behind the saddle as the track team do with their SRM units. The latter idea may be blown out of the water by the final item on this blog, carrying a six pack of beer, where there’s less drag with the beer in a rucksack on your back, than on the rack behind the rider. Beer used in aero performance tactics, you heard it here first!

But looking into the aero effects a bit more, I found some surprising sensible information from the Specialized wind tunnel, which showed that carrying a bottle in the back pocket was more aero than carrying it on the bike, although not a radio, it should give some idea of what’s going on. But bear in mind this was with a cross rider, so not in an aero position, we can assume an exposed item on somebody’s back would have a greater impact. Here’s the video.

Conclusion

It looks like wind tunnel tests may have shown the teams that the position on the back, under the skinsuit, although slower than no radio, is the best option currently available. It may also be that they’re looking for a product that doesn’t yet exist on the market. This may be one of the next innovations that we see in the peloton over the next couple of years, a communication company teaming up with a professional cycling team to develop a lightweight, waterproof, low-profile radio with excellent range that can be used in other sports. Maybe sports car racing where drivers can wear the radio, so cuts down time on having to plug in to the car radio, marathon runners if it’s featherweight, there are likely many sports applications and even more leisure ones. The problem is with a product like this, it’s currently only allowed to be used in the top level races in cycling, under the rules would have to be commercially available, so they can’t sell very many until other markets are identified, it would probably be incredibly expensive. Looking back, I was probably wrong to give the teams a good slagging, it seems they may have some valid reasons, but it’s not pretty & there are improvements to be made in the near future. I’ve no doubt that teams such as Sky have already identified this & are working on it, who knows, they may be saving up their innovations for the Tour.

Further viewing for the everyday cyclist

If you’re still interested in the more practical uses, and judging by the interactions I have with readers on this blog on twitter, the following data on the most aero way to carry a six pack of beer may be an everyday benefit to most riders, over saving a few seconds in a time trial.

A New Level of Stupidity

Embed from Getty Images

I watched this in disbelief on Sunday’s Paris Roubaix, the sight of professional cyclists running across a closed level crossing, just in front of a train travelling at huge speed (in the photo above, the train is travelling well over 100mph). These people are idiots, it was incredibly close to them, they should not only get sporting sanctions but also criminal prosecution to avoid any impressionable viewers thinking it’s ok & copying them (it IS a criminal offence). It’s serious stupidity, it’s reckless & shows a total disregard for the position of responsibility they hold as role models & sporting icons.

However you look at things, this aspect of cheating is much worse than doping (it is cheating, it’s specifically written into the UCI rules that it’s forbidden). Doping ruins the image of our sport, it creates false winners & can cause physical & mental damage to one person, but attempting to cheat in the manner seen at the level crossing is much more damaging. It also ruins the image of our sport, it can also create a false result, but it risks lives of others, not just the life of the idiot running across the level crossing. The lives of those using the transport system are also at risk, but this behaviour sets an example to those watching at home, perhaps young impressionable riders wanting to emulate their mentally deficient heroes. This is where the real damage could be done, somebody will be watching & have seen easily recognisable riders who are looked up to, like Wiggins, French champion Démare (and many more) behaving like fools & do the same. Now lets consider how many companies want these types riders to say their using their products, this is because people are influenced by them, they want to do & things & use things that their heroes do, copying idiotic behaviour works in exactly the same way.

Now some say, “it’s in the heat of battle”, that’s garbage. Nobody who’s a cycling fan can say this type of thing is ok, then condemn footballers for attacking each other on the pitch, it’s all irresponsible behaviour & should all be dealt with in the same manner, sporting & criminal sanctions. Cycling is ‘our’ sport, so we often find ourselves defending it to others, but this kind of behaviour has to be clamped down on & I can’t defend it. It would take just one incident where the top riders are removed for this kind of thing & it would never happen again. The AOS races are big commercial events, so there must be pressure felt by the officials to not take action, whether voiced or not. But that’s no excuse, the UCI need to hold an enquiry into why the commissaires failed to act in any effective manner during this incident. I’m a little miffed by this, some will laugh it off, but we were very close to seeing a fatality live on TV. This is bike racing, it’s not life or death, no matter how much a rider wants to win. This was reported in all the UK press, it damages our sport & makes football pitch incidents look inconsequential, somebody could easily have died, we need to make sure it never happens again.

If the complaint from the rail authorities is upheld, do you think that puts the entire future of this race in the balance. Would you laugh off this behaviour then?

3600 Seconds: Part1

Embed from Getty ImagesThat old fella Jens Voigt ended my ‘199 Laps’ series of blogs, simply by doing more than 199 laps, so I’m carrying on with a more permanent title for the Hour Record blogs, ‘3600 seconds’. A new era of record-breaking has arrived, which I don’t expect to continue in large numbers beyond 2015 (for men anyway) where somebody will put it at a level that will take a momentous effort to beat. Whether that’s Wiggins, or somebody who can beat the performance I think Wiggo is capable of, the record will be stratospheric in a years time. My archive of Hour Record blogs is HERE.

Quick Update

Jens Voigt was first to have a go at the Hour Record after it was reset by the UCI, but we’ve covered that before, plenty of times (check out my Hour Record archive for more info). He covered 51.110km on the 18th September 2014 at the 250m Velodrome Suisse in Grenchen, that’s a fine start to rebirth of this record, not quite as fast as the mark set by Francesco Moser of 51.151km in 1984. Followed by what one must assume was a nice retirement party & the obligatory watch was hopefully presented, quite fitting for what he’d just done. Then, on 30th October 2014 we had a rider I had little or no knowledge about, Matthias Brändle. He broke Jens record with 51.852km on the short 200m track at The World Cycling Centre (Aigle, Switzerland).

Since then we’ve had several riders talking about attempts (hopefully outside Switzerland for a change), thankfully including one woman, here’s a run down on what we have confirmed & what we have rumoured in anticipated chronological order. It’s looking like a lovely year for the Hour Record, plenty of attempts, unless of course, somebody knocks it out of the park very early, which is the trouble with a record attempt, you either win or lose, there is no 2nd place.

  • Jack Bobridge: January 25th, Melbourne
  • Rohan Dennis: February 8th 2015, Velodrome Suisse
  • Alex Dowsett: February 27th, London. (updated)
  • Sarah Storey: February 28th, London (confirmed) 46.065km womens record to beat.
  • Thomas Dekker: rumoured spring 2015
  • Bradley Wiggins: June 2015, likely London.
  • Alex Rasmussen: rumoured Autumn 2015, likely Copenhagen
  • Rasmus Quaade: likely Copenhagen
  • Ondrej Sosenka: Date unconfirmed, likely Moscow.

The Women

The 2003 record set by Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel will be first assaulted at the Olympic velodrome in London by a rider with too long a palmarès to list, Sarah Storey. She’ll go at the Revolution meeting on 28th February, the target to reach is 46.065km. For old timers, that’s as fast as riding a ’25’ in 52 minutes, but I think Storey will break it, possibly by no more than a km. Actually I hope it’s not by too much, an incredible performance at the first attempt may put the womens record on the shelf, I’d like to see as much interest as there has been from the men (hold a little back for the rematch Sarah). There could be a multitude of riders capable, tried & tested track riders like Sarah Hammer & wild cards like accomplished time triallist Emma Pooley might promote their tri-bike to another audience with a rapid hour (remember she took silver in the Glasgow 2014 TT only a few months ago).

The Men

Looking at the above list, it’s highly likely we’ll not see an attempt by Rasmussen later in the year, the record will likely be well out of reach by then. We can probably also discount Rasmus Quaade unless he does it very soon. Ondrej Sosenka, who held the ‘Athletes Hour’ & was later caught for doping, also looks unlikely, he needs to wait a while until he has some biological passport data after his break, so he may have ditched plans already. That leaves us with some high quality riders who can all set a very high mark, by March this record will only be taken seriously by the riders at the very top of the sport, in their very top condition. There’s plenty of online chat about Tony Martin, but I don’t believe he’ll ever hold this record. His style won’t work well on the track even if he produces more power than everybody else & could smash them in a straight line, the Hour Record is a different beast, it rewards a mixture of souplesse & power.

The Gist Of It

An incredible year ahead & at last the Hour has come back into the spotlight. The mens may be considered unbeatable by June, but the womens may become more interesting during the second half of the year. If Sarah Storey gets plenty of press it may spur some others into having a go. The womens peloton may be more open to embracing it in future as they attempt to increase their earning power & try to add additional value to sponsors, to a side of the sport given much less TV time & publicity than almost every mens discipline. A great year ahead, but those 3600 seconds will be some very painful & memorable ones for the riders.

199 Laps (pt6)

Embed from Getty ImagesUnfortunately, for the most interested followers of this series of Hour Record blogs, under the ‘199 Laps’ banner, I’m not even making up the Brad Wiggins attempt date this time round, he’s done it for me this time!

For those just tuning in, completing 199 laps of a 250m track will break the current revised UCI Hour Record, which is just under 50km, hence the title. The big guns in mens time trialling, Tony Martin, Fabian Cancellara & Wiggins can all easily extend this by quite a way if they made an attempt. To add to the UCI’s story, it seems they’re not going to allow anybody who is not participating in the UCI’s bio-passport programme a chance to have a go at the record. UK time trialling ace Matt Bottrill enquired about this, but was told he could attempt a masters record, but not the actual ratified UCI Hour record.

June 2015

William Fotheringham secured the latest information during an interview with the Guardian this week. Wiggins has pencilled in late June, the interview is HERE. The smart money is on Brad going to go for this at London, not only because he’s from there originally (well, some argue we could say he was originally Belgian), but it’s also the correct shape of 250m track for this kind of record. Much more of a bowl than a track like Glasgow, London has shorter straights & shallower bends, allowing a smoother transition for the endurance records.

Wiggins is also targeting Paris-Roubaix again, I suspect this will see him confirming that he’s never riding a grand tour again. We know he’s considering adding some muscle mass, which will benefit him on the track & on the pavé. But this will compromise his climbing ability & any mountain domestique duties that he may have been lined up for, essentially ruling him out of a Tour squad, unless Froome thinks Brad is now too ‘Hulk Hogan’ to try to unseat him as leader. In the world of Wiggins, nothing is really written in stone, everything can & probably will change before June.

Who Else?

Cancellara was quite keen on the Merckx style record, before they introduced the revised rules on aero equipment. We’ve not heard a peep from Tony Martin, but as I’ve said before, it may take a little more track work to his incredibly effective brute-force style to convert that to a smooth track technique.

I’d also be surprised if another lesser known World-Tour rider doesn’t have a go before June. With full aero equipment & maybe a little track pedigree, I’m sure pretty much any rider from one of the top teams could reach 50km in an hour with aerodynamic equipment, until one of the specialists blows it out of the water. This is a huge opportunity for somebody to put their name in the record books, now that Wiggo has set a date, the deadline is drawn to have a go before it becomes an impossible task. I’m thinking especially of the large amount of Aussies & Kiwi’s with vast track experience, but we also have a rider like Phinney, who could potentially devote some time to this project as part of his recuperation & set a very competitive distance. Don’t rule out other experienced track riders on the bio-passport programme (Michael Morkov?) during a winter Six Day, a flagging event could provide their local star with an opportunity to break a prestigious record, while also selling a few more tickets to the locals in the process. I find it highly unlikely that nobody will make an attempt before June, it’s just too lucrative an opportunity to miss for rider, Six Day, or even one of the Revolution meetings to include an Hour Record attempt, even if it only stands for a short period of time. Is there currently any publicly accessible way in which we can see any riders who have signed up & funded their own bio-passport programme, if they’re not in the top-tier of teams?

The Gist Of It

It’s fairly secure Wiggins will go for the Hour Record in 2015, the question is, who will go for it first? I suspect Martin & Cancellara will not consider an attempt before June, they would have to devote far too much time to that one goal. It’s likely they’ll see what Brad can do, then secretly test to see it their own attempt is a possibility. This would upset a resurgence in the Hour Record, I can only hope that Brad leaves a little in the tank. If the record is absolutely shelved in June we may not see another attempt for a decade, but at least we would have a Tour champion holding it. Ideally, I’d like to see some more hour battles in the near future, not a record knocked completely out of the park, Brad, don’t go quite full gas, please.

199 Laps (pt5)

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Bradley Wiggins was reported earlier today as competing in two track events at Glasgow’s Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. This later changed to just one event, the Team Pursuit with no Individual Pursuit planned for the former Tour champion. What are we to make of this decision, is he shunning his old friend, I doubt it, he has other plans, it’s about time for a bit more wild speculation to add to my previous beardy ideas….

After many reports of seeing Brad training on a GB pursuit bike since his public exclusion from the Sky Tour de France team, I had perhaps incorrectly assumed he was out to prove something with a world standard pursuit ride at Glasgow. I’d have no doubt that if he put his mind to it, Wiggins could certainly still record such a time, but that would involved much shorter & harder training sessions, which would likely have a detrimental effect on his time trial form for the rest of 2014.

I think we’ll see him go on to attempt an Hour Record ride in a short space of time after Glasgow, obviously that period of time will depend on form, I doubt even he knows. The current revised UCI Hour Record ride is within relatively easy reach of a rider such as Wiggins, if you can complete 199 laps within the Hour, or 49.75km, you’ve got it, all on a UCI regulation conforming pursuit bike. Exactly like the one he’s been doing Team Pursuit efforts on, which require high power output & fast recovery, also ideal for muscle adaptation for rattling out a high power output for an hour on the bankings.

It all makes sense now, taking time out for pursuit training would have made a bigger dent in his road season, ditching that one event complements his other goals, such as Worlds TT & the Hour Record. The beauty of the Hour Record, is that he can pick & choose the date when he’s in form & attempt to knock it out of the park for a Cancellara attempt. Whoever goes first will get it, but whoever goes second is under a much greater amount of stress. These guys can’t really fail to ride 50km in an hour, but every km above that gets harder & harder, the advantage is in going first. Time is slowly running out to become that first rider with others expressing interest.

Having looked at the long-range weather forecast, there may be a chance of low temperatures & rain on the date of the time trial in Glasgow. So to add to the speculation which always surrounds Bradley these days, I’d suggest that he may still start, but it’ll depend on the weather. Normally he probably wouldn’t be bothered, but if he’s on a specific plan to a specific goal, then a cold ride like that could set him back, it’s better to train by yourself than to risk illness.

A possible time trial victory in Glasgow, closely followed by an Hour Record ride, set against an underperforming Sky team at the Tour de France is a good marketing opportunity for a UK rider attempting to raise their public profile. Watch this space & we’ll probably only hear a week before he’s booked the London Velodrome for his ride.

Previous Outrageous Hour Record Speculation below:

 

It’s Not Over Yet

Nibali looks very much the superior rider on all terrains in this years Tour, what other absent riders may have done is interesting, but ultimately inconsequential. Nibali has arguably avoided similar downfalls by being consistently well placed & skilled, which is what sets racing apart from riders who attain great watts per kg in a lab, you need to have the full package to be a Grand Tour winner. But can he be caught in the final week, where have his major gains been accrued & could a minor mishap turn this Tour on its head?

Stats

We’ll look at the top 5 riders currently in the General Classification, during stage 15 to Nîmes & where they lost time on Nibali.

Valverde (@4:37): 2:26 lost in mountains (53% of time)

  • Stage 2 (hilly) : 2s loss
  • Stage 5 (cobbles) : 2:09 loss
  • Stage 8: (mountains) : 16s
  • Stage 10 (mountains) : 20s
  • Stage 13 (mountains) :50s
  • Stage 14 (mountains) : 60s loss

Bardet (@4:50): 2:39 lost in mountains (55% of time)

  • Stage 2 (hilly) : 2s loss
  • Stage 5 (cobbles) : 2:09 loss
  • Stage 8 (mountains) : 28s loss
  • Stage 10 (mountains) : 22s loss
  • Stage 13 (mountains) :1:23 loss
  • Stage 14 (mountains) : 26s loss

Pinot (@5:06): 1:42 lost in mountains (33% of time)

  • Stage 2 (hilly) : 16s loss
  • Stage 5 (cobbles) : 2:09 loss
  • Stage 6 (flat) : 59s loss
  • Stage 8 (mountains) : 8s loss
  • Stage 10 (mountains) : 15s loss
  • Stage 13 (mountains) : 53s loss
  • Stage 14 (mountains) : 26s loss

Van Garderen (@5:49): 2:35 lost in mountains (42% of time)

  • Stage 2 (hilly) : 2s loss
  • Stage 5 (cobbles) : 2:09 loss
  • Stage 7  (flat) : 1:03 loss
  • Stage 8 (mountains) : 20s loss
  • Stage 10 (mountains) : 22s loss
  • Stage 13 (mountains) : 1:23 loss
  • Stage 14 (mountains) : 30s loss

As you can see, Pinot is the next best performer in the mountains behind Nibali, had he not lost that 53 seconds on stage 6 he would be in 2nd position overall. That small gap of 16s between himself & Bardet, based on mountain form as shown above is likely to get wiped away in the Pyrenees.

The Gist Of It

We have three mountain stages left in the Pyrenees, followed by a flat stage then a 54km individual time trial, before the procession on the Champs-Élysées. It may look like Nibali is incredibly dominant, but the time gaps in the mountains have been very small for the top five, compared to recent Tours. The bulk of the time was taken on the cobbled stage, where Nibali demonstrated his superior bike handling skills & team support. Into the 3rd week of this Tour & having held the yellow jersey for so long, Astana will now be suffering. Any one of those top five riders could launch an assault, or another team could cause mayhem chasing a stage win, as Garmin showed us last year, putting all sorts of riders & domestiques into difficulty.

There really is still everything to play for, the advantage Nibali has in the mountains isn’t all that large based on the time he’s been able to take from the other, illness, a crash or a bad day could turn everything around. This Tour isn’t nearlyover, we’re used to seeing the yellow jersey crush everybody & take huge time in the mountains, that’s not happened this year. If things turn around we could see a very interesting & exciting final time trial in Périgueux on Saturday.

 

 

 

More Than Marginal

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Nobody can deny that Team Sky has had a substantial effect on the pro peloton since it appeared in 2010. After a shaky start, it had a major influence in making the attention to tiny details acceptable in the culture of pro cycling, which may not produce a flamboyant spectacle, but has proved very successful in getting results. Although not many of their innovations are particularly groundbreaking in themselves, the culture of the ‘Accumulation of Marginal Gains’, (multiple small gains leading to one large gain) has now been widely accepted in a sport which did many things along the line of established tradition.

No More Margins?

There were obviously plenty of riders & teams implementing small improvements long before Sky, but having the freedom to develop those innovations was likely met with the “we’ve always done it this way ” mentality. It now seems that any further technical improvements are extremely marginal with current technology & budgets, alongside the fact that everybody else is doing it now, suddenly Sky don’t look so special anymore. So where do the teams go from here to gain a further legal advantage over their rivals? (a Team Sky motorbike is not acceptable)

With four years of marginal gains in the peloton, it looks like we’ve eventually come to a point where those gains are so small, that vast sums could be spent on virtually unmeasurable improvements. This isn’t a smart use of a team budget, when they’ve successfully ‘fixed’ most of the big things & have left themselves with the worthless scraps to attempt to improve upon. The philosophy appears to have been quite simple, produce more watts in the critical situations, or reduce the wattage required in that critical situation in order to win races. Which is why Sky’s 2012 & 2013 Tour victories have appeared more clinical & effective, than overflowing with panache.

It may appear like I’m having a go here, I’m certainly not, Sky’s management noticed a gap in the market, they saw an opportunity to exploit that gap until it closed. The gap in 2014 looks to be on shaky ground, in 2015 they’ll almost certainly not win a grand tour with this philosophy alone. The other teams & riders have taken their opportunities & replicated Sky’s ‘Marginal Gains’ philosophy, it looks like we’re back to pretty close to a level playing field & it’s now up to Sky to decide how to get back on top.

Tactics

Ensuring that your team leader produces more watts/kg than the next guy on mountains  & more watts/drag in the time trials works when you have a significant advantage on the competition. When things are more level, it either takes a bigger margin in watts, weight, or drag to maintain your advantage. I’ve covered the weight issue in Skinnyfixation & Weight a Minute, we know that the bike weight cannot go below 6.8kg (the UCI know about the ice-cube trick, fill the seat tube with ice cubes for weigh-in & let the melted water drain out the bottom bracket hole before the hills).

It looks like it’s perhaps time for a team like Sky to attempt to deal with more with the uncontrollable, up to this point their tactics have been relatively simple, making their riders & equipment better than the others at the critical points in a race. The groundwork had been planned & implemented in the years & months prior to that point in time, but as a result, with riders & staff moving to other teams, those advances are now common knowledge amongst the peloton. Intricate tactics were not really required when your rider could out-climb & out-timetrial the opposition in a stage race. If you could control the race until your main focus, where you knew your team leader had an advantage, then you would win. As we’ve seen a few times recently, when things go slightly wrong, they go dramatically wrong, on two occasions Sky have lost their leader in the Tour de France due to a crash, in 2011 & 2014. It’s still to be seen if their backup rider Richie Porte can fill that gap with Chris Froome missing from the 2014 Tour. As I’ve said before, he may struggle to ride consecutive days with the best, drop Nibali on a climb, or take any deficit back in a time trial, we see that Sky’s effective but simple plan no longer functions if you don’t have the best rider.

I don’t doubt Sky knew their advantage was going to diminish sooner or later , it was inevitably going to happen at some point. The success of Sky meant that the other teams had to adopt Sky’s practices & match or excel them, so things will be very interesting if Sky now deviate to a goal of tactical superiority. I’m hoping that we’re going to see Sky trying a few things, regardless of the consequences, in order to test new tactics while gathering their much valuable data. A combination of continued marginal gain philosophy & advanced tactics are the only way it’s possible for Sky to consider winning the Tour in the future. They’ve never hired what would be considered the best stage racers in the world, but they have created them producing an incredible amount of success. The margins are now smaller, controlling the uncontrollable is now where things have to go.

The Gist Of It

The next couple of years will either be very interesting & experimental, failing that we’ll simply see all the teams catching up. For a team like Sky, allowing this to happen is unlikely, they seem to always be pushing, but it’s possible that the current direction of that push is severely limited. The marginal gains philosophy will continue, but possibly coupled with more tactical ways of beating superior riders from other teams.

Perhaps this is more of a wish than reality, I’d love to see Sky’s support riders go out & race, rather than support their team leaders on most occasions. Riders like Geraint Thomas, who have reputedly signed another deal need to given some scope to leave their leaders side & go for the win. This blog was written at the first rest day of the 2014 Tour, where the next few days are crunch time for Porte in the GC race, so we may still see Thomas, Kiryienka, Nieve, Porte & the others going for stages. Wouldn’t that be nice, to see some panache, maybe make some mistakes, but seeing riders of this quality actually racing rather than supporting is what I look forward to. Lets race.