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.

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

1986-tdf-19-Lemond

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.)

State Of The Art Technology?

BAE are claiming that “Experts at BAE Systems have revealed details of the highly advanced technology it has developed for Britain’s top cycling athletes to help propel them to success in 2016”. Now I know technology doesn’t have to be pretty to be effective, but has this been dragged out of a basement the 1980’s East German track program, dusted down, given a coat of hammerite & put forward as state-of-the-art technology. I thought they used WattBikes for testing, maybe I’m out of touch here?

I’d be genuinely interested if anybody has actually seen, or used one of these, or somebody’s milking a lottery sports development budget in some lab somewhere. I may be completely wrong on this, but it looks like a student project, the video is from the official BAE Systems YouTube account.

Update 1: I was initially a little rude about this, but it has been confirmed it is being used by GB sprinters, so hopefully that’s not scuppered the chances of finding out more, because I am genuinely interested. It seems that it’s possibly mostly useful for very high power outputs, which excludes it from a commercial market, which I assume, is why it’s not the prettiest trainer out there, it doesn’t have to be. Hopefully more to come….

Centre of Gravity

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I read with interest the Shane Stokes article on Greg LeMond’s ideas about how we can detect a motor HERE. These are all valid, but for initial identification I’ve a much simpler idea that any commissaire could use, it’s so simple it’ll no doubt be discounted as you’ll not need any special jigs or expense, other than a bit of training. After using this simple method, you can then use Greg LeMond’s ideas about expensive scanners & equipment in his point 4.

The Simple Initial Method

  • Lie bike on non-drive side, on a large mat (or 2 yoga mats)
  • Commissaire picks up bike, still keeping it on its side
  • Commissaire uses training to identify if bike seems “a bit heavy in the wrong place”
  • If it seems odd, consider it for further testing, if not, check next bike

Does this seem too simple? As the current rules, most bikes are somewhere around the 6.8kg mark, so if too much weight was focussed on the seat tube, or the rear hub, it would be really easy to detect. This would take 30 seconds tops, if you had 6 yoga mats & 3 commissaires, then you could check every bike in a 180 rider field in half an hour, at sign on. You could also randomly check a 60 rider field in any domestic road race in the same time with the one commissaire who usually does junior gear checks, just to put people off using the motors.

The Gist Of It

Obviously, if there’s anything that looks very dodgy, it’s going to require further analysis, but if you get a ‘suspect’ tick at a domestic race, all eyes are going to be on you & it might put some people off as these motors become cheaper & easier to fit. A motor is going to upset the normal centre of gravity of a race bicycle by some way, especially now that the crank based power meters are so light, it should be very easy to raise a red flag with a little bit of training.

Too easy?

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!

 

A Gentleman & The Size Of His Wattage

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A wise man once said…….

“In polite company, a gentleman will never discuss the size of his wattage”

For those who use power meters, there’s a danger you may be becoming what is known as a ‘powerbore’, such is your excitement at the numbers you’re generating that you can’t help telling everybody all about them, all the time! But it’s probably best to keep that kind of information to yourself (and your coach if you have one) otherwise you’re going to become a pain in the SRM.

Going back a few years, and even now, you would often hear heart rate monitor users exclaim how hard a ride was, not by a percentage effort, but by an absolute number. “I was riding at 160bpm!!”, may sound close to your maximum for some, but to others, it’s a zone 2 effort. So what you’re really telling people is that you know nothing about how heart rate varies across different riders for the same effort, which also implies you know nothing about how it affects you, or even worse, you were using 220 minus your age to calculate maximum heart rate. The same thing can now be heard on the subject of power, so let’s get a few things sorted before you make a fool of yourself, or if you need some help on deciding whether or not you really need a power meter at all.

Things To Consider….

In simplistic terms, a smaller rider produces less watts than a larger rider.

This is the first thing to consider when you’re hearing somebody else’s wattage & trying to compare yourself to it. Watts per kg is the most touted number out there, it can give an indication, but it’s doesn’t solely define how fast a rider you are.

  • If you’re looking at your ability on the hills then the main limiter is your power to weight ratio (watts/kg).
  • If you’re looking at your ability on the flat, then your main limiter is power to aerodynamic drag.

This means that unless you’re on an incredibly steep hill with no wind, then aerodynamic drag will also play a part in your hill climbing ability. To add to the mix, sometimes a larger rider can create less aerodynamic drag than a smaller rider, they may be able to get into a better position while maintaining their watts, or their body shape may be more aerodynamic. As Nasa tell us, “long thin rockets have less drag than short thick rockets”. Imagine 2 riders, both with same length of legs, but one taller by virtue of having a longer back. The larger rider will likely have a more efficient aerodynamic position & produce less drag than the smaller rider, due to basic aerodynamics.

Not all power meters will give you the same numbers, for exactly the same effort, but does it matter?

Every power meter has an accuracy that it operates within, most are in the region of +/- 1.5%. So if you’re riding at exactly 300W, the powermeter should display (if everything is set up & calibrated correctly) between 295.5W & 304.5W, a band of 9 watts. Now, that’s for the exact same make & model of powermeter, which is brand-new & calibrated before it left the factory. If we start looking at different manufacturers, the effect of wear & methods of power measurement, then we’re undoubtably going to be looking at larger differences.

For example, if you’re measuring power at the rear hub, the manufacturers introduce an allowance to account for power loss through the chain & drivetrain, as an absolute recorded number would not accurately reflect the power delivered at the pedals. A bicycles drivetrain efficiency can vary between 93% to 98% normally, but as power increases the efficiency becomes greater due to frictional losses being a lower percentage of total losses (see the Cycling Power Lab link for more details). So we know that frictional losses vary depending on power output & that all drivetrains are different (components, wear etc), therefore it’s unlikely a power meter measuring power accurately at different points will ever return the same number.

Combining variations in accuracy, manufacturing procedures, method & position of measurement, drivetrain wear, calibration, etc, I don’t really consider precise comparisons from one make of powermeter to the other as valid. We can take it as a rough guideline, but that’s really all we can safely use as a scientific comparison. Now, that’s not to say that one type is better than the other, as long as you’re measuring power by the same method, then you’re going to see improvements taking place, which is what it’s really all about. In some ways Obree’s method of measuring performance was the equivalent of an isolated power meter, without watts, but where he was able to determine exactly how he was performing. I’ll not go into it in detail, buy his book & see how far ahead of the game he really was.

Power numbers can be much more closely correlated between riders than heart rate can be, but don’t dwell too much on comparisons to your buddies, for all you know somebody’s got an error or some other issue that affects their numbers. Use your own data, ignore everybody else’s. It makes me a little wary when we see Chris Froome’s predicted numbers versus his measured numbers, neither are probably correct, especially when he’s measuring power from just one crank. But that shows what’s important here, measuring from one crank will still show any improvements (and is good enough for data hungry pro teams), it’s getting a good reliable recording method for you, then comparing yourself to that, it’s only your power that matters.

Numbers without analysis or meaning, are just numbers.

Many people buy a power meter because it’s seen as the latest thing to do, another technical cycling accessory to show you’re a proper cyclist. For people who use power correctly, then it’s likely that if you’re not fully aware of what the numbers mean, or how to use them & spout off about watts, you’ll not look like the smartest guy on the chaingang (again, if you’ve a power friendly coach who analyses your data, you’re off the hook here).

So to avoid this, either get yourself a coach with some knowledge on the matter, or educate yourself. The place to start on this is with a book called ‘Training And Racing With A Power Meter’ by Hunter Allen & Andrew Coggan. There’s a lot of information in there, so spend your Christmas money on that if you’ve got a power meter, no coach & lots of numbers you don’t know what to do with.

Alongside that, you’ve probably spent a silly amount of money on your gadget, so you’re probably looking for a reliable & affordable method of analysing it. I’ve tried a few, TrainingPeaks, GoldenCheetah, even the premium Strava analysis is reasonably good.

I’m now using Golden Cheetah, it’s an open source programme for Macs, Windows & Linux with lots of interesting features, plus most of those found on Training Peaks, but it’s free. Training Peaks will cost you around £75 for a 12 month subscription (If you’re a British Cycling member, you can get a 20% or 40% reduction depending on your Gold/Silver/Bronze membership type). Strava Premium will cost you around £30 per year. A coach will vary massively depending on the service & contact you require.

The Gist Of It

You may have read this & realised that just having a power meter, without the additional work is going to be pointless for you, if so I’ve saved you a bit of cash you spend on something shiny. Hopefully there’s some pointers on how to go about analysing your data if you have absolutely no idea what to do with it.

Above all, your number are entirely relative to yourself, so telling everybody how hard a ride was in absolute terms is pointless, percent of FTP, perhaps more relevant, but still boring. Those are conversations that should stay inside your head, the only place they’re relevant.

Track Cycling’s Strange Quirk

Embed from Getty ImagesAs you watch this Sundays Hour Record attempt by Bradley Wiggins, bear in mind that no part of him, or any static part of his bike has actually travelled the Hour Record distance he sets. It’s a quirk of riding on a velodrome compared to riding on the road, science gets involved & messes things up, during a quiet period of any hour attempt you can bore your family with this info, perfect cycling nerd territory. A long-legged rider has an inbuilt benefit from this, here’s why….

The Banking Effect

Let’s take a hypothetical vertical wall of death you may have seen motorbikes using as an example. This wall of death has Brad Wiggins cycling round it, but it’s quite a small diameter wall of death, so his head is sitting exactly at the centre of rotation. Even though he’s having to ride at 55kmh to keep going on this vertical wall, his head isn’t really going anywhere, he barely feels any wind there at all, it’s just rotating on the spot, causing little or no aerodynamic drag. The only point travelling at 55kmh is the point his tyre touches the wall of death. So Brad’s body or bike frame isn’t actually travelling at 55kmh, the fastest static point of his bike is his bottom bracket, which is travelling less distance than his bike computer would tell him.

A track rider, banked over on a velodrome experiences a similar, but not quite so dramatic effect. The riders body travels at a slower speed on the bankings than a computer measuring wheel rotations would indicate. Consequently, if an accurate GPS unit was affixed to the handlebars it would also read less distance & a slower speed in the bankings than the timekeepers would tell you, there’s nowhere on a bike you could fit a GPS unit that would record the exact track distance covered.

There’s aerodynamic consequences from the banking effect, Brad’s body will be causing more aerodynamic drag on the straight than it does on the bankings. His body’s air speed is slower in the bankings than on the straights, even though his track speed is the same. So as a rider gets taller, their effective body speed reduces on the bankings. It also makes wheel choice & even bottom bracket shape are more important than it originally seemed, as that as close to the point of consistently maximum speed as you can get, that point travels fastest for longest in the Hour Record.

‘Analytic Cycling’ Study

The excellent ‘Analytic Cycling‘ website, contains a wealth of information for cycling geeks, they’ve done a study using the geometry of the Dunc Gray Velodrome in Australia. The test is based on a flying 200m time trial effort, so our distance are not based on a full lap, but include a full banking & one partial banking, so our reduction in distance the centre of gravity travels per lap is more than shown here.

The model they generate shows that even though the track distance is 200m (199.99m), the distance the centre of gravity travels is about 3m less (196.7m) at a pace equivalent to a 14.166 second over 200m. This also shows that there’s a 0.3 second advantage gained on their baseline model, caused by the leaning affect & the riders centre of gravity not travelling as far as the track distance. In the next test the speed is increased & we find that the distance the centre of gravity travels reduces again, as the rider leans in more, essentially cutting the corner yet again. The final test shows that a rider sitting 200mm higher on the bike, with longer legs, also reduces the time for the 200m based on the same power & reduces the distance travelled even further.

So in summary, a taller rider (or one with longer legs to be precise) travels less distance each lap than a shorter rider, they benefit from the leaning effect of the banking, it reduces their time for the same power output. If the additional wind resistance from the longer legs can be minimised, a taller rider (such as Wiggins) has a distinct advantage. It also means that the faster you go, the more benefit you get from this reduced travel effect, which may slightly counter the huge increases in wind resistance you get from increased velocity, anything is a bonus.

The Gist Of It

This is a bit of fun for cycling nerds, but it does show a measurable improvement in speed. Those with the analytic tools to make these estimations correctly have perhaps identified an ideal body type for a pursuit/hour-record rider. But not just on the aero characteristics they display on the road, but from how their body type translates to track cycling. It may be the case that similar to rowing, a certain size of athlete is particularly gifted at these very specific disciplines in cycling. I’m pretty sure British Cycling have got this sorted already, those team pursuit riders look very similar indeed. It looks like Brad’s centre of gravity travels approx 5m less per lap than his track speed, which would mean in a 55 km Brad only travels 53.9km, while if he rode 55km in a straight line on the road, his body would also travel 55km. I was always told “you’ll go quicker on the track than anywhere else”, this may have been true, due to the reduced distance & work required caused by the banking. All this does is explain a strange quirk of track cycling, which the cycling geek may like, others, well, they stopped reading a long time ago.

 

Position, position, position

Embed from Getty ImagesThe adverts in bike magazines try to convince you that their components are more “aero” than somebody elses, the tech time trial geeks in your club are obsessed with “aero”, aero wheels, aero frames, aero handlebars, aero seatpins, aero chainrings, even aero pedals, the list goes on. This is all well & good, aerodynamic kit does make a difference, especially in a time trial, but if you’re concentrating on having the most aerodynamic bike, you’re maybe spending vast sums of money on vanity, rather than first dealing with the real issue, you.

The ‘You’ Issue

A quick study shows that somewhere between 65 to 85% of aerodynamic drag is reported to be caused by the rider, the rest by the bike. The massive 20% variance across riders is caused by many factors. For example, take two riders with the same limb & body lengths, but one carries lots of weight in muscle or fat (or both), while the other is running at ‘pro-level’ body fat. The two riders would therefore fit exactly the same size bike, which has the same drag for both. Where it varies is that the large rider’s forward motion is affected by his size much more than the smaller rider, so of his overall greater drag, his bike’s percentage share is smaller. There is no standard percentage drag apportioned to your bike, it’s different in everybody, it’s even different depending on what clothes you’re wearing. So any figures you see on ‘time saved over 40km’ for any particular component, are based on many assumptions. We can safely assume the marketing information is going to be at the more generous end of possible savings, while not being untrue, only a very small number of people may get this maximum benefit.

Bits n Pieces

This brings us back to component choice (I include the big items like frames in this, but not wheels, see later for that). If you’ve not got your optimum position, or something reasonably close to it, buying all the aero kit in the world may not to help you at all, it may even hinder you. Bad equipment choice, from a ‘fit’ aspect, can lock you into a less than perfect position by not allowing your body to get as aerodynamic as possible. It’s all too common, when I see time trial pictures posted, there is a strange draw to have a look at the bike-cost versus position, quite often it’s incredible that so much is spent without ever going for a proper bike fit or taking good advice.

As a start, a fully adjustable set of aero-bars & an adjustable stem are very cheap options considering the cost you’re intending to spend. That should allow you to set up a position correctly on your current bike, which, may not make your bike look pretty, it may save you a lot of money in the long-term. Then you have the opportunity to know exactly where your saddle & handlebars should be in relation to the bottom bracket, a quick check with a tape & a spirit level on your desired frame (with wheels in) should indicate which size it is you’ll require. Not going along this route may result in you buying what would be your normal road bike size. Often, riders will require a different size, with a longer or shorter top tube, or a lower stack height. You’ll need to get your body to fit this new fast-looking bike without compromising your ideal position, while using available kit. So if you buy one with too short a top tube, you may not find a stem long enough, time trial bike fit is not simply a case of ordering a medium, if you normally ride an off-the-peg medium road frame. It requires a bit more work, you may require something different to what you expected.

The Wheel Question

This is another vastly complicated subject, in this instance it comes under a completely separate topic, as wheel choice has zero impact on position. So you can probably buy your wheels first, use them on the new bike, especially as wheels have a relatively large impact on your speed. But as with other components, there’s no hard & fast rule as to which wheels are best for you. Weather conditions, a rider’s weight & ability to buffer cross winds also come into play here, so trying wheels before you buy could be another valuable piece of testing before you reach for the bank card.

The Gist Of It

Spending some time really looking at your position, or getting somebody with some knowledge to look at it, probably doesn’t give you that instant gratification of buying a shiny new component, or a flash time trial bike. It’s maybe the non-sexy option, maybe it’s difficult, maybe you’ve “not got the time” or maybe you believe the adverts to the letter. The fact is that you could buy ‘the fastest frame in the world’, but if you buy a size you can’t replicate your ideal aero position on, then you’re going to be catching a lot more wind.

The golden rule should be to sort your position first, then (and only then) find the aero frame & components that allow you to replicate that position. This is where buying your new TT frame from a local bike shop really helps, they should be able to let you ride a bike of similar geometry & give some valuable advice on the matter, before you spend your hard-earned cash.

Time trial bikes look great, having one makes people feel ‘a bit Formula 1’, they’re a desirable addition to your stable. But always bear in mind the advantages you get from components are minimal compared to your body position. Be sure you can transfer your highly efficient position across to the geometry of a new time trial frame.

Don’t get carried away by a bit of shiny aerofoil bling, choose the correct bike by spending some time getting your aero set-up dialled in on another bike first.

 

 

 

 

Malboro Gains

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Field Testing: Handlebar Width

Embed from Getty ImagesSome time ago, my ‘Bend It Like Clancy‘ blog looked at narrow bars for road riders, I promised I would be doing some testing a while ago, I have been, the results are not quite as I expected.

The Findings

From the outset, I’d assumed that wide bars would allow better breathing, it’s what I’d always been told, but rather surprisingly I found the opposite to be true. It kind of makes sense now, when riders are climbing on the tops, their arms are in a narrower position than their shoulders, the elbows are naturally used to regulate the open-ness of the chest. I’ve found the same rules apply to the drop bar position, with the neutral setup (of not actively trying to tuck my elbows in by having the correct bar width) as the ideal position for breathing & for body mechanics.

For this experiment I used 3 sets of bars, all with shallow drop, in widths of 38cm, 40cm & 42cm. Each was initially on a different bike, but with identical saddles, saddle position (fore/aft & up/down) & identical reach. With a few short sessions on the rollers, what became immediately apparent was that the 42cm bars feel absolutely wrong compared to the narrower ones. Surprisingly, I found that attempting to get the elbows tucked away, in-line with my shoulders, actually closed my chest with the wider bars. The effect of this was quite surprising, the general historical opinion that gets passed about is that wide bars allow better breathing. This may be correct to some extent, but only if the bars are the correct width & you don’t try to bring your elbows in. So effectively, when you’re riding at your hardest, you may have a detrimental breathing effect with wide bars, but otherwise you may feel better when you don’t require the extra lung function, not ideal for performance or comfort really.

What I Found

The 38cm bars felt best for me, here’s why.

Measuring across the recommended bones, the acromium, gives me a slightly wider position than 38cm on paper. But I think there’s a posture issue here, the back may become arched, posture when hunched over is quite different to taking the measurement standing up. So if you’re going down this route, bear that in mind, your bones may adopt a different position when riding than when standing up (this may be identical for some body types). So for me, the ideal way to sort out your bar width for cycling, is by cycling (see below for how to do this).

If you’re riding behind somebody, quite often you’ll see their hands gripping the bars & the wrist rotated to (consciously or subconsciously) bring the arms in line, some tuck their forearms inside the line of their levers when riding ‘aero’ on the hoods. You’re best to avoid these twists altogether by simply riding the correct bar width, then you’ll never have your hands sticking outside the profile of the rest of your body. I’ve now realised that I’ve probably not paid too much attention to bar width on the road, on the track I always rode narrow bars. I didn’t think it was too important on the road & thought that there was some kind of breathing advantage on climbs by choosing wide bars, I was wrong.

Your body wants to be perfectly aligned, that’s when it’s strongest, it’s when it uses the least energy to fight things other than propelling yourself forwards. As an example, take your pulse sitting down, raise an arm, watch your pulse rise. Everything you do, no matter how small, that forces your body to use additional muscular energy to counter any misalignment or dodgy bike setup, results in energy diverted from forward propulsion.

Advantages

I did some power testing on the various bar widths, I didn’t really find any absolutely huge differences between 42cm & 38cm, but readings were always a little lower, somewhere between 5 to 15 Watts in general for the 38’s at 40kmh. Although that’s a wattage gain that’s hard to get from training alone, it’s in the margin of error zone & I don’t think I spent too much time trying to get exact measurements. I’ll take it as a gain, if it’s 5 Watts, great, if it’s 15 Watts, even better. I expected an advantage somewhere around this, but wattage gains of 40 or 50 Watts I’ve seen hinted at are probably false, but they may exist as you reduce bar width even more.

The main advantage I found was in overall efficiency, having everything in line makes a huge & significant difference to how your bike feels, it also seems to make riding on the drops much more comfortable. I’d go as far as saying the mechanical differences I found were dramatic. I rode 38cm bars while on one of those warm very windy islands, I’ve never felt so strong & stable in cross winds, bigger riders were getting blown all over the place & I felt very secure & controllable. A week after I used the wider bars at home on an old bike & I’ve never felt so bad in a lesser crosswind & felt very unstable, it wasn’t a fitness thing, the additional control was down to posture & alignment. Seated accelerations also felt like seated accelerations on the track, could that be down to alignment & efficiency too, everything seems to work much better. I’ve been riding the wrong bars on the road for many years!

How To Choose For Yourself

First, give this a try…..

  • Set up a mirror directly in front of your rollers (or turbo will do if it’s all you’ve got), but not too close, so you can get a good look at what’s going on without too much foreshortening.
  • Ride on the drops in your normal position & RPM, get relaxed, roll along for 5 minutes.
  • Start making some observations.
  • Are your hands straight & in-line with your arms? (sometimes riders compensate by twisting hands out to keep things in line)
  • Are you upper-arms & forearms in-line vertically?

If everything is perfect, you’re probably on the correct bar width already. If not, or you think something could be improved, you need to start experimenting with different bar widths.

I’ve worked out a simple way to go about this without buying new bars, simply base it on one side at a time. Loosen the bars in the stem & slide the bars across a little, you’ve probably got at least a couple of centimetres you can move without the handlebar reducing in size in the stem clamp, but a reduction in 2cm on one side, results in a 4cm drop in overall bar width (remember the other side will be way wide). Repeat the steps above & get one side aligned, then check that the other is more or less the same, get a happy medium for both, in case you’re built kind of funny. Now you can source new bars, they’re generally measured centre to centre.

The Gist Of It

Bar width was probably something I never really saw as terribly important, I always opted for narrow-ish bars, but didn’t realise until I tried a few different ones is succession how dramatic the effect of having correct bar width actually is. If you’re riding the correct width, you won’t need to listen to the advice to “tuck your elbows in”, you’ll already be perfectly aligned. The only reason you’ll need to tuck your elbows in is if you’re already on the wrong bar width, otherwise you’re creating more frontal area with angled forearms & it might even close your chest.

The number-one thing to learn from this is that your bike set-up is best tested on the rollers, if you’ve not got them the turbo is a poor second best. Rollers allow you to develop a much more balanced & natural position, with nothing supported artificially compared to riding on the turbo. Set up your position this way & you’ll be able to spot smaller differences easier & also realise what really doesn’t work for you (its ideal for aero positions that don’t make you too extreme & end up losing watts by fighting the bike, the turbo will lie to you in this case).

From my experience during this experiment, I’ve become a convert to a narrower bar than would be traditionally considered ‘correct’ for me, even by the bone measurement. I’m not quite as sure about keeping reducing the width for an aero advantage, as I found the biggest differences to be technical rather than watt-saving (which may in itself result in some watt-saving through more efficiency). I’m assuming (but I’ve not tested it yet) that the mechanical gains would reduce as bars get narrower, unless you have the muscle bulk of a track sprinter to counter the mechanical losses & reap the aerodynamic gains that must exist. Everybody will have a different ideal width, but increments are generally in 2cm steps, so choose wisely, from what I’ve found I’d err on the lower value if you think you’re in between. It’s really worth checking out for yourself & it won’t take you long to find out if you’ve got rollers (or a turbo) & a mirror.

Bike fitting is becoming a bigger deal these days, but if you set up yourself up in a mechanically correct position it is beneficial & from what I’ve found, you’ll not lose out on breathing efficiency. Don’t just go for the bar width I chose, do your testing as explained above, my 38cm maybe your 44cm, it’s all down to body shape & alignment. One thing’s for sure, I wish I’d done this little test years ago. If you’re not sure, get an expert to have a look over you, whether that’s in a shop like Hardie Bikes or one of the mobile bike fitters like VisualBikeFit, or many more now appearing across the country, they’ll be able to sort you out. Happy testing.

Free Garmin Maps

Embed from Getty ImagesAnybody who’s been unaware of exactly where their Garmin device cover, may have experienced that sinking feeling when on holiday. You are about to go for a ride, switch on the Garmin & all you can see is one road, on the large island you’re on, you’re looking at the standard Garmin basemap, you’ve screwed up, here’s how to fix it without buying a new map.

There is an easy & cheap/free way to do this (only costs you money if you need to buy a new SD card). Garmin maps will cost you about £100, so when you buy your unit, don’t go for the map bundle, save yourself some money & go for the ‘Open Street Map‘ option, they’re constantly updated & is open source, so you can update whenever you like.

I followed the excellent DC Rainmaker‘s detailed instructions on how go about it, it’s quite simple & quick if you take it step by step. The maps it produces are very detailed & ideal for cycling GPS, I got one to include UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Balearic islands, Canaries, the usual cyclists haunts, the download was a 1.4GB zip file.

I highly recommend this method of getting hold of free maps for your GPS device, the full instructions are HERE, get downloading….

The DC Rainmaker site also has product reviews, ‘how to’ guides on various cycle related products, website guides, it’s well worth a browse, there’s plenty of information in there, especially if you need help setting up a device.

Sky High on Salbutamol?

Embed from Getty ImagesTwitter has reacted quite badly, in the normal way expected to the piece on road.cc about ‘A third of Team Sky’s riders are asthmatic‘. It’s probably worth taking a look at some pretty obvious reasons why asthma diagnosis is higher in professional athletes than it is through a sedentary population.

For convenience, lets split the UK’s population into four groups, I’m going to make some estimates on percentages of the population, it’s not necessary to be precise on this small study, just indicative of what’s actually going on & where the statistics come from.

  1. The professional sportspeople. Lets be very generous & include the top amateurs in each sport too & give this lot 1% of the total population. These people test themselves to the limits in training & competition, if there’s any exercise induced asthma going on here, it’s going to be caught & diagnosed as such. It’s a condition that cannot go unnoticed at this level.
  2. The fun, competitive & hobby athlete. These may account for up to 10% of the population, I’m including people who take part in any sport, at any level other than elite. So runners, cyclists, martial arts, etc. These people probably push themselves quite hard, if they’re getting serious about their sport it’s likely that they’ve pushed themselves beyond the point where exercise induced asthma may kick in. So there’s a reasonably high chance that somebody in this category will have been to the doctor if it’s happened & got themselves an inhaler, but not nearly as many as in the category above, it may just not be that important to them or affect them that much for what they want to achieve.
  3. Obese & overweight sadly account for approximately 63% of the adult population according to studies. It’s highly unlikely that many of this lot actually push themselves to induce exercise induced asthma. We can assume if they did regular exercise, they wouldn’t be overweight. So I’m also assuming that the bulk of them don’t get diagnosed with asthma due to this. A very hefty part of the population who will be almost removed from the statistics based on this assumption.
  4. The normal fit & healthy part of the population. Unfortunately we’re left with only 26% of the population who fit into this category. I would imagine that they do some sort of exercise, so are reasonably likely to have been diagnosed if there is a problem.

The Assumption

I think asthma exists in many more than the 8 to 10% that have been diagnosed, probably more likely at the levels noticed in elite athletes. If we look at the groups above, I would assume that the same percentage across each group have exercise induced asthma, but the diagnosed percentage is very different. If Asthma is present in an individual, it probably has very little effect on groups 3 & 4, some effect on many in group 2 & would cause anybody in group 1 very big problems. So asthma is more likely to be diagnosed in groups 1,2 & 4, but less so in group 3. So we’re missing a huge proportion from the statistics, 8 to 10% is simply wrong, it’s much more prevalent than that.

You’ve probably noticed that in your bike club there’s plenty of folks using inhalers, probably more than that 10%. You wouldn’t assume that your club-mates are doping salbutamol in order to beat you on your local chain gang, would you? If you do, that’s the same mindset that assumes that somebody on team Sky is doping with salbutamol.

We can obviously discount the extremes here, there are some riders who have been caught with huge quantities of salbutamol in their bodies, they probably are cheating. As an asthmatic myself, I’ve found that if I felt a bit wheezy before a race I’d take a couple of puffs, that usually sorted it, but if not 2 more later. If I still felt wheezy I normally didn’t start. My peak flow was never more than 15% below what it should be for somebody like me, so even with 4 puffs I was still at a disadvantage to an ‘able bodied’ rider. I did experiment once to see if I could get my breathing level with a ‘normal’ person, I couldn’t, beyond 4 puffs across an hour it made no difference whatsoever, I was still well below average, plus the additional puffs made me feel particularly ill, probably not ideal if you were in a race.

If somebody’s cheating with salbutamol, they’re not going to be doing it with an inhaler, it’ll be injected in large quantities, an inhaler will make little difference, if at all to a non asthmatic. The guy in your club, Chris Froome, or any of the huge percentage of pro cyclists who use an inhaler & are diagnosed with asthma are not cheating, they’re still below the peak flow of a non asthmatic. The nonsense posted on twitter has probably got road.cc plenty of hits, which I suspect is what it’s all about, but it’s a non story.

References:

Riding In the Rain & Cold – #1 Mudguards

Embed from Getty ImagesWinter cycling in Scotland is often seen by some as one of the most miserable things you can do on a bike, that’s not strictly true, I’m writing a series of posts on not just surviving it, but enjoying it. In this post we discover that mudguards are fundamental & the number-one necessary evil.

Riding without mudguards during a winter of “getting the miles in” really is a terribly miserable experience, it likely leads to plenty of riders becoming big sellers on ebay & gumtree while taking up snooker, darts or some other indoor pastime. This also allows them to indulge in their new-found alcoholism from having the after effects of repeatedly chilled wet feet & bumhole. It doesn’t have to be this way, fit some bloody mudguards & your winter of misery turns into an experience that a little bit of freezing rain can’t dampen.

The Advantages of Mudguards

  • Protects frame & parts from salt corrosion – If you ride your ‘good bike’ during winter without mudguards, it won’t be any good by March, you’ll be needing a new one, or at least some new parts. The roads are soon to be covered in grit & salt to keep the ice at bay, your bike will suffer hugely from this. Under the accumulated dirt, the components will start to corrode, as the winter progresses & you clean off the surface dirt, underneath the bearings, springs & moving parts in your drivetrain & brakes will deteriorate to the point they’ll need replaced.
  • Protects cycle clothing from degeneration & discolouring – Your expensive state of the art winter kit is going to suffer from getting repeatedly sprayed with road dirt & salt, so is your chamois, it’ll take a beating from repeated attack from salty gritty water. Treated fabrics lose their waterproof coating much quicker & you’ll also have to wash your outer layers on a continual basis to avoid looking like you’re a minger. Forget wearing anything white, it won’t be white for long.
  • Keeps you warm – Summer road spray is much more tolerable, winter road spray is a different beast altogether. Winter spray is generally just a few degrees above freezing, which makes all the difference. In summer on the worst of days a rain jacket will protect you, sometimes you’ll even be too hot. In winter the spray causes a constant chill which your body has to fight, it also costs you energy. Your body uses additional fuel to attempt to keep your body at the correct temperature while it’s extremities & your backside are to a continuous tap of water at chilled-beer temperature.
  • Stops feet from getting soaked (with addition of mudflap) – Mudguards without the addition of a mudflap will lose you one of the best & most useful advantages of mudguards. A correctly sized & positioned mudflap bolted onto the rear end of your front mudguard will protect your feet from all but the worst of soakings. Without the mudflap, the spray from your wheel seems to spray under the back of the mudguard & disperse directly onto your toes. Fit the mudflap & make it yourself from a plastic bottle, just cut it out & bolt it on, it’s easy & will make things much more pleasurable.
  • Makes the cafe stop a pleasant experience – With mudguards, you can sit in relative luxury sipping your coffee at the cafe stop, while your ‘road washed’ comrades are soaked through to their base layers & want to leave as quickly as possible before you’ve stuffed a cake down your gob. The water has been thrown up & drained over-the-top of collars & overshoes, having fully waterproof kit doesn’t make a difference in this situation, the water finds its alternative route in.
  • Chaffing – Grit ingressed & soaking wet chamois & pedalling don’t make happy companions, your bits & pieces won’t be happy for too long & your partner may ask you where you got that nasty rash, answering “the club run” is going to throw up more questions than answers. If anybody left a baby in a wet nappy for the period of time that your club run takes, the social services would be called in, it’s just not going to be good for you, fit some mudguards.
  • Allows you to train with mudguard-users without becoming a social leper – People with mudguards hate riding with people without mudguards in winter. It’s disrespectful, all the above issues become problems for the mudguarded riders due to inconsiderate riders who inflict their freezing cold spray on others. The reasons are often lazyness, vanity (they think it ruins the look of their bike, but don’t care that it covers them & others in dirt). For extra brownie points with other riders, the addition of a rear mudflap doesn’t protect you, but it sends out a message, it means you consider others by preventing any water at all spraying up into your club-mates faces, it’ll make you the most popular wheel to follow.

Fitting Options

If you’ve got mudguard eyes & a bit of clearance, you’re laughing, if not, you still have some options if you want to fit the best option of full mudguards with stays. Personally, I’d only fit the ‘race-blade’ type of mudguards if it was my last option, I’ve tried a few & they’re not nearly as secure & don’t offer the best protection for yourself & your ride-buddies. But ‘race-blades’ may be the only option if you’ve got very little clearance to fit mudguard between your fork crown & tyre on the front, or between your brake bridge & tyre at the rear.

  • Additional Fittings – These come in two options, fitted to either end of your quick-release skewer as seen HERE, or as metal clips with a plastic or rubber coating that clip round your frame HERE. Once you’ve got these fitted, you can fit any of the traditional mudguards that are available in your local bike shop (assuming you’ve got that necessary clearance). These fitting parts are hit-and-miss whether they’re in stock at you local bike shop, but they’ll all stock mudguards. They’ll also be able to tell you if it’s possible to fit mudguards, so if they give you their free advice, buy the mudguards from them regardless of whether they’ll supply you the fittings.
  • Clip-On Plastic Mudguards – If you really have to use a close clearance race type bike in the winter, these are your only options. You’ll often see them waving about in crosswinds & while mostly offering protection to the owner, other will sometimes get a face full of winter road dirt. It’s also less easy to fit effective mudflaps to these as they’re less secure. You’ll get these in your local bike shop & the most popular are branded ‘race-blades’, but plenty of options appearing on the market. A bit of advice I’d give is to forget the rubber fittings that allow you to take them on-and-off easily. You’ll get a much more secure fitting if you use cable ties to fix them on your bike for the whole winter, they tend to move a lot less & provide the protection from the elements you need in the middle of winter. It’ll also remove the need to constantly move them & the incessant rubbing can cause a bit of annoyance to you & others.

The Gist Of It

You’ll see photos & articles about the pro riders riding on training camps on their race bikes, that’s unrealistic for the amateur or club rider. They go somewhere warm, you might too, for just a week in the spring maybe, but the rest of the time you’re on the UK roads, the further north & west you get the worse the weather is. Fitting mudguards won’t make you look Italian, but over time it will save you money & help avoid time off the bike feeling unwell or with the bike requiring spares. It also protects others from your spray, it’s generally the inexperienced or inconsiderate riders who choose not to have mudguards, perhaps some just haven’t thought about it, so let them know, show them this & you may get a much cleaner bike ride next week. Fit some mudguards this winter, you’ll never go back.

 

 

Contaminated Supplements: Beware & Be Aware

Worth watching this quick video on how products can become contaminated, it’s easy to get caught out if you don’t take any steps. It even happened to one of our Scottish Commonwealth team before Glasgow 2014, so everybody needs to watch what they ingest, ultimately you’re responsible for anything that turns up in there, not the manufacturer. You’ll also find UKAD’s supplement advice HERE.

The Horner Effect

Embed from Getty ImagesA contact close to the UCI has divulged some details to spokeydokeyblog of a new plan due to be introduced for the 2016 season. One previously unaddressed aspect of aerodynamics will be tackled & a level playing field will be attempted. Experts have carried out a series of advanced calculations, using stopwatches & guesswork, to determine that if Chris Horner had possessed a full head of hair at the 2013 Vuelta Espania, he would have lost the title to Nibali by 23 seconds. This advantage has been seen as against the rules of a fair sport by Brian Cookson, well endowed with his full head of hair & ample beard.

The Science Bit

According to our source, the aerodynamic experts have created two versions of Chris Horners head for the wind tunnel, one with hair & one with a Cancellara style mullet. The airflow & turbulence under the helmet produced by the mullet was significant, although actual figures will not be released for data protection reasons. This data was analysed & calculations applied to determine the expected advantage Christopher Horner gained over a crew-cut Vincenzo Nibali. The results were apparently “staggering” & it’s now likely that a middle-aged man will never win a Grand Tour again if the new regulations are applied.

The AigleWig™

Embed from Getty ImagesIn Tennis we know that players such as John McEnroe have employed the use of wigs during competition, we currently don’t know in which form the UCI standard wig will take. What we do know according to our source, is that the wig will be named the Aiglewig™ & will be the only approved turbulence producing device able to be used during UCI events. The source confirms that if a hat is worn, then the AigleWig™ will still be required underneath. It will be identified as valid by the introduction of a UCI sewn badge system.

Bike shops & other retailers will be allowed to stock the AigleWig™ for what the UCI will describe as a “fair & appropriate purchase fee, which will obviously include a distribution of the costs involved in carrying out the research & paying the experts.”

The AigleWig™ will be also required to be attached in a recognised manner. On the track this will be by the use of approved rim cement only, while road & TT use will only require tub tape. It’s expected that the mechanics will not require any additional training.

 The Gist Of It

We are likely to see even more beard growing in the 2016 peloton, as the UCI are reported to be considering removing the requirement for an AigleWig™ if there is sufficient facial hair growth on any folicly challenged individual. This will be measured using a special jig which national federations & race organisers will be required to purchase from UCU headquarters for a “fair & appropriate hire fee”. 2015 may be the last chance for middle-aged gentlemen to attempt to win bike races if the alleged UCI proposals are voted through, Chris Horner may yet have his 2013 Vuelta title revoked if the rules are backdated. I’ll be reporting on any further developments on this story from some more reliable sources.

Skinnyfixation

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A significant number of high-profile riders have been reported ill in 2014, both before & during events. This seems to have been occurring more often in the build-up to the Tour de France, with several riders dropping out of events recently. Could this poor health be a result of the extremely low body fat percentages riders are now attempting to reach before the primary target of the year? Are we on the verge of another big problem in the sport, with the Tour starting tomorrow, may some riders have developed eating disorders as a result of pressure from themselves or others to gain an unhealthy performance advantage?

Percentages

Fat is required to keep us healthy, we all need some reserves, some have lots, some seem able to keep very little, but pro riders often look like they’re running dangerously low these days. We don’t have a recommended average body fat percentage figures for professional riders, although it’s been reported that pro men have been recorded well below 6%. ‘Essential Fat’ is 3% to 5% for men & 8% to 12% for women, so running near this without proper supervision is likely very unwise & particularly unhealthy.

It has to be noted that these riders don’t have to operate in the normal world that most of us inhabit, traveling to work on the bus & train around the general public with their coughs & colds. You & me would find it very hard to function at this kind of fat level, it’s not conducive to normal life & health. I have to admit, that in the distant past I too had developed a bit of interest in my weight, while I was at a point I was racing several times a week & getting obsessive with my training. At the time I’d probably not think/admit that it had got to a problematic level, but I was getting regular fat skin fold measurements & weighing myself daily, while marking it in the training diary. I managed to ‘survive’ for approximately 2 years at a level below around 8%, dropping right down to nearly 5% at one point. during this period I did get some good results, but I suspect my low body fat percentage contributed to a combination of health problems, mostly the ease by which I was able to contract colds & other illnesses, I got very run down & had the Epstein-Barr virus, all too common with underweight cyclists. It wasn’t a healthy or sustainable way to live, but at the time it seemed the ‘normal’ thing to do with those I was spending time with, who were all similar racing obsessives, caught in the same bubble.

Having a low fat percentage makes us look ‘ripped’, it intimidates our rivals & makes us look more ‘pro’. But what we don’t consider is that the professional riders who can stay healthy at very low fat levels are monitored by their teams physicians & coaches. They also don’t have to go to work 9 to 5. Everybody probably has a healthy range where they can fight off coughs, colds & other more serious illnesses, but without experiencing these negative effects, we don’t know where that line is drawn with each individuals physiology. Percentages are irrelevant, the warning signs are always there, but it is incredibly hard to discount them when riding a bike fast is really all you’re bothered about.

Carlos

Lets take Carlos Betancur as an example. The recent information regarding Colombian climber Carlos Betancur’s weight brings back memories of Jan Ullrich’s expansive winter issues. Betancur’s weight gain is in no way similar to Ullrich’s, it’s very mild by comparison, but the Colombian has managed to put on 6kg over the winter, when you consider his race weight is 56kg, that’s quite a large percentage increase (although he has just managed to win a stage Haut Var). At 62kg (about 9stone 10pounds) & 167cm (about 5’6″) tall, Betancur would still be considered quite a little chap in normal society.

If we assume that he was at least 8% fat percentage, then at his 56kg race weight, he was carrying about 4.5kg of fat. So we can deduce that his 62kg weight increase resulted in a fat percentage of about 20%. As a comparison, for this piece I actually reverted to the long forgotten past & checked my own fat percentage using one of those fat-guessing bathroom scales, it said 14%. I’m a Sunday cyclist these days, fit enough for club rides but not for racing, I’d suggest that Carlos has indeed let himself go a bit if he’s fatter than a chopper like me.

This may not be the whole truth here of course, we’ve no idea if this is all fat that he’s gained, some could be muscle, he may have been doing some weights over the winter break. The rider in question has other issues, so the weight gain could be linked to problems back home in Colombia, but is still useful as an example.

Why they do it

If we take things on a simple watts per kg basis, we can see some examples of the performance advantages riders can get running at very low body fat percentages, while gambling with taking weeks of with illness & perhaps missing the their target events.

We can take our Carlos Betancur example again. At 56kg & a perceived 8% body fat, we deduce that he carries 4.5kg of fat. If we take Carlos’ fat percentage down to 5%, his total weight will be 54.2kg. If we then add some W/kg values we see where the gains are made. From the Andrew Coggan chart, an international pro has a functional threshold ranging from 5.69W/kg to 6.4W/kg. So if Carlos (for example) was at the bottom of this range & at 8% body fat, he would be expected to produce 319 Watts at threshold. If he managed to reduce his body fat percentage to 5%, his W/kg would increase from 5.69 to 5.9W/kg. What this means is that the weakest of the international pro’s can gamble with their health to elevate themselves from somebody struggling to maintain a contract, to a rider who is around a mid-level international pro & should be much more employable. The danger is that it’s likely only at the higher end where the pro riders have the medical support which can allow them to make such changes to their bodies, without the expected detrimental effects of their physical condition. Others may be making bad decisions in order to reach the pro level, without any medical support.

The Gist Of It

Losing weight for the hobby cyclist or weekend warrior is most likely always possible, but it’s a very different case for elite level riders, who could already be teetering on the edge of health problems, while being in the form of their lives.

An 85kg club rider who reduces his fat percentage from 20% to a reasonable & healthy 15%, would save the weight of 6.8kg, an important number because it’s the UCI’s minimum bike weight. By eating a bit better, riding your bike more & cutting down on beer & fizzy drinks you could shed the weight of an entire bike! So getting rid of that belly or bum is a big bonus to riding a bike for most people.

For elite riders, losing some weight may result in an increased risk of illness, meaning that all that training could be wasted by losing a big chunk of the season. If you’re racing in the UK, getting to dangerous fat levels is not only unwise, it’s also not going to benefit you as much as it would if you were racing up 15km long Alpine Cols. We have to deal with bad weather, especially in Scotland, leave the dangerous fat levels to the continental pro’s, racing in temperatures above 25°C & monitored by trained medical staff. If you try to race here at ridiculous fat percentages, you’ll probably have to wear extra clothing to just keep warm most of the year, best to keep that safety buffer in natures choice, a healthy layer of fat.

An unhealthy obsession about weight can develop into an eating disorder, this can happen to anyone, not just the to the media’s common target of teenage girls. Athletes can can encounter this problem too for an entirely different reason, performance, not body image. Stay healthy, stay lean, but let your body find its own level by eating a healthy balanced diet while training, if you go overboard on weight reduction, you may get more than you bargained for. Some natural weight reduction advice that anybody can do, as told to me by a former coach, “make sure you have a thorough visit to the toilet before every race”.

 

Exploding the b-Omnium

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The UCI have overhauled the Omnium rules, the points system has gone topsy-turvy & there is large weighting towards the Points Race, which will now be run as the final event. It’s a relatively new event to major championships, although familiar to domestic riders in most track cycling nations, so we did expect a bit of jiggery pokery, but this is quite radical. Here’s how it’ll affect the event.

The Changes

The UCI have altered the scoring system, points allocation & weighted events, the full list of amendments can be found HERE.

In Omniums up to this point the winner of each event was awarded 1 point, 2nd place got 2 points, 3rd place 3 points & so on. All six events had the same allocation so if you won all the events you got an unbeatable perfect score of 6 points. The winner had the lowest total score when the individual points for the events were added together. Things are quite different from 20th June 2014.

The modified rules are as follows. We still have six events, run in the following revised order. Scratch Race, Individual Pursuit, Elimination (Devil), Time Trial (500m or kilo), Flying Lap, then finally the Points Race. For the first five events, the points allocation is as follows: 1st 40 pts, 2nd 38 pts, 3rd 36 pts, 4th 34 pts, 5th 32 pts, 6th 30 pts etc. From 21st down each rider gets 1 point. So the rider with the highest points total now wins, a major change in the Omnium’s culture.

This is the major event change, the 6th & final event (Points Race) has it’s event points allocation for each rider added to the score from the previous five events. So to give you an idea of how many points could be amassed in the final event, the 2012 Olympic Omnium’s points race had the top three with 79, 59 & 55 points each, the last placed rider had negative 40 points, from losing laps. This means that the riders with a Points Race total above zero will have those points added to their total from the previous five omnium events, any with points below zero will have those deducted from their total. The Points Race has become the key event in the Omnium.

What This Means

The UCI have been slowly removing endurance events from the track programme, the Omnium should have been left as an event for those riders, but sprinters have been able to gather points from the Flying Lap, Time Trial & the Scratch Race (by good positioning & waiting for the sprint). This will redress the balance & re-establish it as an endurance riders event, repeated sprints & taking laps are not the domain of a sprint athlete.

With the result now depending on a very good Points Race, it’s addressed the issue of the reducing opportunity for road/track crossover. The team pursuit has even become an event which favours a sprint orientated rider, such is the pace & duration of the efforts required, it’s also a very specialised event with much time being required to focus on it away from road racing.

Some were worried that the new rules would not favour a rider such as Laura Trott, but Hilary Evans (@OlympicStatman on twitter) calculated the totals from the last Olympics under these rules, Trott still would still have won by 1 point, with 208 points! This format could produce a thrilling finale to the Omnium, with riders fighting for every point in the last event, it’ll certainly be exciting from a spectators point of view.

The Future

I’d like to see this as the beginning of a revamp for the track events at major championships & World Cups. The removal of the 500m, Kilo & Pursuit was a great loss of traditional staple events for track riders, I’d like to see those return & to make an additional change to the Omnium bike rules to make a differentiation. I’d like to see the Omnium raced on one bike, with no tri-bars allowed in the timed events. With the focus now on the final endurance event & riders requiring less time training on a pursuit bike in a velodrome, it could open up the opportunity for more road stars to get involved. We’re really talking about road sprinter types, not the Grand Tour GC contenders, anything that could encourage them to the track could raise the profile & the status of an event like the Omnium.

So I’m suggesting re-introducing the Kilo, this time for both men & women (no 500m TT), plus the Individual Pursuit & then changing the Omnium bike rules to a standard track bike for all events. Would be interesting to hear what everybody thinks of that.

The Gist Of It

Track racing can benefit hugely from having recognisable names from the road scene present, I think the changes to the Omnium format are good for the sport, it creates a very exciting finale to the series & makes the Omnium more attractive to road riders. It could be an opportunity for female road racers to find another means to earn some sponsorship money by riding track too, if there’s not the same specialisation required on a pursuit bike, it could be possible.

The revised rules will also favour racers, rather than wattage slaves, you can’t win a points race by riding to a certain wattage, you require track-craft, tactics & a racing brain. Personally, I look forward to it all coming down to the final sprint on the final lap, it should be thrilling. I still don’t like those bloody handlebar boxed in the Devil, can we not do something about those UCI?

The Drugs Don’t Work

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I’ve been through some of these issues before, the phenomenon of the sudden disappearance of the majority of those riders who come from high altitude environments during the major EPO years. It’s quite possible we still have a hangover from this in the current bio-passport policed environment, where riders can no longer go ‘full gass’ on the substances that make the most difference to aerobic performance & recovery. Could this be why some riders are currently able to produce incredible performances without drugs, could we be experiencing the aerobic talent that was missing all those years starting to drift back into the peloton?

Lost Years

I firmly believe that during the major EPO years we never saw the most talented cyclists reach the top of the sport. I suspect that some of that era’s finest riders never even made the pro ranks, they were left unable to proceed in the sport, outgunned by dopers & unwilling to participate in a gunfight while carrying a knife.

To illustrate this, we hear about the ‘good responders’. These individuals reputedly had low natural hematocrit (HCT) levels. The UCI limit, which was set at 50% (but 51% was the accepted target) ruled out many riders from the pro peloton. Prior to a valid test for EPO, riders were able to boost their levels from what is considered a ‘normal’ european sea level dweller value by over 10% in some cases. The worldwide HCT average value is considered for sedentary individuals is said to be around 42% to 54%, an athlete may be expected to be a bit lower due to training stress. This obviously creates an automatic disadvantage to athletes who live at altitude, or who spend time at altitude.

A study in Italian helicopter pilots who spend plenty of time high-in-the-air at altitude showed that their average HCT was 55%. This illustrates the huge variation that environmental factors have on HCT, we hardly saw a high altitude Colombian in a major race for several years. As I’ve said before, I don’t suppose that Colombians are less prone to doping than any rider from any other country, but their ability to improve ability from a very high natural HCT level was almost impossible, compared to the low-land dwelling individuals. Some Colombians would have been over the 51% level naturally, they had no hope of competing in those times. Charly Wegelius explains in his book about a constant worry of keeping his HCT level below the level it would trigger a break from racing ‘on health grounds’, as even though a European, his whole family had higher than the population normal HCT %’s.

This leads me to imagine that riders similar to those who would previously have been the top performers in cycling may now have returned. We may be unfairly tarring them with the same brush as riders from the past, but similar athletes may not have been capable of taking a place in the top flight of cycling when no EPO tests were available. They could be a few percent below the previous performances, but had they been in the peloton before, they would have been in the 2nd or 3rd groups on the climbs, not leading them. Without EPO, I find it hard to imagine any substance that could create these kinds of performances from ordinary riders, this is the crucial piece that is missing from doping accusers. What exactly is it they are taking that is making their performances better that anybody else, I’ve yet to hear a valid argument for this.

Data Issues

Currently, we have at least one Colombian rider undergoing tests due to questions about their bio-passports. One of these is Sergio Henao of Team Sky. As far as I’m aware, the majority of the data collected for the bio-passport project was predominantly carried out specifically in the sport of cycling, around the time that a test for EPO had just been rolled out & an era we know was tainted. I’d suggest that at this time, some of the test sample consisted of ‘good responders’. This leads us to the big question, perhaps we have a data issue right now, where the high altitude riders are suffering further issues with the bio-passport due to the original sample of data that was taken from the riders at the time.

The Gist Of It

I’m no expert on physiology or blood, I’d be very interested to hear from anybody who is, who can maybe shed some light on whether or not the above is a correct hypothesis. That the previous sample population that was tested isn’t relevant to the current sample population. The current riders are subject to the data gathered from a potentially abnormal group of riders who fitted a specific low HCT requirement during the major EPO years & had just abandoned major EPO use due to a test being developed. That there may be clean riders suffering from the hangover from an era that cycling was blown apart & the culture of widespread EPO use was reduced massively over a short period of time due to better testing & the bio-passport. I had forgotten all about this post, but in light of recent rumours of questions being raised informally regarding another Colombian rider, this issue may rear its head yet again, obviously in the week before the Tour, as usual.

Bend It Like Clancy

We all know that the GB sprint riders were running very narrow handlebars, all with the aim of reducing the aerodynamic drag required to beat the competition. As time has passed, more & more endurance track riders & now more road riders are switching to narrower bars, to benefit from the improved aerodynamics. If we ignore the outliers, like Christopher Horner, we are seeing a trend amongst road riders, narrow bars are becoming the norm.

Choice

When choosing bars in your local bike shop, it used to be done with a mirror. You picked up some of the various bars available, including the obligatory Cinelli ones that were your standard bar & stem combo, with your hands in the hook of the bars, you then checked to see if it looked ok in the mirror, which meant that you arms went more or less in a straight line, parallel with each other. That was more or less it, apart from choosing standard or deep drop. Now we have such a huge variety that fit probably isn’t the primary selling point anymore, bling may be the biggest factor. I’ve ranted before about aero profiled handlebars being a bit unhelpful sometimes, they do compromise fit, so choose bars carefully. In the present & future, aerodynamics of the rider, and not necessarily the aerodynamics of the component will be the prime selling point for riders with a competitive mind.

 Fast Eddie

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If you want the definitive example of an endurance rider with wee-boys-bars, it’s Ed Clancy. He’s a big lad, he normally has to turn his shoulders to get in most doorways, he bruises his driving instructors face trying to squeeze himself into a Ford Fiesta, but he still manages to ride incredibly narrow handlebars. It doesn’t appear to affect his breathing too much, but the gains must be quite large for him to go this narrow. If a rider with these broad shoulders can ride bars that narrow, you can reasonably assume that most of us would be fine on bars a bit narrower without any ill effects.

Photo Analysis

I’ve recently been studying riders over various events, looking at riders likely to have been involved in some wind tunnel testing. It does seem that many professional road riders, especially climbers are still riding bars which an endurance track rider may now consider far too wide. It appears that there may be a glaringly obvious reason for this, climbing position.

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When the riders are climbing on ‘the tops’, their hands are closer together than they are on the hoods or the drops. So for climbers, having that wider portion of the tops of the bars available may ‘feel’ better, but is it? Looking at the photo above, we can see that with the two hand positions, the upper arms are in almost identical positions, leaving the chest just as open in both cases. So perhaps having a narrower bar won’t really make too much difference to a riders ability to breath properly while climbing. Perhaps we compensate by simply moving our arms.

Our own Brian Smith used to prefer bars with less of a straight portion, which began to bend forwards much earlier than regular bars. This may lead us to conclude that it helped angle his arms in a direction that opened his chest up during climbing. Could this be the way to go for modern narrow bars, a change in shape to allow improved aerodynamics & encourage a more open chest climbing position? Would be interesting to hear Brian’s comments on bar width & shape on this.

The Gist Of It

There’s more to come on this, I’ve got myself a set of narrower bars than I normally ride & I’m going to be testing them on some climbs. We may find out that it makes no difference, we may find a higher heart rate relative to power, or it may cause some muscular pain which could be remedied by some simple gym work. The narrower bars may work better on headwind climbs, we really don’t know. I can’t find a single study to show if there are all round benefits or detrimental effects to wee-boys-bars away from the drop bar position. Handling issues seem baseless too, as most can negotiate quite tricky corners while on tri-bars after a little practice. Based on what the pro’s are doing, apart from old man Chris Horner, there’s got to be something in it.

 

Scottish Olympic Cycling Team?

Embed from Getty Images Regardless of your political viewpoint, the current media focus in Scotland is on September’s referendum, the very big question of whether or not we’ll remain part of the UK, which has the potential for dramatic change in Scottish life & sport for that matter. Those who regularly read my blog will be familiar with the topic of change, so it’ll be no surprise that I’m dealing with this tricky subject, which is potentially too big to ignore or delve in to. With that in mind I found it worth looking at what changes may occur in Scottish sport if there is a ‘yes’ vote, with particular focus on cycling & the potential for a Scottish Olympic team.

I’m not particularly interested in this blog piece developing into an all-encompassing debate on independence out-with sport, that’s covered everywhere else. This is more of a short study on what may happen if there is a ‘yes’ vote, not on whether or not there will be a ‘yes’ vote. Looking at how it would affect grass-roots sport, development, coaching & our elite athletes currently riding for the GB Olympic programme. I’ve been unable to find much information anywhere else on this subject, so I’m assuming those reading this have not either, hopefully I can fill in some of the gaps of what may happen to our sport if Scotland becomes independent at this referendum, or at any time in the future.

Disclaimer: I’ve tried to provide links wherever possible so you can check anything I proclaim to be a fact (as this is an especially touchy & polarizing subject for many people). So feel free to click away if you’re interested in reading the actual documents that concern the subjects. What I’ve tried to avoid are any statements of fact from politicians of any persuasion, I have what I consider a healthy distrust of political posturing & often check facts in news reports, especially on the independence subject. So check the facts, read the stories, not the headlines & don’t take anything at face value on what you hear or read about the referendum. Where I’ve expressed an opinion, its pretty obvious that’s what it is, I’m well aware that I’ll get variable feedback on this blog piece, but if you spot an inaccuracy let me know & present some evidence I can link to, not just an opinion.
 

Is Rio 2016 Realistic?

I’ll go into the technicalities first, you can view the Olympic Charter online, it’s a lengthy document which shows all the requirements necessary for a sport within a nation to compete. Each sport federation has to be affiliated to the international governing body recognised by the IOC (International Olympic Committee). In cycling’s case, this is the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale). The charter also demonstrates that an NOC (National Olympic Committee) needs to exist for each nation competing in the Olympics (Ch4 pt29). The IOC define a nation as “In the Olympic Charter, the expression ‘country’ means an independent State recognised by the international community” (Ch4 pt30).

As far as defining a nation goes, there are a few different standards which the IOC recognise. Palestine has United Nations Observer State status & has its own NOC, which allows it to enter the Olympics. There are two Olympic nations which have no UN representation, these are Taiwan & Cook Islands (Taiwan surprised me, but it has no UN membership). Meanwhile nine territories of other nations are recognised Olympic nations, the USA have four, the Netherlands & China have one each (Aruba & Hong Kong), while three of the fourteen British Oversees Territories are represented, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands & Cayman Islands. South Sudan, while being the world’s current newest independent state (formed in 2011 after a civil war in Sudan), currently hasn’t allocated an NOC yet, so in the eyes of the IOC it isn’t a nation.  South Sudan’s marathon runner Guor Marial did compete at London 2012, but under the Olympic flag, a nation less athlete but still allowed to compete.

As you can see, the existence of a National Olympic Committee is the most important thing as far as the IOC is concerned. It’s not as hard as you’d imagine to be an Olympic nation if you follow the protocol set out in the Olympic Charter. So far that means that for cycling in Scotland, we’d need Scotland to be an IOC recognised state (i.e. simply have a Scottish NOC formed & meet one of the criteria above), the existing governing body of Scottish Cycling would be required to affiliate to the UCI, so that Scotland had an internationally recognised governing body for the sport of cycling. Rio in 2016 doesn’t look anything like as tricky as it did when I started my research for this blog & reading newspaper articles stating impending doom, it looks like a relatively straightforward process, even if Scotland isn’t full signed up to UN rules by 2016, it can still have an Olympic team at Rio 2016 if an NOC is in place. You can be sure that no politician looking to establish themselves in a new nation is going to let that administration issue slip by them, they’ll all be clambering to say it was them!

What Happens to Elite Athletes

I asked the Scottish Government & the UK Government for information on this subject & how the sport would be funded post-independence. I’ve not had a UK Government response, but was supplied with some information from the office of Scottish Minister for Commonwealth Games & Sport, Shona Robison. I’ll give you a brief summary of what came from this correspondence:

  • It’s intended to have both Olympic & Paralympic teams at the next Olympics.
  • Scotland meets all of the requirements of the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees and would apply to become a member as soon as possible.
  • The IOC is a body that has a history of quickly welcoming newly recognised independent countries. We believe it should be a relatively straightforward process which would mean an Olympic Team Scotland in place for Rio 2016. (Which I think I’ve discovered myself too, as you’ve already read)
  • Arrangements will be put in place to ensure that Scottish athletes were able to compete in Rio 2016 by attending any necessary qualifying events in the lead up to Rio 2016. This work would be undertaken in parallel to the wider governance arrangements required for Olympic and Paralympic accreditation, establishing Scottish Olympic and Paralympic Committees and transferring functions currently undertaken at UK level.
  • Since 1998, the sportscotland Institute of Sport has helped prepare many athletes to perform at the highest level. In the event of independence, elite athletes would receive support through sportscotland which would be funded through continued investment from the Scottish Government and our fair share of National Lottery contributions. As part of our resolutions with UK Government we will seek Scotland’s share of UK Sport funding. This, coupled with fantastic facilities including the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome and a new National Performance Centre for Sport being built at Heriot Watt University, will ensure Scotland is extremely well placed to develop our future athletes.

I’d hope that Scots like Katie Archibald, Callum Skinner, Kenta Gallagher & Grant Ferguson (who are all on the GB Olympic programmes) would experience a smooth transition to a Scottish Olympic programme to allow them to progress correctly. Perhaps we could expand that programme & allow a larger selection of talented riders to progress towards Worlds, Commonwealth & Olympic medals. This is likely, based purely on what we see with the Scottish ladies, competing in the European Classics this year, getting huge amounts of experience racing in big fields, on cobbles, with the best riders in the world. Some have also been competing at UCI registered track events over the past year, gaining the valuable qualification standards to compete as part of a Scottish team at the Commonwealth Games.

In men’s racing, a Scottish team could gain entry to events which currently are open to national teams, these come under UCI category 1.1 (one-day race) or 2.1 (stage race). Also if there are any UCI 1.HC (one-day race) or 2.HC (stage race) in Scotland, then national teams from the country of the organiser can ride. This rule currently applies to the Tour of Britain, but as we’d no longer be part of the UK, a Scottish team couldn’t take part. Some examples of 1.1 or 2.1 events that a Scottish mens team could ride are Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Strade Bianche, Trofeo Mallorca, Herald Sun Tour, Tour of Qatar, Vuelta a Murcia & Tour de l’Avenir. With some significant investment, we could be providing some incredible opportunities for our developing riders, although Scotland would need some riders who attract the attention (or some political interest, as always) of the organisers to attract an invite.

Working Group On Scottish Sport

I wasn’t aware of this until Shona Robison alerted me to it. The future of sport does look to have been considered by the politicians in Scotland in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, across parties. In September 2013, an independent group named the ‘Working Group on Scottish Sport‘ was set up & chaired by Henry McLeish, a former Labour MP & the person who took over as Scottish First Minister after Donald Dewar’s sudden death. I searched the White Paper for some detail on what would happen to sport in Scotland, there was very little, with the WGSS filling in the detail. This study intends to give us a better picture of what may happen post-independence. The conclusions will be published in a final report. The topics covered will include the following:

  • The action necessary to ensure Scotland can be successful in future Olympics and Paralympics in its own right;
  • The continuing development required to ensure that Scotland remains a country of sporting excellence, with opportunity at all levels;
  • The potential for sharing facilities and resources across the Home Nations and abroad.

It seems comments from people like Chris Hoy (see quotes later in article) may have been taken on-board & acted upon, hopefully we’ll get a better picture in the next few weeks when the conclusions are released in Spring 2014. This will hopefully include what exactly will happen with grass-roots sport development & employment of elite coaches across different sports.

Similarities

Embed from Getty Images Comparing other European nations who have a cycling culture we’d consider replicating, we find Denmark has a population of about 5.5 million, very close to Scotland’s. They have one indoor 250m velodrome & two outdoor ones, again, the same as Scotland. Denmark has an enviable & very successful track team at world championship & Olympic level (Danish team pursuiters pictured above) & plenty of riders in the pro ranks.

As an economical comparison of Scotland V Denmark, it’s worth noting that according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies report (p9), Scotland’s projected GDP would be approx 17% higher per capita than the Danish $37,000 figure (which is almost identical to current UK GDP) & they are not in the Euro zone, but as I discovered are running their own currency (Krone) pegged to the Euro. A pegged currency to Sterling is one of the fiscal commission’s published options, I personally presume that this is probably the much discussed ‘plan B’  which is already in successful operation in a similar nation to us & a member country of the EU, perhaps some politicians can’t use google as well as an amateur blogger, it’s already been published.

So as a comparison based on the above, it’s likely (in my opinion) Scotland would have a sports development budget at least as good as the Danes, if not a little better. They have produced a nice Team Danmark pdf showing their focus across all sports & how athletes selected by their federation are included in various projects, plus an overview of the structure, this seems like a good proven & successful model to look at for Scotland. It’s worth a read.

The Eleven Danish World Tour riders:

Jacob Fuglsang (Astana), Sebastian Lander (BMC), Lasse Norman Hansen (Garmin Sharp), Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol), Michael Andersen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Jesper Hansen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Matti Breschel (Tinkoff-Saxo), Christopher Juul Jensen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Michael Morkov (Tinkoff-Saxo), Chris Anker Sorensen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Nicki Sorensen (Tinkoff-Saxo)

The Two Scottish World Tour riders:

David Millar (Garmin Sharp), Andy Fenn (Omega Pharma Quick-Step)

To put that in perspective, the UK has 12 riders in teams at that level with a population of around 65 million compared to Denmark’s 5.5 million. It would seem feasible that with a very good long-term plan & resources, an independent country like Scotland could have just as many top riders as the UK has now. It requires a culture change, coaching, facilities, talent spotting & organisation, it can’t be done overnight. But with a serious plan…

Cycling in Scotland, what changes?

Those of us involved in the sport are often found discussing the ins & outs of British Cycling race categories, licence points, rankings & the amount of races for 4th category riders. This may soon become a thing of the past if there’s a ‘yes’ vote. If so, it’s prudent that we consider what the sport would look like in a new Scotland. An independent state would mean a truly independent cycling governing body, currently ‘Scottish Cycling’ is considered by ‘British Cycling’ as a region, while ‘Scottish Cycling’ is a separate company who use the ‘British Cycling’ system of licences, insurance, coaching & structure. This whole structure would need to be re-thought.

Parts of the current structure don’t serve our smaller & more spread out population particularly well, so something that suits Scotland would have to be pursued, now is as good a time as any to look at that. While traditionally ‘Scottish Cycling’ (formerly SCU) has been mostly embroiled in road racing, that may not be where a redesigned future of Scottish cycle sport may lie. Rather than working within the constraints of ‘British Cycling’ rules, regulations & future planning, a whole new structure could be designed. The ‘British Cycling’ performance plan is based on Olympic medals, perhaps mimicking this for a nation less than a 10th of the population isn’t realistic. We could look to our natural strengths, with a sparsely populated landscape & plenty of opportunities off-road, a look at that side of the sport could pay benefits. Non Olympic sports such as downhill mountain biking & cyclo-cross have never had the full focus of a nation, Scotland is surely well placed to adopt that kind of focus? Providing opportunities in areas of cycling that are popular without governing body control, where people are riding bikes because it’s fun, not for any performance reasons. This is likely where the growth in cycling will come from, with cross-over into other disciplines highly likely, off-road development could feed talent into all areas.

Regarding road racing, if the category system was removed (this has riders grouped into ‘British Cycling’ defined categories 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st & Elite, based on points gained in categorised races), then we may have the opportunity to completely remodel the system. Most races could be handicapped, with only regional, national championships & series events (where you would gain your higher rankings for competition overseas), then everybody could be involved in racing, regardless of ability. The weaker riders would learn by working together ahead of the fast groups & there would be no problems with race categories. It may even give us a chance to finally reduce the number of standard distance time trials, allowing riders of all abilities to compete in bunch racing. You’d get the occasional ringer, participation would be high & handicapping may not always work as well as expected, but dare I say it, we could make the bulk of road racing a ‘fun’ thing to do!

In Scotland we have ‘Scottish Cycling’ & ‘Cycling Scotland’, which have some crossover areas. Independence would be an ideal opportunity to combine these organisations with back-to-front names to each other. That way we could have a single organisation which deals with participation, racing, cyclists rights, cycling facilities (leisure, commuting, racing), all bundled together. With a departure from ‘British Cycling’ insurance & systems, this can make a big difference to how the sport of cycling is run, along with making funding a much simpler task. Cycling tourism is another area where growth could be extensive in cycling, we have fantastic scenery, trails & roads, all within relatively easy reach of airports & civilisation. Scotland already has the infrastructure to service additional tourists, wouldn’t it be nice if organisations all worked together to promote cycling, rather than try to put in place plans to syphon off as large a chunk of the cycling budget as possible, it could all go to one organisation with the best interests of cycling in general at its heart.

Athletes Opinions

Politicians & media love to get sports stars involved in political debates, they think it gives validity to whatever viewpoint they have chosen, selectively quoting the athletes or in some cases just making it up. Chris Hoy was a particular example of a very high-profile athlete who they tried to draw-in, regardless of his comments & his desire to say nothing particularly newsworthy on the independence debate. He was mis-quoted & apparently abused online as a result. Most media didn’t report the actual words, so here they are, not exactly the Scot-hating sportsman he was portrayed as in the more sensational press, those who’ve chatted to him will know this already.

What Chris Hoy really said. “You look at the results of the Scottish athletes over the years and we have had some fantastic athletes and some fantastic results. But it would not be quite as simple as just saying, ‘there is a Scottish athlete, they have won a gold medal, therefore that’s a medal for Scotland’. Most of the athletes have had to move to facilities which are often out with Scotland. I had to move down to Manchester because there was not an indoor facility in Scotland. I went to Manchester, trained with the British team and benefited from that. The first thing you have to do if you’re really serious about it is you have to provide the facilities and the coaching infrastructure. In Scotland we have the Institute of Sport and SportScotland there to try to give support to the athletes. There is support but it is not quite as simple as saying ‘we had X number of medalists from these Games, therefore that will translate into the same medals next time’. It will take time. It will weaken the British team obviously if Scotland went separately, and it would be harder for the Scottish athletes, initially, to establish themselves in a new training environment, with new coaches, with a different environment altogether. It’s not to say its impossible but it would just be a different challenge.

As with the recent clambering for quotes from the curlers at the Sochi Games, the media crave some controversy, they need to sell online adverts & papers & require controversial headlines, regardless of the content of the story. The fact is that elite sports people probably care much more about their sport than they do politics, their goal is to perform at the highest level they can.

Do we really expect athletes who are essentially employed by the GB team on the Olympic programme to say anything derogatory about their employers, who have the power to select or de-select them from their ultimate goal? The athletes & staff involved in Olympic sport have to work as a team, so don’t expect to hear anybody bad-mouthing their sporting family, a team which they have no influence whether they’ll be playing for in 2016. This is why you’ll hear more-often-than-not that they’re proud to compete for Scotland & for GB, these people are not daft, they know the importance of team unity for their own success, it’ll not be thrown away on a whim.

It’s a tricky subject for athletes to deal with, but saying that you strive to compete at the highest level you can is usually the best option, I don’t want to see our Commonwealth athletes chased for opinions, but we will see it at Glasgow 2014, lots. With that in mind, I’ll be taking any Glasgow 2014 published athlete quotes with a pinch of salt, until I see the actual interview or a transcript. Don’t write off any athletes you previously respected who are interviewed at the Commonwealth Games, who are reported to display extreme views in any political direction. They may not have said what’s implied, remember people are trying to sell papers & direct you to websites with adverts.

I will be keeping a close eye on any mis-quoting & I’ll publish the transcript or videos in full if I can find them, our riders are there to compete, not to get involved in anybody’s political strategy. I’m not selling you anything & I have no adverts, I have no benefit from page view numbers rising, I hope to tell it as-it-is. History tells us to expect things to get very dirty around that time, from activists & media representing both sides of the referendum debate.

The Gist Of It

Research for this blog piece has really opened my eyes to understanding the process of Olympic participation of a Scottish team, plus gathering facts on the whole independence issue has been very interesting, if somewhat time consuming. Most of the information politicians are shouting about is out there in the public domain, I was previously led to believe that wasn’t the case.

It’s hard to see how Scotland couldn’t manage to have a National Olympic Committee in place in a very short period of time & be recognised as one of the many options open to nations seeking representation at an Olympic Games. If the vote is ‘yes’, then I’m very sure Scotland will be represented at Rio 2016, I can’t see a reason why not based on the information regarding Olympic participation.

As far as I can see, the Olympics isn’t the only thing that Scotland could focus on, a complete restructuring of all Scottish sports bodies could be put in place. This would allow us to start from a blank canvas, the GB team sometimes seems to lack focus on World Championships, this is something a smaller nation really can’t afford to do, an independent Scottish team would have to take any opportunity for medals it could get. Downhill mountain biking & cyclo-cross could both have a big future for Scottish talent development. These could be a focus for a source of success, away from the highly funded track medal machines of GB & Australia.

We could combine mountain biking competition & participation with tourism & leisure facilities as part of a wider plan for getting people active & fighting obesity. We have many ski resorts & locations which have pre-existing chair lifts which can be adapted to carry bikes. With a downhill mountain bike course built at each of these we could expand these resorts seasons into the summer with some careful marketing, providing the local economies in these mountainous areas of Scotland with some extra income during the summer.

The political debate is raging around Scotland, people are talking politics everywhere you go & getting engaged in debate. Sport is often very closely linked to political strategies, you’ll see this go overboard at Glasgow 2014. The competitors & fans just want to see things improve & their nation doing well, the information revealed by the WGSS should provide the information I’m looking for regarding sports funding & opportunities. I’m sure this will be a constantly changing subject, I’ll try to keep on top of it & I do hope ‘Scottish Cycling’ are considering their options & opportunities in the event of independence, but if they are, I fully understand they can’t really tell ‘British Cycling’, or ‘some blogger’.