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.

 

199 Laps (pt5)

Embed from Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Outrageous Hour Record Speculation below:

 

199 Laps (pt2)

I was blogging previously about Wiggins goal being the Hour record, rather than the Worlds TT, I think I’m more sure now.

Previous blog here: 199 Laps (pt1)

Behaviour

From what I’m seeing in the Tour of Britain, Wiggins doesn’t look like somebody who’s making the types of efforts we’d expect from somebody peaking & tapering for a World Championship. Wiggins is riding incredibly well, but all his efforts appear to be at or near threshold, apart from a bit of grimacing following Dan Martin & Quintana in the rain early on. It appears much earlier in the training programme than a just over a week before a major event. We’ve seen Wiggins disappear to training camps before major objectives in order to follow Sky’s strict training plans without the influence of other riders during races. So we’ve seen total control before, this time we see him riding a stage race in the period we’d expect to see him doing some specific training.

Yesterday, Wiggins took control on the lower slopes of Haytor leading up to the finale of the stage taken in impressive style by Simon Yates, who’s reportedly joining Orica Greenedge with his brother Adam. Rather than sitting on the hoods, Wiggins was riding on the drops, I immediately thought ‘muscular adaptation’. If I’m correct in this, we’ll see Wiggins adopt the drop bar position on more climbs, this is how you train your muscles to operate under load in an extreme position, like the Hour record. Wiggins looked very aero, would be interesting if any photo detail spotters can see any change in his position recently, bar width, position etc, as if he’s adapting to an Hour position, there would likely be some recent differences.

What to make of this?

There’s not much evidence, but a season goal of the TT Worlds doesn’t look like the actual goal to me, this weeks focus doesn’t appear to suggest that. It may be more likely that the Tour of Britain was a goal along the way to the Hour, with a medal in the TT Worlds as a bonus. The Hour is very controllable, he can do it whenever he likes, he can hide away & train specifically for it, then highlight the opening of the London velodrome with a record. If we look at it in ‘Sky’ way, it’s what they’re used to doing. The Hour is a simpler goal than racing against other riders, the target is set, nobody is going to go for it before him, if he can produce the power he can break the record. To get his confidence back, this is a goal that can be planned, if he gets ill he can put it back a week & keep it quiet from the press until the date is nearly upon us, could it be before Christmas?

Why wouldn’t he go for it?

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199 Laps

When a rider such as Wiggins decides that a weight penalty of (reportedly) an additional 8kg is for winning the Worlds time trial, when he’s beaten the opposition at his low le Tour weight, we know there’s something else going on, could it be a UCI record attempt?

Recent Patterns

We saw Brad winning the Tour de Pologne TT by some margin, this was over a distance of 37km, it took him approx 47 minutes, in this event he beat Taylor Phinney by a margin of 1min 14seconds. Roll on a couple of weeks & we see him finish 5th but beat Phinney by the much reduced margin of 2 seconds in the Eneco Tour, but in a much shorter & punchier 13km effort. When we wonder why he’s putting on some extra weight right now, the answer could be glaringly obvious, he’s preparing his body to withstand an hour & 400 velodrome bankings at 50kmh, it’s very hard to do that if you’re skin & bones like the 2012 Tour Wiggo. I’ve blogged previously about how reduced weight leads to reduced cross-section of arms, body, legs etc, resulting in reduced aerodynamic drag, we know Wiggins can TT with the best at his Tour winning weight, so putting that weight back on (as muscle) can mean only one thing to me, a dual objective to salvage & make his season exceptional, to bow out on a glittering career as I’ve suggested previously. I think he’s on for a pop at the UCI Hour Record, to write his name into that record book too.

The Worlds TT is 57.2km, he’s doing that in full aero kit, so the comparable time could be just over the hour, the double objective is so close physiologically, that it would be an opportunity to miss. This could explain why he’s not so good against the opposition over the shorter distance like in the Eneco TT, he’s possibly not training for that distance at all, so going into the higher zone over a shorter distance isn’t going to show him at his best, CP16 Versus CP60 for those power nerds (including me).

Why Muscle?

If you’ve ever ridden behind a Derny at 50kmh on a 250m track for a few minutes, you’ll understand what it takes to do that for an hour. The first visit to the track after you’ve been riding road for a few months is usually quite painful, not just in the legs, but arms, hands, neck & back, the G-Forces you encounter are something you just don’t have to deal with on the road, it’s a different sport.

To counter that you’ll find a lot of the to track riders carry a bit extra muscle in order to ensure they can deal with the additional forces the track applies to you, when riders leave the track to ride road again, they try to lose that extra upper body bulk, it’s not doing anything to help you in road races, in fact, quite the opposite. We can assume that his body fat percentage will be as low as possible to reduce drag, he could potentially go even lower as the temperature is carefully controlled in a velodrome record attempt, there’s no risk of getting chilled.

Where & When?

London would be the incredibly likely venue for a Wiggins Hour attempt, it’s due to open for public on March 4th, a precursor to that could be a Brad Wiggins Hour attempt, otherwise it would likely be Manchester. I can’t see him missing the opportunity to perform in front of his ‘home’ crowd at London, if he goes for it I’d expect it to be London.

The Worlds time trial is on 23rd September, I doubt that an attempt would be within 2 weeks of that, there’s probably a fair amount of adaptation to do, to get from tri-bars to drop bars & adapt to riding those for an hour at that speed, it can’t be done overnight. He can use this time to also reduce weight & possibly train exclusively at a currently ‘closed to public’ velodrome after the Worlds?

The Record

The current record is 49.7 km, so he’ll need to do about 199 laps to beat it, the magical 50km & 200 laps in one hour is right there as the big carrot. The UCI somewhat ruined the Hour Record when they introduced their current bizarre rules which negated years of technological developments & put the Hour Record back a few years. They wanted everybody compared to Eddy Merckx, but as we know, historical comparisons are pretty useless as there are so many different factors, sports science, diet, aerodynamics etc. So wouldn’t it be lovely if Wiggins, along with going for the ‘Athletes Hour’, also went for the UCI’s ‘Best Human Effort’ record of 56.375 km (held by Chris Boardman), which allows riders to use what would be a UCI legal pursuit bike & position.

For the ‘Athletes Hour’, Wiggins would have to use a non aero frame, shallow rims, a helmet within an agreed standard & dropped bars. So we could see an additional marketing opportunity for Pinarello to produce a special ultimate steel bike, “As used by Bradley Wiggins”. If this record attempt is actually going ahead & not just a figment of my imagination, the bike probably already exists, in BC’s secret squirrel lab & Brad’s already been in the wind tunnel on it.

What Will Happen Next?

If it’s on, you’ll not hear about it, I think they’ll wait until just after the Worlds and announce something then, possibly in October. I could be very wrong, but I find it hard to work out why else Brad would be putting on extra weight when he can potentially beat the likes of Cancellara at his Tour weight. It’ll all come out in the wash, but it would be a fitting finale to his season, it would turn an entire year of disappointments right around & leave him in the position to move on or stick out another year of classics & other objectives.

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