Glasgow 2014 TT Route?

Click for detailed PDF route.
Click on map for detailed PDF route.

The McLennan Arch looks a most likely venue to host the riders start ramp for the cycling time trial of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. This Glasgow Green landmark will provide an atmospheric launch site for the riders as they tackle the unexpected course, it could also provide a little shelter if we get some ‘unseasonal’ rain in Glasgow in late July.

The Event

31st July is the date, with riders competing between 10am & 3:30pm to avoid any clash with rush hour, on what are normally some very busy roads. The official route hasn’t been confirmed yet, but if you click on the map you’ll see a PDF file that’s been lurking on the Scottish Government site for some time.

1. The Start & False Flat (to km7)

On leaving Glasgow Green, the riders will turn right onto the Saltmarket, passing Billy Bilsland’s bike shop on the left, which will be doing good business that day. We head north to meet the Gallowgate at Glasgow Cross, a stones throw away from one of Glasgow’s main shopping roads, Argyle Street. Heading east along the Gallowgate until a left turn just before the Forge Shopping Centre, then it’s north over Duke Street & onto Cumbernauld Road, where the riders should be able to start settling down into a rhythm. This takes us onto the boulevard of the old A80, which is slightly uphill all the way, could fool a few riders as it looks like a big fast road. As we cross over the M8 & reach Hogganfield Loch the most likely scenario is to take a sharp left turn onto Royston road.

The course will have been steadily rising to this point, from a start at sea level, we’re now at the highest point of the course after only 7km, peaking around 100m. So hardly a flat TT for these guys, which may rule out riders such as Michael Hutchison from a medal & allow the World Tour riders to shine. It will guarantee a fast finish. The road previous to the sharp left we just negotiated is mostly covered on the return stretch, there are some long fast shallow descents back into Glasgow Green. A rider could easily blow themselves to pieces on this initial sector of the TT, it will require a measured ride & a curtailment on the big event enthusiasm for some.

2. The Lumpy North Segment (to km17.5)

Following Robroyston road round, we eventually come to a big roundabout, with a hopefully well traffic controlled large Asda. The road rolls past housing estates & into open countryside for the next few km’s, with views over the Campsie Fells to the left through your visor. This is quite a sticky up-and-down road, still not ideal for the big gear testers, you can expect plenty of retired clubmen to be on these small slopes, enjoying a Thursday out on the bike with their pals & watching a great event unfold in front of them.

The sweeping bends & small inclines lead the way to suburban Lenzie, where we take a left turn, followed closely by a right turn onto the fast Lindsaybeg Road section. Which takes us up to the additional segment I expect only the men to ride.

3. Men Only Segment (to km24.5)

On a small rise, we turn left onto an uncategorised road called Burnbrae Road, this is a sudden change for the riders, we move from wide fast roads, to technical single track farm roads. This is getting quite interesting now. I’m assuming that the different distances the men & women ride will be decided by the inclusion of this segment for the mens TT only.

This section consists of some short, but relatively steep (for a TT) inclines, guaranteed to steal some strength from the legs. If I managed to avoid work that day, I’d watch the men’s event on this section, preferably on the steepest sections, you’re sure to witness some pain.

As we continue & skirt Moodiesburn, the roads return to the wider, more open roads we saw on segment 2. The terrain hasn’t stopped rolling yet, it’s still a hard time trial. We detour through Chryston & then head north again to reach the point we originally turned left onto the segment.

4. The Stepps (to km28.5 for men, to km21.5 for women)

We turn left onto a smaller road again, this is more of what we’re used to so far, rolling hills & lots of changes in direction. The wind may become an issue for pacing strategy, there really is very little consistency of direction, which should create a worthy winner, this is a proper time trial. We speed towards Stepps & the A80 once more, to return at ‘full gas’ to Glasgow for the finale.

5. Big Gear to Glasgow (to km 38.5km for men, to km31.5km for women)

This is where you’ll be hanging onto to the biggest gear your legs will manage, all the way to Glasgow along Cumbernauld Road & following the same route we climbed on the way out to Hogganfield Loch in segment 1.

This is going to be a very fast final segment, when we return on The Gallowgate in the city centre, we detour from our original route & turn left onto Moir Street, then onto London Road. This takes us into Glasgow Green, past the Peoples Palace & to the finish. I’m assuming we’re using the same finish as the road race (& last years British Champs) as it will be ‘dressed’ for the event anyway.

The Gist Of It

This is a very interesting course, not what we would have expected, especially since what was imagined to be the trial-run was near Stewarton last year. The road is constantly changing gradient & direction, there’s a really good mix of different types of roads. While the road race course showboats Glasgow landmarks, the time trial course shows a different side, it looks to have been decided more on sporting terms than blatant marketing. It’s a bold move, but to me, it looks like a very good choice, viewers around the world watching the events will get their glimpse of the mountains from afar, it could be good TV. I’m giving this a thumbs-up, although, I don’t really know if it’s the real course, we should find out in the near future, but it looks highly likely.

What’s certain is that a UK style motorway tester won’t win this, it looks like a route for a World Tour style rider. I’ll put my neck on the line here & go for a podium of Scotland, Wales & Australia. I’ve got a feeling David Millar & Gerraint Thomas will do very well in this type of course & event.

Additional Info: 1 – Another proposal HERE

Comparing the Incomparable

Standard distance courses measured in miles, (a unit rarely used by cyclists worldwide), on flat roads (a road type rarely found in Scotland), using expensive special time trial bikes (a steed rarely found in the stable of anything other than a ‘tester’ or a tri-antelope). Time trials, how did we get here & how do we deal with it?

(I wrote a piece on how we can go about modernising TT’s & moving them into a lower age bracket ‘A Demographic Time Trial‘, this blog is some explanation as to how I came to that conclusion.)

Era-Change

Time trialling should be an ideal entry platform to the sport, theoretically it’s a simple concept, ride a certain course as fast as you can, anybody can do that on any old bike, yes? This perhaps was what happened in the past, I’d venture to put a specific date on when things changed, pre-1989. We saw Greg LeMond win the Tour by 8 seconds in 1989, his eight second advantage over Laurent Fignon was mainly due to some aerodynamic technological advances. From that point on, your club rider realised that by simply purchasing a pair of funny handlebars, they could gain a good advantage over their former self. Previously we’d seen some glimpses of the future, with riders like Francesco Moser used aerodynamic technology (among other things) to gain ‘free speed’, but those technologies were mostly out of reach to anybody else, tri-bars were so much cheaper than a ridiculously large disc wheel & gave a much bigger speed advantage. In previous times the fashion had been to drill holes in everything, resulting is presumably much more turbulence & churning of the air over components with non smooth surfaces, but as of the 1989 Tour, we had now entered the ‘Aero-Era’, smooth surfaces & more emphasis on making the human body create less drag rather than look at individual components.

Time trialling in the UK was still mostly on spoked wheels & drop bars pre-90, the more advanced had ‘lo-pro’ bikes, with a normal sized back wheel & a 26″ or even 24″ front wheel & cowhorn handlebars. Some riders were mounting the front brake on the back of the forks, running bladed spokes on as light a wheel as possible. Had they had wind tunnels back then, you’d have seen riders not going so low, but being more stretched out. Lo-pro’s disappeared after the rules changed, where both wheels had to be the same size, so most frames stayed as 700c (27″) front & rear, with only some triathlon specific bikes adopting 650c (26″) front & rear, but those are rarely seen in time trialling.
Such has the sport changed since 1990, that it has become an aero arms race, with riders deeming it necessary to spend much more £ on a time trial bike than a road racer would on their race bike. Aero frames, deep section carbon front wheels, carbon disc rear wheels, carbon aero seat pins, bars with teardrop profiles, aero helmets etc, the list is endless.
The mould breaker, who influenced things even further was Graeme Obree, I don’t think we fully appreciate the impact he really had on the ‘Aero-Era’, he went against common perception & developed the two fastest positions in history, like many musicians are influenced by certain artists, Obree was the artist who influenced pro riders & helped develop an industry. He demonstrated some of the advantages that somebody with modest means could obtain to make themselves faster, so much so that most things he did were banned & it’s likely that he sparked the UCI’s current obsession with conformity & stickers, reducing innovation & increasing the likelihood that most race bikes look more or less the same. Robert Millar’s latest article which appears in Rouleur issue 41 takes a shot at the standard conformist black carbon bike.

A Changing Sport

The ‘Aero Era’ changed time trialling, it became an arms race, an expensive side of the sport if you wanted to be competing at the sharp end of the results. Previously (pre ’90) you could have competed perfectly well on your road bike, now you needed a specific TT bike. This is where things started getting distorted & time trialling became something that roadmen didn’t venture into as much as they used to, the usefulness of TT’s became less as you were in a different position to the drop bar style you would adopt for a breakaway. The two disciplines began moving further away from each other. The past had seen some of our best roadmen regularly taking part in time trials, this rarely happens now, our Elite, 1st or 2nd category riders are a breed rarely seen at a domestic TT. This needn’t be the case, but having more courses & ‘rules’ suitable to a crossover market would make a difference, i.e. non aero-bar TT’s, on road bikes, also encouraging the sportive type rider too.

The PB

Personal bests are really a very odd thing for me to comprehend, the variables are so great, getting a PB has a huge element of luck about it, rather than necessarily your best performance.

For example, one twitter user who has been riding some 10’s recently is @MaKluskie, he tweeted: “Best ever average power output for a 10 today @338W but didn’t translate to PB. A minute slower than last week #windy windy.”

This shows that huge differences, such as a full minute time loss, even though your body performed better, result in a slower time, the PB is a moving target, it’s value is very limited if it exists at all. We really are comparing the incomparable when we look at times on different courses, or even the same courses in slightly different conditions, with the widespread use of power meters, we can prove that you did more work but you come away with a slower time. So next time somebody who you consider your equal tells you that their best time is a minute quicker than yours, they may just have had a favourable ‘float day’ on a certain course. PB’s are not an absolute, they are a mix of luck with the weather, sometimes even dubious ‘luck’ with high traffic volumes on a dragstrip course. As an example, I reduced my PB by nearly 1min 30s over 10 miles by riding a course down south, which was probably my last flat TT, as the experience put me off them for life, it was a virtual motorway, not somewhere I’d ever like to ride my bike again, especially when I saw some older plump gentlemen putting out times that would have won races north of the border, the reality of the post ’90 TT scene was clearly evident, an aero arms race & ever more traffic heavy courses.

Placings by Omnium

If PB’s are something that we know are based on favourable weather & how much traffic flow is on a course, how do we, or should we, compare performances? One of the main draws of TT’s to some riders is the PB chasing, which although false, gives some kind of carrot, but may incentivize something which doesn’t result in a progressive & inclusive area of the sport. Surely there is another way?

One method I could throw out there is to take an idea from track racing, the omnium, and use it to give an indication of TT performances. In the omnium the winner gets one point, the second placed rider gets 2 points, third 3 points etc. So in TT’s, we could allocate season long points, then divide that number by the amount of events that are ridden. It’s not particularly complicated compared to vets standard times, BAR averages of averages & such things that are currently used, so we’d be simplifying time trials, along with adopting the UCI masters designations, so we’d effectively have 5 year age groups too for everybody above 30 (or is it 35 now?).

With the TT omnium system, we’d directly compare performances against other riders, rather than hoping that you’ve chosen to enter the correct course on the correct night. So lets take the scenario of 2 fast riders, who are battling against each other every week. So if we take the omnium points & divide them by the events ridden, we get an effective average placing, so the lower the number, the higher the ranking. If a rider only enters one event per season & wins that, obviously their average omnium score is 1, so we’d probably start scoring at, say 4 events, to make sure there’s some consistancy.We could develop a system where we get an average placing, rather than chasing a PB. This would equate to all courses, so you wouldn’t have to stick to one type of event, you could improve your average omnium placing across several different events, or different types of event. This may result in a national ranking system based on TT performances across all types of course, perhaps removing the need for dragstrip courses on roads you’d not normally want to ride your bike on? At the end of the year, we’d have a national TT omnium champion, who has consistently performed against their rivals, rather than the current BAR system, which is completely out of date with the reality of what TT’s people are actually riding.

Opening Up The Sport

An omnium scored ranking would allow different types of event to take place, such an non-aero retro time trials, without tri-bars & disc wheels. This would allow riders who hadn’t invested large amounts of money in ‘fast’ kit to score low points on their road bike, road riders could enter these time trials & also get a relative TT ranking. Could this possibly make TT’s more popular? I’m not against TT’s, but I’m not comfortable with them in their current format, we could really open up their appeal & a relative ranking system such as this removes the need for incredibly fast average speed courses, we’re measuring performances against performances. The older rider can use the UCI masters system to rank their performances against their peers too, so we could have each age category battling against each other in omnium ranking, rather than outright time. Team performances could also be measured with this system, so a team of three in a championship would be ranked by the lowest combined score of their placings in an event, rather than combined time, again comparing performances rather than one outstanding time. After all, if you’re beaten by one place in a time trial, does it really matter if that was by one second, or sixty.

Maybe it’s time to rethink things & allow this area of the sport to develop & evolve as it decides, rather than searching out courses that are getting driven more & more towards high volume traffic semi-motorways. It could be time to find a better comparative measure of performance, this is just one way of doing it, but it could be one solution for time trialling in a modern world & make it more attractive to all riders, not just those with TT rigs & funny hats. Keeping TT’s in Scotland under the British Cycling insurance blanket could result in a very different & varied TT scene to that which exists south of the border outside UCI rules, but with their own even stranger ones, I know which I’d prefer.

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Breaking Wind

I’m often irritated by reading some very uninformed & aggressive forum trolls ideas on what makes riders fast in a time trial, the bit that bothers me most is the complete lack of understanding of aerodynamic theory. This isn’t too hard to grasp, at it’s most basic, something small creates less drag, while something big creates more. But it gets complicated when we start looking at cross-sectional area & body lengths, here’s some busted myths…

I don’t go fast enough to use any aero kit.

Aye you do, even if you’re ground speed is low, you most likely race in winds blowing faster than you can ride, so you’re combined air speed is at a significant level where small aero advantages will make a big difference. It’s all too often you see riders off their aero bars while riding into a headwind, this is the worst thing you can do, this is precisely the point that you need to be the most aerodynamic, regardless of your overall average speed.

Get aero in a headwind, think about air speed rather than road speed for aerodynamics.

Why are pro riders going faster in time trials when they lose weight?

It’s not hard to understand, a smaller object requires less power to travel through air at the same speed as a larger object. A larger object has more wind resistance. So if we take one ‘sample rider’ weighing 80kg, then reduce his weight to 75kg, will he be faster on the flat? The answer is undoubtably yes. But you’re now thinking that it only counts if a rider reduces that weight as fat content, incorrect. The rider can reduce the weight as a mixture of fat & muscle, making their limb & torso cross sections smaller, while not reducing their overall fat percentage, here’s how.

Lets say this ‘sample rider’ is pushing 400 watts during a time trial at 80kg, 400W isn’t too much in muscular terms, but it’s a lot in aerobic terms. Your average skinny youth rider is perfectly capable of producing a wattage much greater than this in a sprint, so that in itself displays the required muscular physique to produce over 400W. So if our ‘sample rider’ reduces their weight to 75kg (for example if they were already at a very low body fat percentage), then they have lost 5kg but still have plenty of muscular power left to produce the required wattage.

Aerobic power output does not require big muscles, smaller muscles have less drag, an endurance rider can lose muscle and still go just as fast aerobically. Similarly, if you’re a chubby cyclist, you could record some much better results from eating less cakes & drinking less lemonade.

If I go as low as possible, I’ll be quicker?

Also not true.  As the hip to torso angle decreases, so does power generated, so a rider who’s front end is crouched as low as possible is losing power in that position. This results in a play off between power & aerodynamics, something that is going to be very hard to replicate unless you have access to the measurement resources of a pro rider, so you’re going to have to estimate it yourself. There’s also going to be physical limitations here, Jonathan Vaughters has said that his pro rider, Dan Martin, has bad hip flexion, so will be unable to attain a very aerodynamic time trial position, potentially ruling him out of winning grand tours with a large amount of time trialling in the future. There’s also the physical limitations involved here, get too low and your thighs will start to hit your ribcage. It’s all about finding a ‘sweet spot’ that is correct for you as an individual, a compromise between aerodynamics & power generation.

Low isn’t always best, everybody is different, so it’ll take a bit of work for each person to find their optimum position, don’t try to copy somebody else exactly, but certainly take some tips from photo’s & videos of pro’s with a similar body type to yourself who have access to wind tunnels.

I can go just as fast as somebody else who weighs the same as me with the same power output.

Maybe you can & maybe you can’t, some things are just down to genetics. If you are the same weight & height as somebody else, but possess a longer back & shorter legs, you may have a lower aerodynamic drag. A simple rule is that longer objects along the direction of movement through air cause less turbulence, so a rider with a long body like Wiggins for example has a genetic aerodynamic advantage, he has short arms relative to his size and can also tuck those away easier as everybody has to conform to the UCI positional rules which advantage & disadvantage certain body types. So if you have access to a power meter, you may be able to find your optimum position by doing some field testing, but it has to be very closely controlled, likely impossible to do the estimates on different days, or even different conditions on the same day, a very subjective & complicated area to step into.

A time-trial bike is quicker than a road bike.

Again, this statement isn’t true in itself. The statement should be, ‘a correct position on a time trial bike is faster than a correct position on drop bars.’ I’ve been really shocked by the awful positions of some riders on tri-bars from early season Scottish race photos, some actually assuming worse positions on tri-bars than holding the tops of the bars, yet they assume they are ‘aero’ as they are using aero kit. What people forget is that aero kit in itself isn’t aerodynamic as such, it is used as a tool to get YOU more aerodynamic. You can spend all the money you like and bolt on all sorts of stuff, but without some thought & correct positioning, you could be better off without it.

Spend some time to get your position correct, don’t just bolt on kit & hope for the best.

A constant heart rate gives the fastest time.

As far as heart rate goes, it’s a historic measurement, it measures the effect on your body of what you did to it a few minutes ago, so in short time trials it is virtually useless for the first few minutes until you reach a plateau. At that point, if you encounter a headwind and you maintain the same speed, your heart rate monitor will tell you all about it, just a bit too late. Another effect is something called cardiac-drift, where your heart rate rises over time with a constant power output, so if you maintain a constant heart rate over a time trial, your will be producing less & less wattage as time goes on.

Heart rate isn’t an ideal guide to riding a time trial, but can be used wisely if you’re aware of its limitations.

A constant power output gives the fastest time.

You’ll not be happy about this if you’ve just bought a power meter & you think that if you find your FTP (Functional Threshold Power) and ride at exactly that then you’ll produce the fastest time possible, that’s not what will happen.

Every race will have slightly different gradients, slightly different wind conditions, different weather, traffic etc, there’s plenty of variables. It’s been shown that if there is a small hill with a subsequent small descent, then it’s best to power over that slightly and recover on the downhill (you’ll always find it much harder to maintain high wattage downhill, so it’s almost an enforced rest). It’s also been shown that the differences in power outputs when riding in a tailwind are much smaller relative to the difference in speed you gain, so shoving out a load of watts in a tailwind won’t necessarily gain you that much time. The opposite is true in a headwind, where large time gains can be gained through smaller changes in wattage.

So for those using power meters there are some very specific strategies you could use to achieve the fastest time possible by varying your wattage throughout your ride depending on gradient & wind conditions. An absolutely constant power output is never likely to give you the best result, it’s worth experimenting to see what works best for you.

Aerodynamics is irrelevant when climbing.

Take the Tour of the Campsies time trial as an example, the fastest riders can be seen climbing ‘The Crow’ on the tri-bars, Arthur Doyle is a prime example of this, look over some recent photo’s if you don’t believe me. If you require heavier aero kit for the rest of the ride, you may as well use it on the inclines. We can also see that pro riders like Richie Porte used tri-bars during Paris-Nice to win the Col d’Eze time trial. Porte opted for this setup over the lightest possible bike he could use, he did this because it proved faster, I trust Sky’s boffins to be able to calculate this kind of thing correctly.

Again, there’s more to this than meets the eye, pro riders are climbing significantly quicker than amateur riders, so there will be a larger effect the faster the climbing speed. Any rider will gain an advantage from using tri-bars & aero kit on anything but a straight out hill climb.

Conclusion

Hopefully I’ve given some riders something to think about, I really hope I don’t see those kinds of photos from early season again, with riders who look like they’ve not even spent 20 minutes setting up their TT bikes correctly. Put you bike on a turbo trainer, set up a mirror so you can see your position and aim to get ‘in the tube’, i.e. everything apart from your legs into an imaginary horizontal tube. The smaller the imaginary tube you can fit your body head & arms into, will generally prove to be the most aerodynamic, but remember not to go too extreme or you’ll reduce your power output too much. It will take some time to perfect, but it’s worth much more time to you than buying the next very expensive bit of aerodynamic kit and not using it optimally, or even worse, it slowing you down through poor setup.