Tour de France 2016 Analysis – Week 1

Cavendish pips Greipel, Stage 3, 2016

With le Tour having finished I think it is opportune to dig into a few things I noticed. This won’t be a stage by stage blow by blow, rather – analysis of segments where equipment (potentially) made a critical difference.

As a general comment, it was nice this year not to see continual massive pileups in the first week (the loss of Contador was a blow) – the drama has come from hard racing and close finishes. It’s the close finishes that I’m most interested in analysing…

Marginal Gains – Clothing

For general guidelines on cycling clothing and how to wear it I would refer readers to ‘The Rules’ – mostly they’re about trying to look like a Pro Euro Cyclist, ideally of the Eddy Merckx era. And indeed, I possess appropriate items (steel Eddy Merckx bike with Campagnolo {of course}, Campagnolo woolen jersey and cycling cap etc) to not embarrass myself too much when judged by ‘The Rules’.

However, this is Speedtheory (like Sparta but without the leather) and around here we care about what is fastest with aesthetic considerations relegated to a secondary concern (actually that applies to anything I wear). I shall attempt to avoid Lacedaemonian* brevity in explaining what matters when the focus is on speed.

Marginal Gains – Helmets

One of the most popular speed oriented purchases, though often hotly debated. Helmets rank very high on the speed per dollar (or currency of your choice) scale. However, what is not always appreciated is that the fastest helmet varies by individual.

Recent years have seen the price of new aero helmets skyrocket (as with many other cycling products), partially thanks to brands wanting to establish a ‘halo’ product and partly because the nature of the market has dictated a lot more R&D. For a brand that previously created helmets based on aesthetics it is an expensive proposition to recover the cost of CFD and wind tunnel testing. Additionally the last couple of years have seen the advent of aero focussed road helmets which are a useful new option on the market.

Marginal Gains Monday – Fuel Carrying

If you are riding for a long time you will need to ingest fluid and or food at some point if you wish to avoid finding yourself in a very sad place* – or if you wish to maximise your performance. The other aspect to maximising your performance when it comes to fuelling is choosing where to carry your nutrition.

Triathletes are notorious for loading their bikes with all manner of paraphernalia – it should come as no great surprise that all that extra stuff can catch the wind and slow you down. A bit of careful thought can both mitigate risk (of losing your nutrition) and minimise the impact on aero performance from carrying nutrition.

Marginal Gains Monday – Transmission

Actually on Monday this week, how novel.

An often neglected area on the bike is the transmission – Pedals, Bottom Bracket, Chain and Rear Derailleur – the parts that transmit the massive watts you’re pumping into the pedals to the rear wheel and thus to the road.

There are gains to be had here too and not necessarily expensive ones either.

Marginal Gains – Tyre Selection Part Two

The long awaited (since last week) sequel to the not so gripping (as I didn’t cover traction as an aspect of tyre performance) first instalment of tyre selection factors. This week I’ll focus on Rolling Resistance and the combine the factors discussed into an overall view.

Unfortunately I hit a snag with some rolling resistance testing last night which delayed completion of the article (some people sleep at night – I hop on the rollers to test tyres).

Marginal Gains – Tyre Selection Part One

As Monday was a public holiday my wife suggested that this weeks article should be called ‘Tiny Tweaks Tuesday’ but we’ll stick with ‘Marginal Gains’ for the sake of consistency. However, this weeks topic is not really marginal – Tyre selection is one of your biggest opportunities to gain (or throw away) performance.

The three key characteristics for race tyres are:

  • Rolling Resistance
  • Aerodynamics
  • Weight
  • Durability

For this week I’ll cover Aerodynamics, Weight and Durability. Part Two will cover Rolling resistance and the overall picture.

Marginal Gains Monday – Handlebars

On the face of it, not a particularly exciting topic – bars tend to be a bit forgotten as riders focus on the obvious items like frame, wheels and groupset. But bar choice can make a real difference to performance so it’s worth paying attention to them. Logically they have the potential for significance as they’re one of the first parts of the bike to hit the wind.

Obviously there is a significant difference in shape and setup between road and TT bars, but the principles by which they are (should be) selected are the same.

Marginal Gains Monday – Wheel Performance

Wheels are possibly the most visible performance oriented change you can make to your bike. Unfortunately there seems to be a general assumption that more expensive and/or lighter equals faster.

I’ve also heard athletes quoting outlandish figures for the speed benefits of race wheels and the maxim I mentioned last week – the terrible advice that it is better to put race wheels on a road bike for Ironman than to buy a TT bike. So today I shall look at the impact of wheel choice.

Marginal Gains Monday – Overview

So I jumped the gun a bit last time charging straight into discussing a specific topic. Obviously I had aerodynamics on the brain thanks to the recent wind tunnel session. This time I’ll step back a bit and outline what I intend to discuss over the next few weeks.

There are a lot of claims made about the efficacy of various bits of equipment – to the point that athletes stop believing in the science of speed as the marketing claims rarely eventuate in the real world. My aim is to give a realistic view of the significance of various elements.