The Lion of Flanders and Being Aero
It’s the classics season and that means two things: lions and aerodynamics.
subject of “educational” posts I posed a question to social media last week after watching the breakaway in E3 Harelbeke. Four riders escaped from the peloton. Riding together they managed to stay away with Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling) taking the win. Because I’m kinda dorky and always looking to shave a few seconds off my Strava segment to the local Starbucks, I couldn’t help but notice the different riding styles of the quartet and wondered about any benefits and drawbacks each of them had.
In an effort to stay away and be as aero as possible, they were employing various positions on the bike: one guy was in the drops, another riding with his hands on the brake hoods and Sagan was stretched out resting his forearms on the tops of the bars.
Speaking to a few experts in bicycle aerodynamics, as well as poking around some cycling forums, resting your forearms on the tops is the fastest position to slice through the wind. Imagine a wing on an airplane – the front of the wing has a leading edge, slightly bulges and then trails off. This shape is for the wind to have contact with the wing and improves the aerodynamics. Look at an airplane – there are no straight, flat lines. Everything is curved.
However, what I thought was interesting was that keeping the head in a more upright position is better for aerodynamics. You look at America’s five time professional time trial champion David Zabriskie and his back is flat when in time trial position on his bike. Turns out that isn’t a good aerodynamic position. Note that I didn’t say it’s a “bad position” in itself – just not an aero one. Obviously DZ could get up to speed to win the race against the clock. A slightly humped back is more aerodynamic, but that doesn’t mean Zabriskie could curve his back. I know the former Team Garmin-Sharp-POC rider has spent plenty of time in the wind tunnel working on his position and if anything would have made him faster he would have adapted accordingly.
In contrast I was shown a photo of Chris Boardman when he broke the Merckx-style hour record riding with his hands in the drops. Boardman’s elbows are bent at almost 90 degrees. For those who may not realize, the UCI banned numerous aerodynamic positions and limited the allowed position to how we ride a standard road bike.
The Englishman’s position for the hour record was perfect. However, if you take a closer look you can see that the bars are actually a bit longer, allowing him to rest his wrists and a bit of his forearms on the bar. Boardman was definitely working the rules to the limit and who could blame him. Some riders have the physiological capacity to beat the record, but not the mental ability to suffer in the red zone, unable to move or adjust their position.
As we saw Sagan outsprinted his breakaway companions including riders that were wearing aerodynamic helmets. So while being aero is critical