By Lennard Zinn
Lance Armstrong rode a good time trial – downright great for anyone but him – and put himself in a perfect position for the upcoming mountain stages. The question is, was he doing some aerodynamic sandbagging or just not having a great day? And what’s with the guy on the road bike with no helmet beating him?
On this pivotal stage, Armstrong eschewed his super-fast time trial suit with long sleeves and integrated gloves in favor of a short-sleeved suit. He once again used his new one-off flat Deda aluminum integrated stem/aero’ bar. His rear disc appeared not to be a Mavic, although it was hard to tell what it was, and in a straight-on shot, it looked to be a flat disc. In the end, he ended up in second place on the stage and second place overall, at 26 seconds.
It was a very windy day, and, under such conditions, aerodynamic equipment makes even more difference than usual. According to Lance’s aero’ guru, John Cobb, “That prologue suit probably would have saved him 20 seconds over that course. And that time trial bar alone probably cost him 10 seconds versus the Hed carbon aero’ bar (which the Deda was patterned from). That thing (the Deda bar) is really big (in frontal area).” Cobb did not know what rear wheel he chose but said, “If it was a flat disc instead of a lens-shaped one, he gave away a bunch more seconds there, too.”
Cobb had no explanation for these choices, but he said, “Peter at Vision Tech has been mapping Armstrong’s time trials over all of these past four Tours, and he says that his fastest year was 1999, and every year, he has gone slower. Maybe he makes these aerodynamics mistakes because he doesn’t want the yellow jersey yet. There’s a headline for you: ‘Lance stays out of yellow by avoiding aerodynamic technology.’ He sure wouldn’t want to have to defend that jersey all of the way to Mont Ventoux.”
The stage winner, Botero, has a powerful and aerodynamic position on his bike, even though it is a road bike (Kelme chooses to not use special time trial bikes for its riders) with a standard ITM aero’ bar. It shows once again that the rider and his position is all-important, and the bicycle frame itself accounts for very little of the drag, particularly a fairly well-shaped one like his Look carbon bike. Furthermore, Botero’s bare head would seem to be an aerodynamic faux pas, too, but you have to admit that he does have an aerodynamic haircut. Close analysis of his riding style shows that it may be more suited to helmetless riding, too.
He looks down often, holding his head and eyes down for extended periods. With an aero’ helmet, the tail would be sticking way up when he did that. And when his head is down, it is blocking the air that would otherwise be buffeting against his chest. It is a similar riding style to Greg Lemond’s, who also dropped his head frequently and for extended periods. Regarding him, aerodynamic researcher and wheel builder Steve Hed recalls, “Remember when we were in the wind tunnel (after his 1989 Tour win) and Lemond found out that he was faster without a helmet? I think Botero had it right on, but you hate to encourage people to go riding their bikes without helmets.”
Doubtless he would have been more comfortable without it, and the protection of the aero’ lids of Armstrong, Hamilton and Botero is minimal at best.
Laurent Jalabert was once again riding the Canadian Cervélo P3 with Look decals that he chose for the prologue, and the sudden switch may have cost him when he got his flat tire. As Tyler Hamilton said in his prologue diary, Jalabert took it for one ride before the prologue after Hamilton chose not to use for fear of switching so soon before such a big race. It was to Jalabert’s liking, and he stroked it to an ecstatic second place in the prologue. In the Lanester-Lorient time trial, however, his greenness with the bike may have showed when he got a rear flat. He was not able to get the rear Fir disc out, nor was his mechanic. He flung the bike against the car and took a spare bike, but by then his motivation was gone.
Time trial bikes in general are often not easy to get the rear wheels out of, as they fit in a tight space behind the seat tube. One would figure, though, that Armstrong would be able to change his rear wheel quickly, since he rides his time trial bike four days a week or so in training and must consequently have had to deal with plenty of flat tires. It was obvious that neither Jalabert nor his mechanic had practiced that maneuver with the Cervélo, thus breaking one of the cardinal rules, namely, not to use anything in an important race that you are not extremely familiar with. For the mechanic to jump out with a wheel instead of a bike at that time was lunacy.
As for the ONCE speedsters, Joseba Beloki demonstrated how to wear an aero’ helmet, keeping his head steady and the tail of the helmet forming a single smooth unit with his back. Abraham Olano seemed to not be too serious about it, leaving off his shoe covers – a sure loss of many seconds over that long of a course with the feet churning in the wind. The race leader, Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano pedaled beautifully and held his position well. His dropped-down hands, though, were not helping his aerodynamics. And how he stays comfortable pounding away for that long in an aero’ position on an unpadded solid carbon Flite saddle is beyond the imagination of most riders.