Episode #69 – Next Level Tech: A Peek into Cutting Edge PRO Technology

Episode #69 – Next Level Tech: A Peek into Cutting Edge PRO Technology

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PRO Directors of Sports Science are digging further into the details to win bike races. This episode digs into the idea of the durable cyclist through the data of crashing and weather.

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An interesting transition is being made by most PRO cycling teams. Science has played a part of PRO cycling is now stretching into topology, aerodynamic drag, biomechanics. But from what has been the realm of specialists, is now moving towards generalists – people like Dr. Allen Lim are the perfect example of a exercise physiologist that covers a lot of other ground. From straight up coaching to nutrition and most things in between. Super gurus like Lim and Garmin’s aerodynamicist/sports scientist Robby Ketchell are changing the way each part of cycling is dissected and put back together.

Vaughters is quoted as saying “I would put my hand in the fire on this one. I can guarantee that Robby has produced more marginal gains in one person than Sky’s entire marginal gains team has in many years. I’ve never met anybody as smart as him.”

Whether that’s a competitive brag or the real deal – Ketchell and Lim are changing how we all look at the sport. And while the traditionalist in me can only cringe at the awkward conversations, and strange looks from the Euro teams, there’s no doubt they are getting the job of winning races done – and these methods are contributing heavily.

Nothing is out of bounds with someone that has the confidence and knowledge and skills to pull off new ways of structuring riders’ seasons to charting wind patterns. Are we in danger of letting this thinking sink into the Semi-Pro? Is this just another form of doping? Will the technological advantage be only experienced by a few?

Those questions to me are not what we as Semi-Pros should be asking – our sport is not the same as the PROs. The question we should be asking is how can we use these ideas for our own riding. One such idea that I find fascinating is the idea of the durability of a cyclist.

This covers individual areas of training and cycling that we have covered in detail. But taking a step back and looking at how you are able to perform with all these different factors and obstacles in front of you. It’s hard to quantify – but it is coming.

The obstacles that people don’t look at are the uncontrollable circumstances. Crashes, flat tyres, dropping a chain – any sort of thing that is mechanical, but these things are interrelated.

You could have a mechanical failure that causes a flat tyre or that the peloton is going to split and you are in the wrong position. You can analyse the uncontrollable and unpredicted – things like crashes – and learn from it, so that you are better prepared for the next set of circumstances.

It’s about being able to bounce back, or even feed off these events. Being durable is being able to overcome all those uncontrollable conditions and still perform well.

In order to quantify these events it takes a lot of analysis and the ability to have a lot of data and information and make sense of it all quickly. Two examples of being durable in uncontrollable situations include crashes and weather. gathering data before, during and after uncontrollable situations is changing the way the PROs race, and prepare for races.

Let’s dig in a bit deeper to see what is going on behind the scenes of your average PRO race.

Crashing Performance Prediction

Sometimes you can crash and you are back on your feet before you even know what has happened. Racing requires an intense amount of mental concentration, no matter how good you get at riding within centimetres of other people at fifty or sixty kilometres an hour, you can never, ever 100% trust that the person in front of you is going to do exactly what you expect.

Unexpected physical impact is not something the body takes lightly, and sometimes the way it deals with everything that has just happened is to delay the reaction until you are part way through going through the motions of being back in the race. You have to be able to assess the damage and make a recovery. It’s not always physically evident what the real effect of a crash is, and there’s no way to measure the stress and concern that is experienced when crashing. Analysing a data file from the race you can show how the effects of the chase back after the crash and the knock itself hinder performance.

In the analysis, it’s possible to track the impact of a crash throughout the entire race, something that someone looking in from the outside would perhaps have had no concept of previously. This adds up to a rare and detailed insight into the what a crash does to a riders performance. Until recently the technology hasn’t existed to communicate what is really happening in a race.

Being able to get the technology amongst the riders, and even on their bikes is finally opening up an entirely new world of communication, where not only can the viewer be taken closer to the action, but also the athletes themselves can view the physical effects of what has happened to them.

There is a great post-race analysis of a rider after a crash, and how it affected the following days of racing. Check it out at – Starting from the crash in stage 3. Scroll to the bottom of the page for the PDFs.

Weather Change Prediction

Teams are now planning early for a race day by charting the wind patterns every single day, and looking at the last 20 years for the week of the event. Also within the race’s time frame, examining the minute data to figure out if that would help make a small gain.

Trying to guess when it would rain which is very tricky in a maritime climate, can fail big time. The wind on the other hand.

Knowing that the wind will die down more in the afternoon for example makes it easier when starting a time trial. In a muti-day event this planning becomes important early on to get that afternoon spot.

Thinking about whether you need to finish towards the back of the main group, or trying to get to the front, depending on what we thought the weather would be.

This data along with field tests for weather, aerodynamics and equipment is getting really serious. Garmin’s Robby Ketchell developed what he calls the BAT Box. The BAT box contains several sensors, including differential pressure sensors to gauge wind speed, as well as a humidistat, temperature gauge and barometer.

If you know those three parameters, you can calculate air density, Ketchell explains, and if you know that and wind speed, you can calculate relative velocity, which is the rider’s actual speed plus the force of whatever headwind – even from a side angle – he’s fighting against. Three-dimensional tilt sensors counteract bike sway and account for wind angle.

The BAT box might tell them if there’s a particularly good time to do that – say, below a certain speed when it has less of an impact.

Conclusion

Whether this you think these advancements are good for the sport, or not, you can’t help but admire the way they are looking for ways to get a jump on the competition. I personally am all for it – and can’t wait for the applications to trickle down in the Semi-Pro realm. Imagine an app that calculated the predicted wind for your favourite race – or a sensor kit that beeps every time you drop out of your aero position.

 

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Photo Credit: Cyclelicious on Flickr

 

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