Popular opinion once suggested that professional cyclists were set in their ways and resistant to change. However, in recent years, the sport has welcomed fresh ideas and approaches to optimise performance; evolving to integrate the ‘new-world’ of Sports Science and Performance Analysis with established practices. Cyclefit found itself at the junction between old and new on a freezing December morning at 6:30am, fresh off the Eurotunnel in Calais, caffeine coursing through our veins, on an old-school road trip to a team training-camp, with a car full of state-of-the-art bike fitting and cycling analysis equipment.
The Travelling Circus
Professional Cyclists have graced the halls of Cyclefit for over 10 years, from aspiring espoirs to hardened road-men. During this time, Cyclefit has also built a strong relationship with Trek, teaching, training and helping to develop their Precision Fit programme, but we were still pleasantly surprised when we were asked to offer bike fitting and cycling analysis services to Trek sponsored professional riders. In December 2012, Cyclefit was invited to Radioshack-Trek’s winter training camp in Calpe, Spain to provide our services to the team. Life on the road creates a close-knit group that has led the world of professional cycling being likened to a traveling circus. It was a steep learning curve, as we were introduced to some of the key performers in the troupe, but Phil, Jules’ and Morgan’s hard work and diligence won their trust and respect. You can read an account of last year’s experience here.
12 months on, the ring-master has changed (Trek has taken over from Radioshack as owner and title sponsor) but Cyclefit was invited back to take part in the show. This time we’ve been welcomed into the family as official providers of bike fit and cycling analysis services to the Trek Factory Racing Team and for this reason, Morgan and I went on a 1500 mile coffee fueled odyssey back to Calpe for the new formation’s first training camp.
A Sports Scientist & A Physio Walk Into A Bar
Looking worse for wear after 20 hours of driving, arriving at the Spanish team hotel in an English registered car packed with boxes, we raised a few eye-brows. Everyone knew that Morgan’s checked shirt collection was big, but 3 flight cases was extreme! Why didn’t we fly over with Phil and Jules? But there was meaning in our madness.
Cyclefit has always emphasised that, more than any tool, the skill and experience of the technician is the most important aspect of any bike fit. We stand by this assertion, but there’s no doubting that skills and experience are enhanced by the appropriate equipment. For the Trek Factory Team camp the ‘Morganiser’, as he has come to be known, compiled a 2-page check-list of equipment: an oven for heating custom footbeds, specialist vacuum ‘pillows’ to take moulds and form them to the rider’s feet, a full-size grinder to finish the product and match it perfectly to the shoes, a vacuum cleaner to get rid of the dust, 2 high-powered work-station laptops loaded with video motion-analysis software, more chargers and plug adaptors than an average sized Argos, digital cameras, studio lights, laser levels and tape measures, pressure mapping equipment to analyse the riders interaction with the bike at both the saddle and foot, remote transmitters to monitor pressure and position in the field from a following car, a few humble plumb-bobs, our own personal bikes (because there’s always time for a quick spin) and small selection of Morgan’s favourite shirts. But there would be plenty of time to unpack that in the morning. It was time for a pint.
The Sixth Sense And Other Bike Fitting Tools
The morning after our arrival we began to construct our bike fitting and cycling analysis centre in the basement of the Albir Playa Hotel. We were working alongside long-time friend and colleague of Cyclefit, Paraic McGlynn, founder of cycling analysis solutions company Cyclologic and technology provider to Trek Factory Racing. Paraic brought his own selection of gadgets and goodies: German high-speed cameras, tools to measure breathing rate, skin temperature, sustainability of position and even torso angle, all from over 100 metres away.
These tools and equipment provide a sixth-sense to the bike fitter and cycling analyst. Skills and experience, developed through years of training and practice, provide a level of insight, but technology offers an additional perspective and diagnostic opportunity. Sometimes, this perspective is revolutionary, unlocking a new way of approaching a bike fit to achieve more performance or comfort. Other times, it may not fundamentally change how we carry out a session, but it allows us to work with greater accuracy and refinement.
What effect does a custom footbed have on the force that has to be delivered at the pedal at a given workload, for example. How does a new TT position influence breathing rate and what can we do to balance speed with sustainability? How does posture and pedaling change when a rider increases intensity from 200 watts to 500 watts. How does pressure distribution, movement and mass alter when the athlete moves from the hoods to the drops? When a bike fit moves beyond the big picture and begins to examine questions such as these in the search for performance enhancement, we have entered the field of ‘Cycling Analysis’. ‘Analysis’ allows us to assess the effect and judge the success of our interventions and adjustments.
The human brain can process around 10 to 12 separate images per second. The cameras we used with the Trek Factory Team recorded at 60 frames per second. Consequently, we were able to slow footage down and measure subtle changes in pedaling kinematics (movement) that it would be impossible to identify with the naked eye. Following adjustments to position and power, simulating race intensity, we measured joint angles, observed and coached posture, as we crafted each position in pursuit of perfection.
Races are often won by centimetres, even millimetres, a tiny fraction of the overall race distance. Cyclefit and Cyclologic have been charged with the responsibility to eak out every last percent of advantage that can be found in optimising the connection between man and machine. During December’s camp, we were scheduled to see every rider, providing a fit and analysis for their road and TT positions. Each rider’s session began with a physical evaluation and screening, assessing the rider’s flexibility, range of motion and also conducted a screening to evaluate opportunities to improve strength and conditioning. Following this, the rider moved on to one of three fit stations, either using their new team bike secured on a CycleOps Silencer trainer for an ‘optimisation’ session, or starting from the ground up, using the SizeCycle fitting jig to find the ideal position and posture, before identifying the most appropriate frame size and component choices.
During the sessions, we used our skills, experience and technology to guide the process. Morgan, Cyclefit’s Physiotherapist, carried out numerous evaluations and screenings, making recommendations and identifying opportunities to improve; Andy Schleck left with a number of exercises to help him take 2014 by storm.
We worked closely with former Japanese National Road and TT champion Fumi Beppu, using GebioMized pressure mapping, trying out a number of saddles from the extensive Bontrager range to select the model which offered the best balance between comfort and stability for the famed ischial tuberosities: bony processes of the pelvis that should contact the saddle.
Working with sprinter, Giacomo Nizzolo, we were fascinated to see how his leg extension, whilst appearing sub-optimal at low intensities, morphed into biomechanical perfection at race-pace. Jens Voigt was still open to making adjustments and searching for opportunities to improve after 16 years as a pro rider.
Massive amount of sportsscientists and brainpower to help my last season to be good one with a bikefit today!! pic.twitter.com/yJxm73on8Y
— Jens Voigt (@thejensie) December 14, 2013
Out on the road, we drove behind new Trek Factory Team signing and Belgian Time Trial champion, Kristof Vandewalle, using remote monitoring to assess stability and validate the the position on his new Speed Concept in the real- world. We worked methodically and thoroughly, using data gathered from our equipment to support decisions we made and helping each rider understand our thought process, responding to their feedback as we aimed for the ultimate precision fit, just as we do with our customers.
Back To Blighty
On our final day, we made some minor adjustments before the rider’s hit the road for another training session. After 47 fit and analysis sessions we were cooked like an over-baked custom footbed. Phil and Jules were well on their way back to Blighty whilst Morgan and I re-loaded the car with our equipment, ready for the long drive home. We left Paraic and his bag of tricks to travel to the big top (the velodrome at Valencia), to help a star of the Trek Factory Team show (Fabian Cancellara) work on his new act: the Hour Record. It was a whirlwind two weeks in the Trek Factory Team circus and we look forward to working with and watching the riders in the coming season. In the meantime, we’re back in Covent Garden, so if you want to treat yourself like a professional, please come and see us! Follow @jamesphewitt