The term “marginal gains” is now commonplace in elite sports. In the cycling world the phrase is associated Sir Dave Brailsford. As Performance Director of Team Great Britain, Brailsford argued that the aggregate of 1% gains in everything you do leads to significant improvements in performance on the world stage.
Most famously, Team Great Britain made “marginal gains” in aerodynamics, recovery and nutrition. Along with rider positioning, the team experimented with the location of seams and different kinds of stitching in clothing. They altered the shape of forks and the distance between the rim and fork blade. Research was conducted on different kinds of pillows for improving sleep. Massage gels were assessed. Team GB and later Sky helped popularize juicing–especially of vegetables–to improve vitamin and mineral absorption over pills, while reducing fibre intake. The team was also an early champion of coconut water and the anti-inflammaotry qualities of Omega 3 oil. The success of Brailsford’s detail-orientated approach is well documented. In 2004, the year after Brailsford became Performance Director, Great Britain’s track team won 2 gold medals at the Olympics. In both 2008 and 2012, the team won 8 golds and we all witnessed the rise of Team Sky during this period.
Cycling Canada has also created track-based development programs, with the goal of extending the benefits derived from research on track to every other program. The completion of the Mattamy National Cycling Centre made this approach viable by providing a home base for Cycling Canada’s research and development that is accessible for many athletes across cycling disciplines. Exciting partnerships have furthered Cycling Canada’s ability to develop and transfer marginal gains to identified athletes. For example, Cycling Canada has partnered with Montreal-based Alphamantis Technologies, a company well-known in cycling circles throughout the world for testing aerodynamics outside of a wind tunnel.
The aero work we’ve been doing with Alphamantis has proven to be a game changer in developing many of our athletes into World Championship and Olympic medal contenders. Using this expertise to help some of our top riders on trade teams will pay off with more UCI points, more qualifying spots at the worlds, and more shots at medals.
Kris Westwood – High Performance Manager, Cycling Canada
Cycling Canada invited Ben Perry and Ryan Roth, along with other members of the national team, to take advantage of aero-testing with Andy Froncioni of Alphamantis. The goal was to assess and tweak–if necessary–their TT positioning, as well as to evaluate equipment, such as different kinds of bar extensions and Silber’s veloToze shoe covers.
Before arriving at the track, however, Ryan and Ben visited Heath Cockburn at The 11: one of the most exciting bike stores to arrive on the scene over the last couple of years. Heath is well-known in the Toronto area as both a racer but more recently as the owner of The 11 and as a bike-fitter. Heath made sure the riders arrived at the track to refine their aerodynamics from an ideal position.
Argon 18 stepped up and shipped next season’s E-118 Next TT bikes to the riders ahead of schedule, including both straight and ‘ski bent’ bar extensions so Ryan and Ben could test both options and determine which reduced the most drag. The team ensured other equipment was available, and the rest was up to Cycling Canada and Alphamantis.
To begin, Geoff Farnsworth tested the boys’ physiology and then refined their positions before they were moved to aero-testing. The riders then tested not only their position but also their 2016 gear. In addition to riding their Argon E-118 Next bikes, they were also outfitted with everything they would use in a time trial, including their Giordana Time Trial suits, Poc helmets and Velotoze shoe covers. A new sponsor also provided other equipment, but we’ll hold out on that until we make the announcement shortly.
More and more studies are recognizing the importance of aerodynamic drag in cycling, to the point that some argue it is more important than the oft touted “watts/kg” ratio as a critical factor of performance on all but extremely hilly terrain. Slightly more aero equipment, or the reduction of frontal area due to a shift in position, can contribute marginal–or sometimes significant–gains. It’s important to note that an “aerodynamic position” is not uniform to all. Aerodynamics are very individual and what benefits one rider could actually make another guy slower. So the goal was to dial in each rider’s position in relation to the team’s equipment.
Through minor tweaking, Alphamantis was able to slightly lower Roth’s drag numbers from his baseline testing–which was already world class. Perry, however, improved his CdA (aerodynamic drag) by nearly 7%. This reduction would virtually take minutes off a 40k TT time. Perry excitedly stated:
I now have the goal of putting together a modest TT in 2016, rather than being absolutely terrible like I have been.
Perry was also sent home with homework. Yoga. As a little known fact, Perry can’t touch his toes. If he could increase his flexibility he would be able to achieve an even more aero position. But with his current lack of flexibility, any more extension results in a reduction of power.
We, at Alphamantis, are super happy to have a chance to work with Silber Pro Cycling, Cycling Canada, Racer Sportif, and Geoff Farnsworth from Cycle Neron Montreal. I loved the professional way that the guys came to the test sessions. They were ready with a big list of things to try and were open to new ones. We got some really good aero numbers from Ryan and Ben. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the season has in store for them.
Andy Froncioni, Alphamantis
We’d like to thank Heath Cockburn at The 11, plus Giordana, veloToze, POC and Argon 18 for making sure Roth and Perry had everything they needed to make the best use of their time at the Milton Velodrome. Also a big shout out to Andy and Sep from Alphamantis, Kris and Cam from Cycling Canada and Geoff Farnsworth, who was on hand to lend bike fitting expertise and help with adjustment of the bikes between runs.