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Great time trialing: from better aerodynamics, or yoga?

March 4, 2012

Andy Schleck at USA Pro Cycling Challenge (photo by Roxanne King, Flickr)

[updated March 5, 2012]

As Andy Schleck balanced on his bike in the start house for the prologue opening stage of Paris-Nice, many cycling lovers wondered: has his time trialing improved?

Some pro-cyclists like Luis Leon Sanchez and Bradley Wiggins ride the TT bike with backs so flat plates could balance on them. Andy and Frank Schleck each sit on the TT bike with an arched back and chest position that seems much less aerodynamic. Is that why they finished in 142nd and 121st places in the Paris-Nice prologue versus 40th and 2nd for Sanchez and Wiggins, respectively?

Greg Henderson on the Lotto-Belisol Team noticed body positions today too. He tweeted a photo of side by side images by Graham Watson, cycling photographer, of the back/chest angles of Bradley Wiggins and Andy Schleck.

About the same time Henderson tweeted that photo I asked my Twitter followers if they thought the Schlecks look scrunched on their TT bikes, like they need to stretch out more.

@DanKalbacher: “I think body position is dependent upon how much power the position produces. Look at Cadel.”

Cadel Evans USA Pro Cycling Challenge Vail TT 2011 (photo by Roxanne King, Flickr)

@SvenDemeyere: “Position on TT bike can be improved a lot. But if they don’t do enough core training, changing the position won’t help :)” and “Position isn’t everything in TT. Jurgen VDB had perfect position last year but didn’t feel good, so he changed it again :)”

These replies suggest position matters, as well as power and ease on the machine. So what factors are most important to pull off an excellent TT performance?

Aerodynamics and power

Chris Boardman says a great time trialist is very efficient, and must do three things:

    1. “Ride at a consistently high speed for a very long time
    2. “Circulate huge amounts of oxygen
    3. “Make yourself very small.” According to Boardman aerodynamics “play a big part in how fast you can go. The bike itself is about 20% of the whole frontal area whereas you as a person are 80%,” he pointed out. claims that, “more than 90% of power output is used to break the wind.” I translate this as: less wind resistance, that is, a better aerodynamic position, will conserve power or energy for going faster.

But a rider can make himself aerodynamically perfect to the detriment of performance. Steve Pyle, an endurance training coach, explains this well:

“…we know that to increase length without increasing girth (frontal area) improves air/water flow characteristics. So, this would lead us to believe that the more stretched out we are on our aero bars the better. But, another consideration is our power output and stress to our lower back muscles. I find that a rider given a trial and error session with a variety of aero bar adjustments, can always find a good compromise between comfort and speed.”

Given the capacity of pro-cyclists to suffer for good performance, are the best time trialists enduring the discomfort of their best aerodynamic position while still producing their maximum effort, that is speed? Or are they training more on the TT bike so they have become more familiar with the TT position? Perhaps both.

Mental state and concentration

A contributor to a BikeRadar forum cited Alex Simmons’ “Three Ps” for good time trialing: power, piercing the wind, and pacing. The contributor describes pacing as, “the ability to completely ‘empty the tank’ while riding a TT but not run out of gas before the finish.” Boardman describes this as concentration: “They have to go at the maximum speed they can sustain and then stay right on the edge of that for the duration of the race.”

How about yoga?

When yoga enthusiasts focus their minds on sustaining a position or pose with their best efforts, they’re accomplishing what Boardman says good time trailers do: reaching their edge and remaining there.

In an article on, David Motton says, “Riding with your head down, backside in the air, and elbows close together doesn’t look comfortable, and to some extent it isn’t. However, a rider can use stretches or yoga to improve their flexibility. Professor Greg Whyte, head of cycling performance at 76 Harley Street and author of Get Fit Not Fat, recommends that time-trial racers should stretch their lower back, glutes (your backside) and hamstrings (the back of the thigh).”

The night before the Paris-Nice prologue, Andy Schleck acknowledged in an interview with Le Quotidien, the importance of having his head in the right place. He said, “Obviously, I don’t plan to be great Sunday, but I would like to notice some progress.I hope to be able to stay focused. I have understood that this plays out especially in the head. So yes, I hope to improve in this area and do good time trials.” [translated from the original French]

It’s still early in the season, so maybe the progress he refers to is still to come, perhaps after more yoga.

[Thank you to Roxanne King for allowing use of her photos via Flickr. Link to Andy Schleck photo. Link to Cadel Evans photo.]

From → Road Racing

  1. A very good article on such an important day of time trialing. I always reference Chris Boardman and listen intently to anything he says in regards to time trialing and how to be fast against the clock. Position is a lot and like I said with Cadel if aerodynamic position results in even less power then there is no real pay off.

    Andy being very scrunched on his bike is not much different of a position change in my opinion from last year and even in 2010. If it’s a comfort thing I would assume Johan would being aware of that and working to fix it. You have to be able to suffer in order to reach the end goal.

    This first TT of the year was definitely not a confidence boost for Andy and if anything is probably very demotivating for him an his fans. For me it really makes me question how hard he really was working on this during the off-season. It appears he has gotten worse.

    • Thanks for visiting Dan, and your comments. It will be very interesting to see how Andy does in his next TT, won’t it?

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