Editorial by Tom Demerly.
As I mentioned in my previous
editorial, I hope you are watching the Tour de France
on OLN. Let me point out a few things you can learn
from the television broadcast.
I'm a stickler for details
and I love photography and analyzing images. Combine
that with a long standing interest in bicycles and the
OLN coverage is really a treat for me.
As you watch the Tour coverage
pay attention to a few things, you'll learn something:
- Look at the bike fit.
It is mostly very good, as you may imagine. There are
riders whose bike fit is a little weird though and a
couple that are just plain wrong. Interestingly, Armstrong's
positions on his road bike and on his time trial bike
are a little weird. Notice that his brake levers are
higher on his handlebars in the mountain stages than
the flat stages. That is for increased leverage. Do
you think his reach measurement looks a little long?
Me too. That is because of his post-cancer, toes down
high cadence pedaling style. The additional reach is
necessitated by his odd pedaling style. Take my word
for it; don't copy that. That's the kind of thing that
only works for one guy.
- Watch how comfortable and relaxed the riders
are on their bikes. In close proximity to team cars, motorcycles,
barriers, everything. The bike is an extension of their body.
Their movements are calm and deliberate. This is due to a few
factors: Mostly good bike fit, lots of experience and excellent
fitness. Also notice that the riders have taught themselves
how to do everything on the bike. They can change their jersey,
carry ten water bottles in their jersey, talk on their race
radios, unwrap food and eat, even pee on the fly. These are
all things to emulate in your riding.
- Watch how much the riders use their bottles.
In France a bottle is called a bidon. The riders are constantly
hitting the bottle. Motorcycles bring cold Cokes forward to
the leaders in the mountains. Drinks are critical. In a long
stage some riders will go through at least 25 bottles. That's
right, 25 bottles on a hot mountain stage. Since riders have
to consume food and drinks on today's stage that is fueling
them for tomorrow's stage they have to work at eating and drinking
enough. That is worth learning from. How much do you eat and
drink on the bike?
- When they have mechanicals it is usually due
to poor equipment choice. There has already been one major mechanical
screw up in this year's Tour. David Millar's team mechanic thought
it was more important to save the 91 grams a front derailleur
weighs than to keep Millar's chain on. As a result the chain
bounced of his single chainring and Millar lost the prologue,
the yellow jersey and a place in history. What's the lesson?
Don't take chances on equipment. In order to finish first, first
you have to finish.
- For the rider's who do have good position look
how their elbows overlap their knees at the top of the pedal
stroke. Reach dimensions are getting shorter as rider's adopt
more powerful positions. Look at Santiago Botero's time trail
and road position. Not very pretty but raw power. Look at Gonzalez
on his time trial bike. Super compact, his knees overlap his
elbows at the top of the pedal stroke by five centimeters. Look
at Millar, his position is about as good as it gets. Interesting.
At least to me.
- Look at their saddles. None of them have any
holes or "comfort grooves" in them. They all use standard
racing saddles of one brand or another. Notice how many riders
are using Fizik brand saddles. They have rapidly become a favorite.
- Almost every rider with very few exceptions
wears only bib shorts. It's because they fit better. Going to
the bathroom is trickier, but day after day they are better
- In the team time trial notice that drafting
is not necessarily riding behind another rider. The riders shift
the team formation automatically to compensate for changes in
wind direction. Can you tell which direction the wind is blowing
by looking at the formation? You should be able to. The "relief"
rider, or the rider coming of his turn or pull at the front
always swings off into the wind to help decelerate and to shield
the advancing riders from the wind. Also notice how the team
"protects" a weak rider by allowing them to ride at
the back and not go through the active rotation. Have you ever
been on a ride that was just too fast to stay in? That is how
you stay in. Notice also that as soon as the riders hit the
front they are coming off and going quickly to the rear. It
is a relentless circle of work, recovery, work, recovery.
- Notice the interplay on a breakaway. Try to
pick up the subtleties of what is going on. Is one rider forcing
another rider to ride in the bad part of the road to make his
job harder? Are they forcing a rider into "the gutter"?
Are some riders feigning fatigue to miss their turn? Who do
you think is most likely to attack as they near the final kilometers?
You should be able to tell. Why do the rider's slow down and
hug one curb as a small breakaway nears the finish? It's to
force the rider to begin the sprint in a predictable direction
so the man on the front has better odds of responding.
- Isn't it amazing that the leader's jerseys at
the end of each stage already have their team and sponsor's
names on them even before they put them on? They print them
in a trailer behind the podium immediately following the stage
finish and before the podium ceremony. It takes less than five
- The only waterbottle teams are allowed to use
during the Tour is the official red Coca-Cola water bottle.
Any other bottle results in a hefty fine.
- Notice that on a given team most riders still
have different shoes. Virtually every piece of equipment on
a team is determined by sponsorship arrangements except shoes.
The shoes are handled by the rider's themselves owing to personal
preference. No one shoe manufacturer can satisfy all nine rider's
on a team, so the shoe sponsorships are almost always left up
to the individual riders.
- Jewelry designers frequently give top Tour rider's
free necklaces and earrings knowing they will be prominently
visible on the mountain stages when the jerseys are unzipped
and the necklaces wave back and forth.
- Their bikes are always clean. Their handlebar
tape is always fresh. Their pedal cleats are (almost) always
new. Tires and chains are replaced frequently, often times every
three days on tires and once a week on chains.
- Notice that their gearing is not much different
that yours or mine. They just pedal faster.
- Most teams still have not figured out how to
use aerobars correctly on their time trial bikes. Some time
trail positions are horrible. Wouldn't you think the guys in
the Tour de France would be perfect? Aerobars are still a mystery
to most European teams, especially the Latin teams (Spaniards
and Colombians) whose time trial positions almost always look
a little weird with few exceptions.
- Watch how the riders use the camera bikes to
get a draft momentarily. Officials try to prevent this but it
usually doesn't work. Especially on a breakaway almost every
rider can grab a short draft off the camera bike. If you are
looking at the rider from close proximity through the camera
lens they are benefiting. When you see the officials waving
the red paddle they are signaling (and radioing) the camera
bikes to get out of the way.
- Notice that when the team cars hand up a bottle
outside the feed zone on a mountain stage the rider always hangs
onto the bottle for a moment to get a little push. Hang on too
long and they get a penalty, fine or both.
Part of the fascination of the Tour is there is
always action going on. Sometimes dramatic like big attacks
in the mountains or a crash and sometimes subtle like little
tricks the rider's are pulling on each other to get an advantage.
There is always something to see and a lesson to be learned.
One more thing that makes this such a spectacle.