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Observer's Guide.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Tom Demerly announces race

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 fitting.

- 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 minutes.

- 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.

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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