By Tom Demerly with photos by Jason Goldberg
Bjorn Andersson at Ironman
15 August, 2005. 15:37 hr.s
Local, Road outside Trollhätten, Sweden.
With a bicycle flight case and luggage
crammed full of training and racing gear a tall, quiet,
introspective man in his mid 20’s makes his way
to the airport. He overnights on a flight to New York’s
J.F.K. airport and clears customs without notice. His
arrival into the U.S. goes without notice or incident.
It is, for the time being, utterly unremarkable.
18 August, 2005.
18:51 hr.s Local, Asphalt Green Training Facility, outside
New York, United States.
He is uncomfortable with his “celebrity”. Holding
court with about 35 curious athletes and fans the quiet Swede
answers questions without changing his expression. “How
long do you train?”, “How do you ride like that?”
“What do you eat?” Patiently and methodically
like the teacher he is trained to be the man provides calculated
answers. His voice is steady, audible but measured. His modesty
borders on enigma. Following the cocktail reception there
is a PowerPoint presentation with slides of the Swede jumping
off a ferry into freezing water in a fjord, running up a mountain,
and sitting in a rakish posture on a bicycle. Once the last
slide has gone dark the guests filter back toward their Manhattan
apartments. The unassuming Swede remarks that their attendance
Winner of the brutal and bizarre
"Norseman Extreme Triathlon" in 2005.
7 September, 2005.
10:19 hr.s Local, Bike course loop outside Madison, Wisconsin,
United States. Ironman Wisconsin race site.
In his typical style he rhythmically
drives a pair of disjointed, mechanically synchronized cranks
at a moderate, hypnotic frequency. Each rotation brings his
legs high into his chest, back down low toward the black pavement,
then accelerating oddly for just a moment back up to the tightly
folded posture at the top before beginning the power phase
again. His posture is so projectile-like you expect its trajectory
to falter any moment and for him to rise into a more hospitable
seating angle on his bicycle. But he doesn’t. He simple
pedals slowly maintaining his unlikely, low tuck. His cyclocomputer
says 48.4 Kilometers per hour, 30 m.p.h. Despite the rising
heat and wind he rides most of the loop like this, completing
an entire loop of the Ironman Wisconsin bike course four days
before race day in less than two hours. As training.
These were the days leading up the 2005
Ironman Wisconsin for the 26 year old Swedish sensation
Bjorn Andersson. Drifting quietly on his fading anonymity
Andersson spent time preparing for his final race of
the season while trying to come to grips with a growing
celebrity he doesn’t understand and has a difficult
Andersson has been the darling and buffoon
of the triathlon world. His sponsors trumpet his incredible
bike performances in banner ads on Internet sites while
his critics lambaste his riding style, equipment selection
and training techniques. All the while he navigates
the rising maelstrom of publicity with calm, albeit
sometimes awkward, detachment. The same calm detachment
he seems to have perched over his 180 mm Rotorcrank
crank arms while turning a 58 tooth chainring at metronome
cadence on the way to another bike course record.
Optimizing his sensational position at Allied Aerospace.
“I read what they
write… I do not care”, Says the quiet Andersson
as his eyes dart uncomfortably around my bike shop sales floor.
“I have not earned the results yet…. But I believe…..”
His voice tails off as his eyes glance away.
Under the microscope with Jason Goldberg at F.I.T.
|Andersson is visiting my bike
shop today as a result of a comment I made on an Internet
forum about being a fan of his. I said I believed in him
and feel that he returns a lot to the sport by generating
excitement, inspiration, even controversy. Along with
associate Jason Goldberg, Director of Performance Enhancement
at Functionally Innovative Training, LLC, Andersson is
driving back to New York following an incredible swim
split (he throttled back and wound up 4th out of the water)
and the fastest bike split ever recorded at Ironman Wisconsin
by over 10 minutes.
But he didn’t finish.
And that is the looming specter
that haunts the sometimes laconic Andersson. His talent is
conspicuous, his results are, well, less so…
Andersson's calm demeanor and soft spoken character
with his dashing good looks give him star appeal.
It was inevitable that the
arm chair experts feasted on his abandonment at mile
19 of the marathon at Ironman Wisconsin. From their
vaunted perspective of hindsight and Monday morning
quarterback expertise they leveled their cockamamie
cures: “He sits too low, his saddle is too high,
he is too bent over, he eats the wrong things on the
bike, he can’t digest in that position….”
But Andersson simply packs his now filthy
Cervelo race machine with the lowered front end into
Jason’s Goldberg’s car and the pair sits
in uncomfortable silence driving east from Wisconsin.
They decide to detour to my store like nomads driving
to an oasis of faith in a desert of detractors. And
we greet him warmly.
Jason Goldberg's more authoritative analysis
of Andersson's Ironman Wisconsin was that Bjorn had
not acclimated to the heat adequately. "He just
needed more time in the heat before the race" Goldberg
I am a fan of Andersson, I admit. An ardent
fan. I believe he is the Next Big Thing. I did Ironman
New Zealand in 2004 and was at ground zero of Andersson’s
explosion into the main stream there. I saw him rocketing
back toward the transition area with over 10 minutes
on the top pros who fought to catch him in a slightly
too comfortable looking chase group- draft legal, of
Goldberg and I believe the same thing: That it is only a matter
of time before Bjorn Andersson aligns his titanic race forces
and levels the racing world with a performance that will rival
the Mark Allen ascendancy of the 80’s.
|Goldberg and his company, Functionally
Innovative Training, LLC. is another part of the story.
Jason Goldberg CSCS, PES, runs his laboratory service
to train, enhance, test and optimize athletes’ performance.
He video tapes their swim stroke, cycling style and position,
running stride. He measures their gases, heart rate, blood
lactate and power output. Everything that goes into and
comes out of the athlete gets tested, taped, measured,
plotted, evaluated. He listens to what they say, watches
what they do. He knows when to speak to them, when to
stay away. He is the consummate athletic trainer, tester,
tactician and coach. His list of credentials and accreditations
are too long to recount here. You can review them yourself
at his company’s website, www.fitcenter.net.
Cervelo and Andersson are a natural pair: The most aero
position on the most aero bike. Andersson's Cervelo
Bjorn Andersson and Jason Goldberg
of F.I.T. began corresponding after Andersson had (another)
disappointing result at the Wildflower Triathlon in California
this year. Goldberg felt he could help Andersson align his
natural forces to create a fully synchronized athlete who
would generate results that Andersson’s potential hints
at. As a result of their interaction Goldberg and Andersson
conspired to start The Viking Project (www.thevikingproject.com
an approach to resource optimization that assists Bjorn Andersson
and Jason Goldberg in maximizing the potential of every aspect
of Andersson's athletic abilities. The Viking Project is not
unlike Lance Armstrong's "F1 Project" that incorporated
the best aerodynamicists, bike fit experts, nurtitionists
and coaches/trainers in an effort to maintain athletic superiority.
In fairness to Andersson, he
has a list of incredible victories. At the 2005 Norseman Extreme
Triathlon Andersson was splendid. The Norseman Extreme is
an Ironman distance race so difficult it ends clambering up
rocks to the foggy top of a mountain. The swim is contested
in a freezing fjord. The race was so punishing Andersson was
the only person to finish the entire distance to the summit
before weather closed the course and remaining athletes had
to settle for finishing “officially” at a lower
elevation. Andersson has also cut across half Ironman distance
events like a scythe, earning the moniker “Uberbiker”
from his fans and sponsors, Cervelo. At one half Ironman his
average speed on the bike, his average, was nearly 28 M.P.H.
His ultra low front end is 27.2 cm. below the top of
his saddle using an adjustable stem.
|The notoriety Andersson has earned, ahh…
received, isn’t from his race results and Andersson
himself is not comfortable with that. People saw Andersson’s
ultra-low riding position on his Cervelo P3 and noticed.
They saw his absurdly fast bike split at Ironman New Zealand
2004 and they were amazed. From there, the Internet engine
pretty much took over. He became a frequent topic on Internet
forums. A search on just one forum revealed 2804 posts
containing his name. Photos of his bike position circulated
far and wide, e-mailed and posted all over the web. Becoming
an armchair critic or ardent fan of Bjorn Andersson and
the controversy between the two has become a mainstay
of triathlon forum banter.
This controversy puts his advisor
and trainer, Jason Goldberg, in an unenviable (for now) position.
“I believe in him, the results will come. When he finally
puts it all together- and it will happen- it will be a big
day in the sport.”
From a historical perspective
there have been other “Bjorns” in the past. Mark
Allen struggled at Ironman Hawaii for six years before he
began an unassailable string of victories and records. It
took a long, difficult apprenticeship for Allen to find the
right combination of factors to dominate Hawaii. Andersson
may well be in the same apprenticeship but in a new age. Allen’s
ascent was spared the Internet scrutiny, the Petri dish of
Bjorn Andersson’s talent germinates under the magnification
of the Internet microscope. He can’t make a single bike
adjustment or equipment change without attracting comment.
|The centerpiece of Bjorn’s
notoriety is his bike position. People seem to over look
his swim talent since his posture on the bike is visually
more sensational. His handlebars are 27.2 centimeters
lower than his saddle producing a forward leaning, ultra-bent
style that is both an anomaly and feature of his tall
frame and long femur bones. At the top of his pedal stroke
Andersson’s elbows are below his knees. His big
knees cross inside his elbows. His back actually angles
forward and downward toward his head. Simply put, his
handlebars are nearly a foot below his saddle.
Narrow elbow pads on new Profile T2 aerobars complete
We looked carefully at Bjorn’s
Cervelo P3 Carbon after Ironman Wisconsin. What we found is
already familiar to Internet forum fans, but it is still remarkable.
Andersson rides 180 mm long Rotorcranks
with a 58 tooth big chainring and an 11 tooth cog. The Rotorcranks
have a mechanical cam system that speeds the movement of the
crank arm through the less powerful phase of the pedal stroke
and concentrate the more powerful phases. This accounts in
part for Andersson’s mastery of the enormous 58 tooth
The HED 3 Carbon front wheel and zero stack height on
His position seems extreme but Andersson
maintains this posture for hours on end without distress.
He climbs in the aero position with equal power and
stability to his flat ground performance. He routinely
does 4+ hour training rides in this position. When you
consider that Tour de France prologue specialist Chris
Boradman’s handlebars were 22 centimeters below
his saddle and that Boardman only had to ride a 7 kilometer
time trial with no run afterward then Bjorn’s
bike position seems all the more sensational. Andersson
rides 5 centimeters lower than Boardman’s prologue
posture but does it for 112 miles and then runs afterwards.
Bjorn Andersson’s bike is heavy
owing to the front end construction. The Cervelo P3C
is a very light bike but Andersson’s bizarre front
end configuration is achieved with a heavy adjustable
stem and relatively unspectacular Profile aerobars.
Nothing is too exotic or ultra-lightweight. The Rotorcranks
add weight also with their internal mechanism.
Andersson uses a disk in the
back and a Hed 3 wheel in the front for racing. He prefers
narrow tubulars pumped up to high pressure even on rough surfaces
like the chip and seal tarmac of the Ironman New Zealand bike
course. He carries spares and two Profile bottle cages behind
the saddle in a typically improvised arrangement as seen on
any talented age-grouper’s bike at Ironman.
position on the left with a more typical postion for
you and I on the right using the same bike. The lines
are for reference only. The image on the right is reversed
to make the visual comparison of the postures easier.
You can see how low and tight Andersson's posture really
is, with his knee well above and inside his elbow at
the top of the pedal stroke.
Bjorn Andersson’s posture on the bike and performances
in the water and on the saddle are not what make his
exceptional though. It is the character of a quiet and
intense personality- poised and reserved in a dignity
seldom seen in modern athletes that makes him such a
As Jason Goldberg says, “The results
will come”, but in the mean time Bjorn Andersson
inspires a generation of Internet literate triathletes
to think outside the box and examine their own bike
fit. He infuses the sport with a brand of excitement
and novelty missing since the 1987 introduction of the
aerobar. And mostly, Bjorn Andersson, is a likeable
young man with exceptional talent and a soft, pleasant
character. Results or not, he can already reflect on
a career of influence and sensation that has brought
sensation and excitement to our sport. That result is
more difficult to achieve than any one decided by a
Bjorn's rig behind his well-worn SLR saddle.
His massive engine room: 180 mm cranks with a 58 tooth
Bjorn Andersson and Tom Demerly outside Bikesport, Inc.
© Tom Demerly, Bikesport
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