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The Bjorn Supremacy
By Tom Demerly with photos by Jason Goldberg

 



Bjorn Andersson at Ironman Wisconsin 2005.

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 surprised him.


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 time accepting.

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 says.

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 course.

Jason 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 P3 Carbon.

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 the cockpit.

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 chainring.

The HED 3 Carbon front wheel and zero stack height on Andersson's machine.

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.

Andersson's 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.


Ultimately, 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 likeable character.

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 stop watch.


Bjorn's rig behind his well-worn SLR saddle.


His massive engine room: 180 mm cranks with a 58 tooth ring.


Bjorn Andersson and Tom Demerly outside Bikesport, Inc.

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© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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