The Paris-Nice seven day stage race brings together many of the greatest cyclists in the world. This year, as it did in 2012 and 2013, the race is capped off with a grueling uphill individual time trial (TT). This time trial is different than most in that it is entirely uphill with a gradient ranging from 3% to 9%. As such, choosing the right bike for the stage is difficult.
Best Bike Split’s work with Trek Factory Racing (TFR) allowed us to get insight into very specific rider data to help formulate a pacing strategy for the course. In an uphill time trial we find that equipment choice plays a much more significant role than in a typical TT where the choice is often very clear. For the final stage of Paris-Nice up the Col d’Èze, riders and managers have to decide what bike each individual should ride. Luckily the variables associated with the course and equipment make for a very good use of the Best Bike Split models.
The bike options available to TFR for this race were the super light Émonda road bike, the incredibly aerodynamic Speed Concept or the Émonda with aerobars to allow for a mixed aero climbing position.
There have been debates for quite some time on the importance of weight versus aerodynamics. For the most part the research and study has shown that aerodynamics will always trump weight at the speeds that professional cyclists tend to ride. However, when you start adding in the variables associated with an uphill time trial the picture becomes a bit more cloudy.
As the gradient of a climb increases, speeds of all cyclists tend to drop. This starts to skew the aerodynamic to weight argument more towards weight reduction. As speeds approach the 13 mph range the advantage of one to the other starts to become almost negligible, but even on these steeper climbs many pros’ speeds will not slow to that level for significant portions of the course. The Col d’Èze stage at Paris-Nice has two very steep sections where the line between weight and aerodynamics starts to become blurry.
In addition to the physics involved with the steeper sections of the course, there is a major secondary concern. Some riders can hold higher power numbers in a road position than they can maintain in an aggressive aerodynamic tucked position. In a general TT this power difference is easily overcome by the aerodynamic advantages of the bike and position, but in an uphill time trial these differences can be a significant variable. So how does TFR pick the right equipment for the course, rider and true race-day weather conditions?
Prior to heading to Paris-Nice three key TFR riders had been tested for aerodynamic drag in the velodrome for each of the bike setups described above. This information provides a great deal of required inputs into the Best Bike Split pacing optimization models. The models then look at places on the course where riders should stay in a more aero tucked position versus when they should come out of the tuck for a more powerful climbing position. By knowing a rider’s drag for the various equipment (bike, wheels, helmet) and position we can give a very accurate time difference for all potential race setups on a course.
The time differences will not be the same for all riders as each rider has specific power profiles. Some riders will even show power profile deltas between different bike setups where they show higher power numbers on road bikes than they do on TT bikes. Best Bike Split models take this into consideration when comparing likely time differences. Finally, wind and environmental conditions on the day can play a large role in equipment choice as well. Not only does the model include race-day wind conditions, but it factors in the wind-blockage features of the particular terrain.
So what kind of times are we talking about for different equipment? Based on all the inputs into the model the time differences between the three bike choices can be minimal or very significant. For the Col d’Èze, the models showed that the unmodified Émonda would be the slowest for all riders. There are certain sections of the course where there is a significant benefit of being in an aero position. Here, any power gains a rider had from being on a road bike were negated by the extra drag. As far as using the super aero but slightly heavier Speed Concept over a modified Émonda with an aero cockpit, the answer turned out to be rider and condition specific. A few selected riders benefit from the Speed Concept based on certain wind conditions, saving as much as 15 seconds on the faster sections of the course due to their superior aerodynamic position on their TT bike while giving up only a few seconds on the steeper sections. However, most riders will achieve their best possible times on the modified Émonda regardless of the wind conditions. The chart below shows one TFR rider’s equipment choice time savings comparison for the expected weather conditions on the day. It’s also important to point out that this particular rider has three different Normalized Power targets based on their power duration curve with each specific bike setup.
Another area where Best Bike Split thrives is creating optimal pacing strategies. Typically, one would think on a climb that the pacing strategy would be to simply try and maintain a specific watt target, but this is not necessarily the case. Based on the equipment choices, the gradient of the road and the weather conditions, it actually makes sense to push a bit harder in steeper sections of the climb and ease off and stay more aero as the course levels out. This affects overall time by more than you may think. The following chart shows the difference of a completely steady pacing strategy to that of a Best Bike Split optimal strategy for a TFR rider on a modified Émonda setup.
The power plan chart above shows that despite having identical equipment and average power values the time of the varied power pacing strategy is significantly faster than pacing the course at a fixed power level. This specific race strategy is dictated heavily by the gradient of the hills associated with the Col d’Èze climb.
By using the tools provided by Best Bike Split, Trek Factory Racing is able to go into the final stage of Paris-Nice with advanced knowledge of which equipment and which pacing strategy is optimal for each of their riders. In the end the race is always up to the riders, but Best Bike Split provides a mathematical advantage that helps set them up for success on the day.
|Factor||Potential Time Savings|
|Bike/Wheel Choice||10 to 35 seconds|
|Optimal Pacing||30 seconds|
|Total for 20 Minute TT||40 to 65 seconds|