Every Second Counts: Improving Aerodynamics in ITU Racing with the Help of Fit Werx

Posted on January 17, 2012

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2011 ITU London WCS Race: t2

This past year at the ITU London World Championship Series race, which served as an Olympic Qualifier for many countries, the difference between 8th place (which would qualify for the Olympics by most country standards) and 28th place was exactly 60 seconds. You literally had a guy crossing the finish line every three seconds, on average! With competition that close, every little detail can translate into valuable seconds and, in turn, valuable places. Keeping this in mind, as I embarked on my 2011 season I decided that I didn’t want to be on the losing end of one of these tightly contested races. My coach and I began looking at ways that we could gain 1% or even 1/10 of a percent that went beyond training. We ended up turning to Fit Werx 2 for help in honing in on an often over-looked detail in draft-legal racing: An efficient draft-legal, road bike position.

Before/after position on hoods.

As my season was winding up my coach, Jesse Kropelnicki, and I met with Dean Phillips from Fit Werx and began going about making positive changes to my road bike position. Using Fit Werx’s state of the art fit cycle and Dartfish computer program, we mapped out my current position and recorded each and every angle. I knew a better fit could get much more out of my ultra-fast Parlee z5 frame. Dean immediately noticed several areas that he considered “low-hanging fruit”. We raised my seat just a tad and moved my handlebars out significantly. This drastically improved things. Looking at hip, knee, and arm angles, Dean was able to assess, based on his knowledge and years of experience, that I was now approaching a position that maximized aerodynamics without sacrificing power (which is important)! ITU, or draft-legal racing, is unique in that you can use short aerobars on your road bike.  Dean began playing around with my current setup. He eventually found that by angling my aerobars upwards slightly it allowed my shoulders and head to drop a little bit more. My hip angle was still within the range where no power would be sacrificed. The slightly higher seat, longer stem, and aerobar trick resulted in a much more aerodynamic position. Mission accomplished: The next step was to test it at the races.

Before/after position in aerobars.

At the Coutea-du-Lac Pan American Cup in Canada I had the opportunity to put my faster position to practice. I had a very strong swim and found myself in a breakaway group on the bike with seven other guys. The chess game began – I wanted to ride hard enough to work with the group and put time on the chase pack behind us, but I didn’t want to fry myself when I knew that I would have to duke it out on the run with several guys that were very close to my speed. This would be one of those situations, just as in the London WCS race, where every second and every percentage of energy saved would make a difference. I continued to rotate through the pace line and keep the pace high. I rode strong but comfortable in this breakaway group. We were able to expand our lead on the chase pack and entered t2 75 seconds ahead. We transitioned into our run shoes and took off on the flat, four-lap (10km total) run course. 7.5k into the run I found myself neck-and-neck with three other guys – a German, Canadian, and a Barbados guy. Last year I finished in a close second to the Canadian. As we entered the last lap, my competitors began surging, trying to make that final push to drop everyone else and steal victory. However, I felt fairly fresh and that I had the most left in the tank. After covering the first couple surges, it came down to the Canadian and me, just like last year. This time, with 2k to go, I was able to make the pass and lift the pace significantly. The Canadian could not respond to my move. My lead began to grow, and I was able to take the win by just over ten seconds!

Dean’s adjustments to my bike position clearly played a role in my victory in Couteau-du-Lac. This was a situation where every percentage of energy saved mattered, and I was smart enough to be on the winning end of this equation. My new position has been a large part of my vast improvement in 2011. I was able to take 5th place in the USA Triathlon Elite Series and finished out the year as the 5th ranked American with a very good chance of getting to the Olympic Trials starting line this May. I will continue to work with Fit Werx to assure that I have the most efficient time trial and road positions. They are continually up to date on the latest research in aerodynamics and new gear. As Olympic Trials approaches and I reflect back on the lessons learned from that 2011 London WCS race, I feel quite fortunate to have Fit Werx on my side!

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