Live Blogging Stage 20’s Time Trial

July 26, 2008 at 8:34 am Leave a comment

Today is the day and within the next 30 minutes or so, we’ll know who will be the likely winner of the 2009 Tour De France.  I’ll be writing throughout the next 30 minutes or so, so if you want to find out who wins just read this all the way through.

Aerodynamics & Water Bottles

I can’t remember whether or not I mentioned it in a post after the first time trial, but I know my thoughts were echoed in a post by Chris Carmichael (Armstrong’s former coach) on Bicycling.com, but the use of water bottles on the seat posts continues to surprise me. 

To be clear, it is not surprising that they have water on this time trial given it’s 33 mile length (although, many riders had them on the much shorter earlier TT, which I didn’t understand at all), but rather the placement choices being made by professional teams.  Whereas the placement of a bottle might not make that big of a difference for somebody like me, these guys are pros and every second will count–additionally, the higher the speeds, the more drag there is.

Generally speaking, research shows that cylindrical shapes are the absolute worst thing for aerodynamics.  This is why you see manufacturers moving towards bladed tubes, aero bars, etc.  With regards to bottle placement, research shows that bottles placed on the frame are the absolute worst possible placement for aerodynamics, with placement on the seat tube worse than placement on the bottom tube.  Rear placement as well as the use or aero drinks are both shown to be superior in terms of aerodynamics.  Now, I can understand why a rider might now want a rear placement (e.g., not comfortable reaching back for it), but the use of a slim aero drink bottle would significantly improve aerodynamics.

You might be wondering why an aero drink would improve aerodynamics, after all, doesn’t it increase the frontal surface area?  Yes, it does.  However, wind tunnel testing has shown that frontal surface area is not the end-all-and-be-all when it comes to time savings.  The SHAPE of those areas on the frontal surface actually has a bigger impact.  By using an aero bottle, it actually breaks up the air flowing across the head tube–the one area manufacturers haven’t been able to turn into a bladed design–thereby keeping the air on the bike longer and thereby reducing aerodynamic drag.  Additionally, using an aero drink allows riders to remain in the aerodynamic position while drinking.

To be sure, I know that I’m not the only one with this data, so there must be something more to the choices being made out there on the tour–most likely rider preference and good ol’ fashioned peer pressure.  Until one rider actually breaks ranks and decides to look silly (in comparison to other riders on tour) for a race or two by using an aero drink and has a good performance, the riders on tour aren’t going to fall in line.

I was happy to see that Cadel Evans has topped off his ever so amazing Ridley Dean with the best alternative to an aero drink–bottom tube placement with an aero bottle.  

Aerodynamics & Wheel Choice

One of the more interesting things to look at is the choices of wheels the various riders are making.  All the riders are using a rear disc, but the front wheel choices are varying quite a bit.  Aerodynamic testing shows that the depth of the front wheel has a greater aerodynamic impact than the rear wheel.  However, with the front wheel you also have to take into the effect that the depth will have on the overall handling of the bike.  The deeper the wheel is, the heavier the bike is and the harder it is to control the bike on turns and in the wind.

Carlos Sastre is using a very aggressive front wheel: The Zipp 1080.  Cadel Evans, on the other hand, is using a front wheel that appears to be about 60mm deep (he’s not on Zipps).  Even if you assumed that the aerodynamics of Evans’ wheels were the same as Sastre’s (which Zipp would no doubt debate), Sastre’s aerodynamic advantage would be at least 10 seconds over a 40KM time trial (this race is 53KM).  I say “at least” because that 10 seconds is based on Zipp’s tests using an 808 front and a sub-9 rear.  However, the 808 is an 80mm front which is deeper than what Evans appears to be using.  

Overall, definite advantage for Sastre here.  When you have to hold a 1:34 lead, every single seconds counts and the choice to go for a 108mm front wheel will definitely save him a few seconds over what is a pretty flat TT course.  Amazingly, Sastre went with an even more aggressive choice than Schleck who chose to go with an 808 front.  

Frank Schleck’s Podium Hopes Gone

He just didn’t have it today.  Granted, not many people expected him to turn in an amazing time trial, but he definitely had a chance for finishing in the top 3.  No longer.  [Update: To give you an idea how bad of a day that Schleck is having, he’s being caught by Carlos Sastre who started three minutes behind him.  However, the more I think about this, I wonder if this was planned.  Having a rider in front of you can be a great incentive to really get moving in a TT.  Schleck might have decided that he just didn’t have it, so why not wait until your teammate catches you and then try to help him.] [Update 2: Guess not…Sastre just flew right by Schleck.]

Looks like Sastre is going to win it all

Evans has not been impressive today…at all.  Granted, Sastre’s performance has been great, but with about 10 minutes to go before Sastre is finished, it doesn’t appear that this is even going to be remotely close and definitely not within the seconds that many commentators–including myself–though this might come down to.

Evans put up the seventh best time and came up nearly two minutes behind Schumacher.  He will remain in second, it appears, as Kohl wasn’t able to maintain his lead over Evans, but he will not win.

And Sastre Keeps Yellow and Will Win the 2009 Tour

Sastre will win the 2009 Tour De France.  Sparked by an amazing performance in the Alps, Sastre had a great time trial and managed to maintain about a minute lead over Cadel Evans.  What a great performance, what a great tour.  I’m sad to see it go because it’s been an amazing three weeks but nobody could have asked for a better race, so that’s something to take away.  

Here’s to next year….

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Three Weeks and over 2000 miles comes down a final 32.9 miles All things eventually come to an end

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