Tech feature, February 3, 2009
Comfort, efficiency and performance all matter when it comes to joining rider to bike. The Specialized BG FIT system is being used by the entire Saxo Bank team this season, and represents a significant undertaking by the ProTour squad. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes watched several key riders undergo the sessions at the team training camp in Portugal.
Continued from Part 1 - where we look at Frank Schleck and Fabian Cancellara.
Andy Schleck - grooming a major Tour contender?
His brother Andy Schleck had some similar characteristics. He too had what Pruitt termed "a mild internal femoral rotation" and flat feet. His hamstring flexibility was even worse than Frank's, with his fingers being several inches away from the floor when leaning forward towards the ground. When lying down, this led to a thigh angle of 70 %, considerably less than Cancellara.
Furthermore, an approximate 11 mm difference in leg length was determined, with his right tibia being shorter than the left. A 5mm lift under his shoe was recommended to help compensate for this.
Schleck's glute flexibility was slightly less than that of his brother, with 126 and 128 degrees being measured for his right and left sides. The strength of that muscle was found to be weak.
In contrast to Cancellara, who is a time trial specialist, the brothers excel on other terrain. This modified Pruitt's approach, he said afterwards. "Their power is really their strength to weigh ratio on the climbs," he explained. "We want to make sure that they don't lose time in the time trial stages. So we have to make the best advantage of them on their time trial bikes. Bjarne believes - and I don't disagree - that he wants to mimic their hip and knee angles from the road bike. We just roll them forward and maintain their exact same sacral, knee and ankle angles into the most aerodynamic position we can take them into, keeping that power position.
"Although Andy is not flexible, we are going to end up dropping him lower than where he had been. We were able to roll him forward and when we dropped his elbows, that dropped his shoulders and made him more aerodynamic. We will actually lower his stem. But we had to bring Frank the other direction to maintain those angles."
Other riders also benefit
Not all of the Saxo Bank riders were assessed at the training camp in Majorca; Cancellara and the two Schlecks were dealt with there, as well as several others. Another BG FIT session will be done at the team's upcoming training camp in California.
Several changes were made in Majorca, with some of those details as follows:
Lars Bak: Perhaps the most dramatic example of how the Specialized BG FIT can work was with Bak. He had several issues, including a visible twisting of his pelvis when riding, complaints of soreness inside his legs and on the right side of his back, plus a visible hunch on his mid-lumbar spine.
Pruitt adjusted his cleat in order to move his left foot forward, and put an additional 1.5mm wedge in Bak's right shoe. This caused him to straighten up on the bike.
More significantly - at least visually - the decision to raise his stem had a dramatic result. The Dane had been riding with the stem too far down, coping by locking his arms. His new position allowed him to support himself better, straighten his lumbar region and actually saw his head and back become lower by 2.5 - 3 centimetres (see photo). This should be both more comfortable and more aerodynamic.
Gustav Larson: The Body Geometry assessment led the crew to raise both his bars and saddle on his time trial bike by two centimetres. "This gave him a better leg extension through the power stroke," said Scott Holz, who added that his frontal area remained essentially the same.
Michael Mørkøv: The Dane was one of the least flexible riders on the team and the assessment showed that he needed to have his bars raised almost 2.5 cm on his road bike. He has been given a stretching programme to lengthen his hamstrings.
Jurgen Van Goolan: Had been suffering from chronic tendonitis in his right knee. "We were able to find the cause, and fix it on his bike and pedal setup by moving his right pedal 1/8th of an inch farther outboard from the crank," said Holz.
André Steensen: The Dane had been experiencing pain in his neck and lower back. By shortening his stem by one centimetre, he became more relaxed while still maintaining the same low back profile.
Looking for percentages
As has been seen countless times in sport, the difference between winning and losing can be minute. Even small improvements can have a big effect on the final result. For riders who ride tens of thousands of kilometres per year, bike fit is of fundamental importance; not just for performance's sake, but also for comfort and avoiding injury.
The season ahead will enable the Saxo Bank riders to see if their BG FIT adjustments have made a significant change. Pruitt is confident that there will be clear benefits. "It typically does translate into higher speed," he told Cyclingnews. "They will be faster, longer, because they are comfortable. They may also be faster for short efforts."
He is aware that some of the riders may feel that being lower will be better for their performance. However, as was the case with Lance Armstrong, being too low can lead to significant losses in power. There is a balance to be found between sitting fast and being able to ride the thing, after all.
"Wind tunnel is a position, it is not bike fitting," he warned. "Rarely does a guy come out of the wind tunnel and be able to hold the position they put him in. That is incredibly rare. Most of the time, within 24 hours, it is some muted form of that."
Pruitt said that the next assessment in California would include some wind tunnel measurement, but that the overall holistic approach will be maintained.
"Full aerodynamics will mute physiology, it will suffocate you. A lot of directors just come along and slam everybody's stems right down, thinking they are aerodynamic. But the bike needs to look like the rider, not the other way round."