By Kirsten Robbins in Branson, Missouri
Discovery Channel's Levi Leipheimer won his fifth time trial this season during stage three of the Tour of Missouri in a twenty-nine kilometer time trial. The Californian spent his pre-season preparing heavily in the San Diego low speed wind tunnel testing the "praying mantis" time trial position that Floyd Landis invented and successfully used in the previous year. However, all that research and refinement was for naught as the UCI prohibited Leipheimer from using the adopted position one day prior to the start of the Tour de France, and again at the Tour of Missouri.
Leipheimer commented on the new regulation during the post-race press conference, calling the UCI ruling a little ridiculous. "I was forced to change it the day before the Tour de France!" he said. "It is very frustrating because they can't give a real reason why the riders arms can't be bent up as opposed to being parallel to the ground. I think they said that it creates an added support on the elbow. But I think that they have never been on a time trial bike before because it doesn't change how much weight you have on your elbow."
On July 4, the UCI's technical advisor Jean Wauthier clarified Article 1.3.023, which says that riders must have their forearms parallel to the ground. The article stipulates that the riders are allowed to have their arms extended and are permitted a "support" for the elbows and arms. However, justified by safety ergonomic considerations, when the arms are bent they become the physical point of support which is strictly prohibited by the rule.
"There are guys who ride with their arms angled down in the opposite direction but the UCI has never said anything about them," added Leipheimer. "It wasn't until Floyd Landis had his bars tilted up and I started training in that position in the wind tunnel that it became a problem with the UCI."
Preparations for a time trial have been increasingly costly and time consuming to find for the perfect position to maximize speed and power. "I spent two days in the wind tunnel -- spent a lot of time, a lot of money and we found a position that was incredibly fast, the numbers were very fast, the fastest that the tunnel had ever seen," said Leipheimer. "That was part of my motivation for this year, when I saw those numbers I lit up and I trained all year in that position; and the day before the Tour, the UCI decided that I couldn't ride in that position anymore. There is no explanation for it and I think that it is a little bit ridiculous. But I complied with all the rules and I put the bars down and you just do what you can."
Leipheimer proved in the Tour and again in Missouri to be as successful in the regulated position as he was in the "praying mantis" position, winning the Tour de France stage nineteen time trial and recently the Tour of Missouri stage three's time trial. "I still won a time trial at the Tour de France and I won here today with the bars down so I know the aero bike still works and I'm still fast," said Leipheimer. "And I'm sure that my drag was a little more, the numbers a little higher but those are the rules and I follow the rules."