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Gallery: Cavendish, Contador and Stybar wind tunnel testing with Specialized

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Zdeněk Stybar is greeted upon arrival at Specialized's HQ

Zdeněk Stybar is greeted upon arrival at Specialized's HQ (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma Quickstep) at Specialized's wind tunnel facility

Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma Quickstep) at Specialized's wind tunnel facility (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Cavendish's natural style involves staying low on the bike in the sprints

Cavendish's natural style involves staying low on the bike in the sprints (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Former World champion Mark Cavendish

Former World champion Mark Cavendish (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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(Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Alberto Contador (Team Saxo - Tinkoff) testing his time trial position

Alberto Contador (Team Saxo - Tinkoff) testing his time trial position (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) will need to improve his time trialing if he's to challenge for the Tour de France in 2014

Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) will need to improve his time trialing if he's to challenge for the Tour de France in 2014 (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) discuss his time trial aerodynamics

Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) discuss his time trial aerodynamics (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Food for thought as Contador and his brother (back row, centre) look over the data

Food for thought as Contador and his brother (back row, centre) look over the data (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma Quickstep)

Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma Quickstep) (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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The Specialized crew watch on as Cavendish rides in the tunnel

The Specialized crew watch on as Cavendish rides in the tunnel (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Cavendish needs to save energy in time trials

Cavendish needs to save energy in time trials (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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At Specialized's wind tunnel facility in California

At Specialized's wind tunnel facility in California (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Mark Cavendish takes some time out from the testing at Specialized

Mark Cavendish takes some time out from the testing at Specialized (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Mark Cavendish takes time out to try another cycling discipline

Mark Cavendish takes time out to try another cycling discipline (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Specialized and Cavendish spent time wind tunnel testing this November

Specialized and Cavendish spent time wind tunnel testing this November (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma Quickstep) looks to improve his road position

Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma Quickstep) looks to improve his road position (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma Quickstep) chats with the Specialized team

Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma Quickstep) chats with the Specialized team (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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If the shoe fits: Cavendish tested new products while at Specialized

If the shoe fits: Cavendish tested new products while at Specialized (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Contador looks on as changes are made to the rig

Contador looks on as changes are made to the rig (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Contador and a Specialized member of staff talk about his position on the time trial bars

Contador and a Specialized member of staff talk about his position on the time trial bars (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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(Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Zdeněk Stybar (Omega Pharma Quick-Step)

Zdeněk Stybar (Omega Pharma Quick-Step) (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Zdeněk Stybar (Omega Pharma Quick-Step)

Zdeněk Stybar (Omega Pharma Quick-Step) (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Zdeněk Stybar stands over his Specialized road bike

Zdeněk Stybar stands over his Specialized road bike (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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(Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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The Specialized crew prepare Stybar's road bike

The Specialized crew prepare Stybar's road bike (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Aldag and Stybar analyze the rider’s performance and aerodynamics

Aldag and Stybar analyze the rider’s performance and aerodynamics (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Former pro Rolf Aldag (right) knows that performance improvements at Omega Pharma Quick-Step are key

Former pro Rolf Aldag (right) knows that performance improvements at Omega Pharma Quick-Step are key (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Zdeněk Stybar (Omega Pharma Quick-Step)

Zdeněk Stybar (Omega Pharma Quick-Step) (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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(Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Contador and a Specialized member of staff talk about his position on the time trial bars

Contador and a Specialized member of staff talk about his position on the time trial bars (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Contador tested both his road and time trial positions while in Morgan Hill

Contador tested both his road and time trial positions while in Morgan Hill (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) took time out to ride with the Specialized staff

Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) took time out to ride with the Specialized staff (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) took time out to ride with the Specialized staff

Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) took time out to ride with the Specialized staff (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Specialized founder Mike Sinyard meets up with Alberto Contador

Specialized founder Mike Sinyard meets up with Alberto Contador (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Aerodynamics count, even when you’re attacking in the mountains

Aerodynamics count, even when you’re attacking in the mountains (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Zdeněk Stybar (Omega Pharma QuickStep)

Zdeněk Stybar (Omega Pharma QuickStep) (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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(Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)
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Mark Cavendish testing in the wind tunnel

Mark Cavendish testing in the wind tunnel (Image credit: Carson Blume Photography)

In the modern era of professional cycling the off-season provides precious little time for the elite riders to put their feet up and relax. Instead of racing, the winter months are spent analyzing and planning for the upcoming year and for Mark Cavendish, Alberto Contador and Zdenek Stybar, recent weeks have provided the perfect opportunity to tweak their riding positions.

All three men ride Specialized race bikes, Contador for Saxo Bank, Cavendish and Stybar for Omega Pharma QuickStep and the trio recently spent time at the bike manufacture’s state of the art wind tunnel testing facility in Morgan Hill, California, where Mark Cote, Sean Madsen and Chris Yu were on hand to help the riders improve their aerodynamics and performance.

“This can be equipment or position recommendations to save energy (calories) on non-critical stages, equipment or position recommendations to maximize speed on key stages, or pacing strategies on specific time trial courses in specific weather conditions. The wind tunnel tests are the first part of the program where, in the off-season, we baseline each rider and record their different positions on the different bikes and helmets. We also make a few changes where we think there might be a performance benefit. We will then follow this testing up with both velodrome testing at team camps in Europe and outdoor and on-road testing. This allows us to verify position changes made in the tunnel and see how riding at threshold or for a long duration may affect things.

Specialized keeps all their test data secret, only providing the information to the riders and their respective teams but Yu did confirm that riders can see huge shifts in performance, even with the softest of tweaks made to their position.

For Yu and his team the importance lies in balancing aerodynamic gains and power output. It’s a vital dynamic and one that varies for each rider due to a number of factors including riding style and racing ambitions. All three riders tested both their road bike and time trial bikes while in Morgan Hill.

“For some changes, it could go either way so that’s why we’ll follow up with additional testing in the velodrome and outdoors to see if and how power output is affected. For some riders that may be more local to us, we’ll suggest that they come back and do a winter indoor training session in the wind tunnel. We can then record the entire session and monitor if either power output is declining or the position is degrading over time as fatigue sets in.”

All three riders have different needs though. Contador will never been seen on the front of a peloton with 200 meters to go in sprint, for example. The Spaniard relies on his Saxo Bank teammates to protect him both from attacks and the elements. So how do aerodynamic play out for someone like Contador, who is normally sheltered by teammates until the big climbs where aerodynamics isn't as important as weight and efficiency?

Cavendish on the other hand has completely different requirements. His low profile position on the bike is an advantage he utilizes in sprints.

“He just goes and his body automatically gets low. In fact, there’s not much he can control or fine tune during an all-out sprint. His style is his style. However, there were a couple of things he said that he’s been able to tweak and was curious to see what impact they had on his sprint speed, which is what we tested. We actually spent a decent time working on TT stuff with him.

“Not a lot of people think of it, but he’s actually a very good pursuit, short distance time trial rider. But in those disciplines, bike handling and ability to put out super-threshold efforts is more critical than on a longer TT. Also, his main goal for most longer time trials is to save energy for the impending sprint stage. In the Tour, the final time trial is often right before Paris. So it was interesting finding the balance between his two goals for time trials."