The technology of the Tour de France
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The Tour de France starts again this weekend, and I for one will be glued to my TV for the next 3 weeks to watch all 21 stages of the most exciting sporting event on the planet.
Cycling has come a long way since the first edition of Le Grand Depart in 1903, when riders tackled 2,428km split into 6 mammoth stages at an average speed of 25.7kph.
In recent years technology has made a significant impact, with the concept of marginal gains (first introduced by TSG customer British Cycling) now widespread across all of the teams that make up the professional peloton.
Last year’s winner, Chris Froome, completed the 3,360km at an average speed of 39.6kph.
So here’s my top 3 of where technology fits in:
1) The Power Meter
Riders, with the help of their coaches, are now required to analyse, assimilate and act on huge quantities of data.
The Power Meter measures how much power riders are generating, and so it helps them to quantify their efforts and understand when and how long they can go hard in an attempt to distance their rivals or ensure they finish the often decisive time trial stages as fast as they start.
2) Lightweight Aero Kit
Thousands of hours has gone into the development of everything from frames to helmets and skinsuits – all crafted from exotic hi-tech materials – in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage.
Wind tunnel testing allows sports scientist to measure the impact in terms of seconds saved over a defined distance at a given speed.
3) Race Radio
In the early years of the Tour de France riders weren’t allowed any outside assistance and famously Eugene Christophe lost his 18 minute lead in 1913 when he was forced to weld his broken forks himself after they broke on the descent of Col du Tourmalet.
Riders now benefit from the support of their team cars, mechanics and neutral service, and race radio ensures that they can always keep in touch with their directeur sportif to ensure they work as a team to understand how the dynamics of the stage are unfolding.
Technology certainly doesn’t take away the need for a huge amount of natural talent and endless training and conditioning, but it clearly makes a difference to drive the level of investment by the leading team.
It all has to be done within the rules, and without unauthorised pharmaceutical assistance, but it’s all about gaining an advantage over the competition.