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Tour de France guide -week 2 “How do they do that?”

-By: Tomas Swift-Metcalfe

Last modified: July 16, 2013

It’s been the best Tour de France since 2007, or 2003, but it looks like it’s over: Froome is unbeatable.

The big events of the week can be divided down into: Time Trial, Echelons and the Mont Ventoux.

The Time Trial (TT’s) was surprisingly entertaining. Usually TT’s are kind of boring, but because you see riders go off one by one and under perform or over perform according to your expectations. What was interesting to observe was the fact that these guys in the Tour, still race with a lot of heart -not everything is controlled and measured to the millimetre.

TT how do they ride so fast?

Little details that make a difference.

Above and beyond being the best in the world on the best equipment and best support, Tour de France riders still get some things wrong:

  • The position on the road can have an influence on resistance: The areas where car tires pass tend to have a smoother surface and a lower rolling resistance.
  • In any wind condition except for a tailwind, the area of less wind resistance is the side of the road where the wind is coming from. i.e. if the wind is from the right, move to the right.
  • The position of their number also makes a difference, while Sky rider place the thing practically on their butt (and hidden from the wind), every other rider placed the number on their back where it adds to wind resistance.
  • Throwing away an empty bidon also is counter productive in the TT; an empty bottle cage produces more drag than a cage and bottle and has a greater effect in a flat TT than carrying the few extra grams an empty bidon weight…

Chris Froome Time Trial
Chris Froome TT

Echelons, what? How do they do that?

On the flat with a cross wind you often see races split into various groups or ‘echelons’. If you’re ever caught in this situation, it can great fun or horrible… depending how strong you are and where you’re located in the peloton.

What happens:

When there’s a strong wind from the side, the peloton looses some of that magic ‘draft’ effect so that more rider are affected by the wind as if they are riding on the front of the peloton in normal conditions.

Riders then naturally organise themselves into little pelotons, as you can see from this photo of the Tour de France’s stage 13.
Stage 13 of the Tour 2013

There’s usually a horrible skirmish at the back of the echelons to get safe inside the draft, with guys riding in the gutter, over the dirt just to get in the draft.
echelons diagram
How it works: echlons


Good roulleurs can sometimes ride up between echelons, but this is rare. Keeping an eye out for any possible draft from cars or motorbikes, turns or kinks in the road, hedgerow or trees can all provide sufficient shelter fom the wind to ‘jump’ across between echelons -if the gap isn’t too big. One good tactic I found was on windy stages is to stick near the big roulleurs, because a group of 10-12 powerful roulleurs can generally reel anything in… or be on the team causing the damage. You don’t want to be caught out in these situations.

What’s a ‘roulleur’?

Roulleur is French for a powerful rider who has excellent endurance, not as explosive as a TT rider, not as light as climber. But good at riding great distances into the wind. A guy with staying power.

Mont Ventoux:

I only saw the climb to Mont Ventoux and not the stage itself: The stage finished 50 min ahead of schedule!

The climb itself was extraordinary mainly because the guys are going as fast as ever and we saw that incredibly dominant performance by Froome. His accelerations to drop Contador and Quintana were nothing short of extraordinary.

How does Chris Froome climb so fast?

I’d guess the secret is in weight loss. Chris is very light for his height and probably puts out 440w-470w, this isn’t ‘other worldly’ as many imply. What’s more is he does this in a Grand Tour, with days and days of tiring racing and after kilometres racing in stage. So the secret is probably more in recovery and preserving energy during the race, weight loss without loosing power and specific training for the conditions (training at altitude in the heat).

Nutrition must also be a significant factor: To get to 220km in the race with a fuel tank full enough to do 60′ on the red line up Mont Ventoux.

The best part really comes when Froome out accelerates the pure climbers like Quintana and Contador.

There’s a very funny video here on it:

And that’s it, what a race! Another week to go. Any Questions?

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