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Lance, Nike, tech support

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
from the New York Times

Overhauling Lance Armstrong

Published: April 19, 2004

BEAVERTON, Ore., April 14 — Lance Armstrong's fate in the 2004 Tour de France may hinge on work now being done by clothing designers here on Nike's sprawling campus.

Nike is a member of an unusual alliance of companies named F-One that last year quietly banded together to redesign Armstrong's equipment and clothing radically in preparation for this year's 20-stage, 2,110-mile race in July.

Despite the Tour's length, margins of victory can be razor thin, and aerodynamic streamlining is playing an increasing factor in cycling, track and field, swimming, speed skating and skiing.

In 1989, Greg Lemond won the Tour by only eight seconds. Armstrong won last year's Tour by just a minute and one second after almost 84 hours of racing. During the team time trial, Armstrong's United States Postal Service team picked up a crucial 43 seconds.

Armstrong will be trying for his sixth consecutive victory in the Tour, a feat that has not been accomplished during the 101 years of the race. Armstrong's sponsors are trying to ensure that he retains a technological edge this year.

"Little interaction effects and race equipment can lead to big gains or losses," said Bart Knaggs, president of the Postal Service racing team.

The effort began with experiments in November in a wind tunnel at the University of Washington. On April 22, Armstrong plans to race with his new equipment for the first time this year in the United States during the time trial stage of the Tour of Georgia.

Knaggs said that immediately after the 2003 Tour, he brought all of Armstrong's sponsors together in Austin, Tex., Arsmtrong's American home base.

Knaggs acknowledged that the Postal Service team's obsessive focus on refining cycling technology and the advantage it gave the team last year is almost certain to touch off a response from the other teams in the Tour, which is expected to draw 15 million spectators and be broadcast to 170 countries.

But little is known about the plans of the other 20 teams entered in this year's Tour, and stealthy efforts may be under way from competitors like Team Telekom, which is backed by Adidas, one of Nike's rivals.

"I'm amazed that I haven't heard anything about the other efforts," said Lennard Zinn, a technology writer at Velonews, a weekly bicycle racing newspaper. "The only thing last year that was significant and new was the Nike Swift Spin suit, and I would think it would have touched off work from other people."

The fear that any technological advantage the Postal Service team held in 2003 might be quickly erased led to the new, broader effort.

"We brought all the key suppliers together and made them understand there has to be a holistic connection between Lance and his equipment," Knaggs said. "The body and the bike have to be thought of as one."

In that equation, he said, the body is clearly the dominant factor.

Nike's Project Swift designers said that the rider's body accounted for as much as two-thirds of the total air resistance created by a bicycle racer. The other third comes from the bike itself.

Total resistance is a combination of air resistance and mechanical resistance from tires, gears and bearings.

"With the sort of speeds that Lance will be riding at in a time trial, 90 percent of the resistance will be caused by the air," said Len Brownlie, an expert in aerodynamics at Aerosports Research, who is consulting for the F-One project and for Nike. "That's significant."

Brownlie said that although the original aerodynamic research on bicycle racing was done for the United States Olympic team in 1984, progress could still be made.

"People assume everything that can be done has been done," Brownlie said, "and that's not necessarily true."

Nike designed more than 33 prototype suits and experimented with 60 different fabrics in designing this year's Swift Spin suit for Armstrong.

Ultimately, a polyester microfiber spandex fabric that the company came across in its research for its Swift Swim suit showed strong results as a bicycle racing material as well.

Depending on the area of the body, the Swift Spin designers used different materials to alter airflow subtly with the idea of limiting low-pressure areas directly behind the rider's body.

For example, the shoulders and arms of the Swift Spin suit are finely dimpled, but the body of the suit is extremely smooth.

Fit has also become a crucial aspect of the design process. According to Jordan Wand, global director of Nike's Advanced Innovation Team, the company's pattern makers have fashioned increasingly tight and wrinkle-free designs. Moreover, as Armstrong loses weight while he gains conditioning during the racing season, new form-fitting suits will be made regularly.

This year, with the help of the new Postal Service team sponsor AMD, the Silicon Valley computer-chip maker, Armstrong was outfitted with a system in a wind tunnel that made it possible for him to see instantly how changes in position affected his aerodynamic drag and the power he could exert.

As a result of the wind-tunnel testing, Armstrong's position on his time trial bike will be more compact and lower than in 2003. Early results from training in California with his redesigned bike were significant. At a Postal Service team training camp in Solvang, Calif., Armstrong flew past his teammates, who were riding in a pace line.

The Nike designers acknowledged that equipment is only one piece of the puzzle in winning the Tour de France. Last year, in one painful time trial stage, Armstrong allowed himself to become dehydrated, losing 90 seconds to his main rival, Jan Ullrich.

It is possible for the Nike Swift suit to trim as much as 90 seconds in a 34-mile time trial, said Rick MacDonald, one of the Swift Spin designers, but he admitted there were pitfalls.

"This is a mathematical model," he said, noting that other factors affect performance. "A rider could have a bad breakfast."
post #2 of 5
Well the new rule changes this year may limit technological advantages. They are limiting the maximum amount of time gained in the Team Time Trial. This could really hurt Lance.

The loss of Heras from USPS could also hurt Lance.

What will be interesting is how team Telekom will handle having two BIG names riding for the same squad - Jan Ullrich and Alexandre Vinokourov.

Also, the 16th stage is a time trial from Bourg d'Oisans to Alpe d'Huez. It's over 15 km long and virtually straight up. Talk about a lung blower.
post #3 of 5
That team time trial limit really burns me. What a gross, artificial way to ensure a close race. Why not give the sprinters a 5 minute loss limit on the mountain stages? I'd love to see Armstrong and Pettachi battling for the win on the final circuit of the Champs Elysees.

It isn't surprising that Lance & USPS are driving technological innovation in the sport. I remember reading an interview with one of the USPS mechanics, who moved from Team Telekom to USPS. He said that Lance is intimately involved in equipment choices, design and setup (like a Mario Andretti maybe?), and contrasted that to Ullrich, who basically deferred to mechanics - he just showed up and rode. That quest for perfection, extracting every possible advantage, really sets Lance apart.

Funny, the two cyclists who've really transformed the sport in recent years have been Americans - LeMond and Armstrong. Of course there have been other innovators, like Obree for aerodynamics and Moser for training, but think about the scope of LeMond's contributions to the sport: Oakley sunglasses, clipless pedals, aero bars and helmets, breaking with tradition around diet and training, athlete pay, etc.
post #4 of 5
So, who's gonna pay for it all next year with the USPS pulling its sponsorship?
post #5 of 5
Thread Starter 
Home Depot prolly, they're damn logo is freakin' EVERYwhere lately.
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