The Tour de France is a numbers game; 198 riders, 18 teams, 15 official suppliers, 6 technical partners and in excess of 3000km cycled. But these are not the most vital numbers.
The key numbers are the seconds that can be shaved off up when riding up the gruelling Alp d’Huez or when finishing on the famous Champs Elysees. So what has been done in this year’s tour on the technology front to aid those hoping to don the yellow jersey in Paris on the 23rd July?
The controversial Vortex dimples on Team Sky rider’s jerseys are an obvious starting point. It is uncommon for Team Sky’s performance to be questioned, be it jiffy bag deliveries or motors reportedly being attached to bikes. However, on this year’s jersey, designed by Castelli, Vortex dimples have been added to the fabric. Sky riders could gain 18-25 seconds through the addition. The controversy though, has come about from other teams asserting that the dimples are an addition to the jersey and are therefore illegal. Yet, Sky say the dimples have been validated by the race commission and that they have used them in previous races. They claim this is because the dimples are part of the jersey and not an addition. Only time will tell, quite literally, if the dimples benefit Sky.
— Team Sky 🚲 (@TeamSky) June 29, 2017
On the topic of British riders, the tour ended rather abruptly for Mark Cavendish who crashed out of the race after the elbow of Peter Sagan forced him to brutally collide with the barriers in stage four. Sagan was subsequently disqualified from the race. This all bodes well for German rider, and fellow sprinter, Marcel Kittel. With 30-time Tour de France stage winner Cavendish and world champion Sagan out, Kittel could benefit. It was in the second stage of the race that Kittel made history by becoming the first rider to win a stage of the Tour de France on a disc-braked bike. Disc-brakes are commonly avoided due to their added weight – either due to the hardware itself or the additional material they require in the frame to cope with the torque created by the caliper and rotor. Could we see disc-brakes adopted by more sprinters after Kittel’s win? It may be possible as their aforementioned negative effects are supposedly limited on the relatively flat sprint stages.
Snapped a photo of Kittel's bike this morning. Piece of history right there. pic.twitter.com/iwa3uXBwCU
— Dan Cavallari (@BrownTieDan) July 2, 2017
Clothing and brakes are only two of the areas in which teams are hunting for a technological edge. Sky are again innovating and upgrading in their search for Chris Froome’s fourth title. Their new Elite Fly bottle weighs only 45 grams and uses a new extrusion which has allowed its sides to be made thinner. This makes the bottle lighter and, apparently, easier to squeeze. Saving every ounce of energy is vitally important on the mountain stages and Sky appear determined to leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of victory. Furthermore, Sky have a new helmet for the 2017 tour. Designed by Kask, the new helmet (that weighs a measly 180g!) comes with 36 air vents allowing for improved temperature management. This is achieved by 70% less ‘head-to-pad contact’ than conventional helmet designs.
Additional upgrades to Sky’s 2017 assault on the yellow jersey include using the Ford Focus RS that can cope with 350 kilograms more than previous support vehicles that have been used. Sky are also using a new analytics and training system called ‘Today’s Plan’ in which there are 18 million kilometres of Team Sky rides stored. On an average race day, Today’s Plan will allow coaches to gather up to 226,000 points of data per rider.
Brakes, bikes and bottles all contribute to the vital intersection of where technological performance meets human exertion. As one of the greatest sporting events continues to be at the forefront of innovation in, it is exciting to see firstly how this year’s tour pans out and secondly, where technology can further be used to but a man on a bike in a yellow jersey.
For further insight take a look at Team Sky’s website where they go into further detail about their new technology for the 2017 Tour de France.