To make a good showing at the Tour de France you need more than strong legs and a healthy heart. You need the right gear. Just what constitute the right gear changes with advances in technology. There was a time when racing handlebars were the cutting edge. No more. And the drive to improve isn’t slowing down any time soon!
The greatest possible aerodynamic efficiency in the ultimate goal. Air is classified as a fluid because it does not hold a shape of its own, but takes the shape of its container. The more smoothly a fluid can flow around a surface the better, because any sort of turbulence slows the object in motion. It’s for this reason that riders often form the peloton. The head rider is the one who battles the greatest resistance as he leads the line. The riders in the middle face less resistance as the fluid – the air – goes around them in a laminar flow.
This quest for aerodynamic efficiency informs the type of clothing worn: those thin, close-fitting outfits without outside seams or flapping material; the type of helmet worn: the lightest possible materials and shaped like a bird’s wing; the streamlined toe clips to ensure the greatest possible force is put into each stroke of the pedal.
The tech this year is also in the form of carbon-fiber bike frames and spokeless wheels – some of which has been seen in prior years. The lighter the frame, the less the load. If the frame is formed so that it is a shape that allows the air to pass around it with as little interference as possible – think torpedo or flying goose – all the better. There is also some new electronic gear that makes it possible for riders to see how much energy is being used to propel the bike, as well as stats on how they are performing. Add communication devices that allow the team to stay in contact and learn of road conditions coming up, and you have what you need to compete.
Unless of course, you wind up in a horrible accident like the one that occurred on Monday. In that case, it was a simple pole that put a stop to the sliding mass of riders. No tech to help them out with serious injuries and road rash!