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The future of cycling

This article originally appeared on ESPN, and has been adapted for Deakin’s this.

Every year, the Tour De France draws the attention of people across the globe, many of whom aren’t usually interested in cycling. We are fixated on the 22 teams and riders as they give their all over the gruelling, 3540km, 21 stage event, and we are fascinated with the lengths that the riders and the teams do to win the yellow jersey.

During the Tour, riders push themselves to breaking point, both physically and mentally. However, their teams are working throughout the year for even the most minuscule advantage for their riders, and more specifically on improving the teams bike technology. This quest for every percentile of gain in bike development sees the Tour intensifying every year, as teams exhaust every avenue in striving to win one of the most famous jerseys in sports.

The big budget cycling teams have long been advantaged in races such as the Tour de France, because they have been able to drive innovation in bike design as a way to gain an advantage. However, Dr Dan Dwyer, Senior Lecturer in Applied Sport Science at Deakin University’s School of Exercise & Nutrition Sciences, says that ‘we are at a point where bikes are of a design and making use of cutting-edge materials that means we’re almost right at the limit now. There is very little room to move between the performances of bike design today and where they could conceivably be.’

‘We have zeroed in on a bike design now that is as good as it can be, all we can do now is tweak around the edges,’ Dr Dwyer continues.

But the teams must keep pushing the bounds of technology as they seek marginal gains at the front of the peloton, Dr Dwyer believes, as that ‘continues to drive innovation, which is a good thing in any industry. For a long time, people have seen innovation to bike design as a way to gain an advantage, it’s no long a big factor to determine who wins or loses.’

'There is very little room to move between the performances of bike design today and where they could conceivably be.'

Dr Dan Dwyer,
School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University

Meanwhile, Cadel Evans has spoken to ESPN, the only Australian to win the Tour de France commenting on the technological race for ‘every 10th of a percentile difference you can get, whether that is with equipment or training … whatever you can’ to win the grand tours. Whilst Evans believes that a rider could still win on his 2011 winning bike, the likelihood of this happening decreases the further back you look.

Evans believes it is far-fetched to expect a rider could win the Tour on a bike like those used by Belgian superstar Eddy Merckx, who claimed the race five times in his professional career that spanned from 1965 to 1978.

‘No, the disadvantages would become very substantial,’ Evans says, citing frames, tires and wheels as key development areas since Merckx’s days – especially for their impact on climbing, cornering, braking, descending and sprinting.

Deakin University has just renewed their partnership with the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and sponsorship of the Deakin University Elite Women’s Road Race until 2019.

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