With COVID19 severely affecting the road racing calendar in 2020 and the time trial scene returning to some level of normality there was an opportunity to be taken advantage of. Enter Project Speed. The project was put to us by Jack and the team at Ribble Weldtite to dive deep into the teams aerodynamic optimisation with the goal to clean sweep the National championships and set Ribble Weldtite as the benchmark. The team are a registered team on the UCI Europe tour, up against some of the best riders from across the globe, with an already strong background in time trailing.
The team’s time trialling abilities were shown throughout the 2019 season at the individual British time trial championships. John Archibald achieved the silver medal behind Alex Dowsett. At the UCI Road World Championships in Harrogate, John Archibald and Dan Bigham made up two thirds of the men’s half at the inaugural ‘mixed team relay’, alongside former Huub Wattbike rider, Harry Tanfield, who is now a world tour rider for AG2R la Mondiale. Alongside Joss Lowden, Anna Henderson and Lauren Dolan, they achieved the Bronze medal for Great Britain, and had the 2nd fastest men’s course time.
Jack Rees of Ribble Weldtite explains further how the teams focus on time trials is of increasing importance - “Project Speed has been an integral part of the team’s approach since the season restarted in June. The team have always had a major focus on time trialling and improving performance from an aerodynamic optimisation perspective, but in 2020 we developed within the discipline even further. With the support of our partners, particularly WattShop and consultancy with Dan, it has enabled the team to really dial in the rider’s individual positions and equipment choices.”
Throughout the year we have held several aero testing sessions with up to five different riders from the team in each session. Here are a few thoughts from Dan who was the man behind the numbers during testing. “The primary goal is to be successful in UCI TTs, whether that is individual or team, during stage races or standalone races. However, the UK scene competes largely under CTT regulations which are much more relaxed and have greater scope for reduction in aerodynamic drag. Balancing up our long-term goals with short-term performances was a challenge. We don’t want to paint ourselves into a corner, so the vast majority of the team have chosen to work within the UCI position window, which makes life tougher to hit the low CdA values required for peak domestic performance. With 10 different riders across multiple sessions, collecting over 20 different data streams during many hours of testing, we’ve ended up with over 100,000 data points to analyse and utilise with the sole purpose of making the team go faster.”
The use of innovative testing methods, and being able to use an outdoor facility, presented the ability to get real world results. Dan went on to say that “being able to test outside with the use of the Notio Konect has been invaluable. We experience ‘real world conditions’ during testing, with the wind often blowing and riders having to navigate the slightly rough Newcastle Under Lyme velodrome. This is a challenge to keep control of but does ensure the riders feel exactly how each change impacts on their ability to handle and control the bike. With COVID19 throwing a curveball, the access to Newcastle Under Lyme velodrome once restrictions were lifted was a great asset to the project. It required some lateral thinking in ensuring we got the data quality required for some of the smaller details we tested. The facility itself provided a great ground for optimisation as well as sharing knowledge and building team morale in what has been a challenging time.”
Many changes during testing have very little noticeable difference to the human eye, however, a rider’s helmet is often one of the first talking points when discussing position on the TT bike. “Helmet sensitivity across riders was very interesting. We largely ride in the POC Tempor but the squad have free choice and many other helmets have tested well. This in itself is quite a fun prospect. Firing through helmets and see how they interact with other positional changes. A simple helmet swap doesn’t cut it if you want to go fast. You need to search for global optima not just local optima!”
The team’s results since June speak for themselves, in a year where everyone has turned themselves to the TT discipline, the team have been dominant.
- 1st & 2nd National 25, and team prize.
- 1st & 3rd National 10, and team prize.
- 1st National Open Circuit Championships.
- 1st National Closed Circuit Championships.
- 2nd, Irish U23 Nationals.
- Over 20 course records.
Zeb Kyffin, a U23 rider for Ribble Weldtite, in his second full season with the team said that “since joining Ribble Weldtite I've been fascinated by Dan and John's track passion for aerodynamics and continual improvement. I wanted time trials to be a more focussed goal in 2020 and there is no one better to aid with that than the guys at WattShop. This was my second aero test but there was still a lot to run though, positionally and kit. Having Dan on site to run through data straight away, then tell me what to change and see how it affected my CdA first-hand, was really insightful as a rider. We focussed mainly on changing my back profile and closing up my front end while still maintaining power. We found some juicy gains in kit too but that's top secret!”
John Archibald is often favourite to win when he rolls up to the start line at most British time trials. You may wonder “How can John still need aero testing?” Well here are his thoughts on the matter. “Aero testing opportunities are few and far between, so it was great to have a full day at the track to dial everything in ‘pre-season’. Between position and equipment changes, the gains I'm finding are becoming smaller and smaller. So, I spent a lot of time repeating runs to ensure the data I was getting was consistent. That's where Dan's WattShop expertise comes into its own. A 10-watt saving would be an unusual find at this stage; however, even when a change is neutral, there can be advantages outside aerodynamics to consider.”
Although 2020 has been great for the team, taking regular wins and course records, we are excited to see how the riders will perform on the international scene in 2021 once the pandemic has subsided and they are allowed to compete on the continent. It is fair to say that the team have big ambitions and goals. Here at WattShop we are continuing to support them in the relentless pursuit of speed!