To me, this is probably the most depressing expression of difference between my own abilities and that of a professional. Not only is there the difference in power output, there's an even bigger difference in the metric that matters most: speed.
Yesterday Michal Kwiatkowski won the Romandie prologue. For the past two years his team has won UCI's new TTT world championship, and his teammate Tony Martin has won the ITT three consecutive years.
Much of this can be attributed to rider strength and type: after all, OPQ has won more races this year than any other team. They are a team built for power, not climbing.
But they also approach time trialling seriously and with a lot of resources.
- Rounded shoulders
- Narrow space between upper arms (6-9 inches?)
- No space between forearms
- Level, touching forearms and hands
- "Cockpit" setup: Martin uses straight bars that put his hands knuckles down, while Kwiatkowski uses bent bars that put his hands knuckles-forward.
The takeaway from these views is that these OPQ guys are capable of riding in extreme positions.
How do they do it?
It's possible that the OPQ approach to time trialling is simply better. It's a step beyond a fitting and a visit to the wind tunnel. These days every team visits wind tunnels and hones rider positions; OPQ takes it further with an off-season process last at least several months.
November they spend at Specialized wind tunnel facilities looking at positions and equipment. The goal, I gather, is not simply to find "the position." They find a range of positions that allow a rider to target--a rider can improve flexibility, for example, to work toward a position he the wind tunnel shows will be more aerodynamic.
This is quite the contrast to the days when Lance visited the wind tunnel and simply accepted or rejected positions as "the shit" or not.
December OPQ visits a track to further refine positions and confirm wind tunnel data.
What should be interesting to the amateur is this: the process isn't just about changing the bike. Says Rolf Aldag of OPQ: "It’s a lot of work for small gains, but it’s definitely worth it to do these kinds of tests,” he said. “Especially when you do it for the guys who have never been tested, and we had participants who hadn’t.
“Some of these guys it’s as simple as them not being flexible enough to get more aerodynamic. But we can train that, so it is better to find that out now, find their limitations, and train where their needs are so we can come back and find a more aerodynamic position for them in the future.”
Is there a way to replicate OPQ's approach to improving position?
That's perhaps the wrong question, because OPQ is simply doing (with $) what Chris Boardman did in his home 20 years ago. Here's what Boardman recommends doing:
Set up your bike at home in front of a full-length mirror and try to minimise your frontal area. Basically, the smaller the frontal area, the better. Tuck your elbows in, round off your shoulders, but sometimes a higher position can also be more aero, because if you’re uncomfortably low then you’ll have to stick your head up and expose it to the wind. If you bring your body up then your head’s level, and more comfortable, and your position is more aero overall.
Find a position which you think is achievable over the course of a time trial. It may feel a little uncomfortable at first but commit to it for two weeks. Use that position in training so you're used to it on race day. You never do a dress rehearsal on opening night so everything on race day should be utterly familiar.