THE FU­TURE IS NOW

The new Board­man Per­for­mance Cen­tre has just opened its doors, with the af­ford­able wind tun­nel in­stantly be­ing la­belled a game-changer. We se­cured an ex­clu­sive be­hind-the-scenes look to see if re­al­ity matches the rhetoric

220 Triathlon - - START - WORDS JAMES WITTS IM­AGES THESECRETS­TUDIO.NET

The fu­ture is about in­te­gra­tion.” The words of Chris Board­man when we in­ter­viewed him three years ago about what to­mor­row would look like for cy­cling and tri. We took it as in­te­gra­tion of stem and bars, de­sign­ing frames and cut­away tubes spe­cially to match tyre widths… namely, mak­ing the dif­fer­ent parts of a bike more united for im­proved aero­dy­nam­ics and ef­fort­less speed.

It’s now Oc­to­ber 2018, a crisp day in Worces­ter­shire and its mean­ing has been up­graded, tested and stream­lined. “I don’t know any­where else that has this level and ac­ces­si­bil­ity of biome­chan­i­cal, phys­i­o­log­i­cal and aero­dy­namic anal­y­sis un­der one roof,” ex­plains Dr Bar­ney Wain­wright, head of per­for­mance and de­vel­op­ment at the re­cently opened Board­man Per­for­mance Cen­tre.

The £3-mil­lion cen­tre in Evesham is the brain­child of Board­man. The for­mer hour record holder dreamt of mak­ing aero­dy­nam­ics – in par­tic­u­lar, wind­tun­nel test­ing – more ac­ces­si­ble to age­group riders. So while uni­ver­si­ties like Southamp­ton of­fer im­pres­sive fa­cil­i­ties, they can set you back nearly a grand. Here, ser­vices start from un­der £200.

BIOME­CHAN­I­CAL BE­GIN­NINGS

I’m here with strong age-grouper Mark Jerzak, who’s rep­re­sent­ing the tip of the pyra­mid, and us, well, the wider base. I’m here to as­sess my en­gine, while Mark’s seek­ing aero gains, start­ing with a biome­chan­i­cal as­sess­ment from phys­io­ther­a­pist Bianca Broad­bent. She in­ves­ti­gates his ath­letic his­tory, cur­rent level of rac­ing and fu­ture goals, all to paint a draft of his abil­ity. She high­lights two key is­sues: up top and down be­low.

“I raced a duathlon with a teardrop hel­met and my neck stiff­ened,” ex­plains Jerzak. “I also com­peted a 25-mile time-trial and ex­pe­ri­enced pain down the left side of my neck and into the shoul­der.”

“Could be a sign you shouldn’t go too low,” Broad­bent says. “What’s this lump on your foot?” “I broke a bone play­ing foot­ball. And I have wide feet. I bought some fancy shoes, but the buckle rubbed.”

Broad­bent ad­vises Lake shoes, known for their wider pro­file. The sub­jec­tive soon turns into ob­jec­tive as Mark un­der­takes a se­ries of as­sess­ments in­clud­ing Ge­bioMized sad­dle pres­sure map­ping to re­view hotspots – red is high, blue is low; BioRacer Aero – a neat sys­tem that re­quires Mark to be plas­tered in sen­sors and viewed by nu­mer­ous cam­eras for re­al­time aero feed­back; and pedal ef­fi­ciency de­ter­mined by pedals that cost €20,000.

“They’re the only ones in the coun­try,” says Broad­bent. “Es­sen­tially, they mea­sure forces in dif­fer­ent axes, so are even more de­tailed than a Wat­tBike. One of the

“The sub­jec­tive turns into ob­jec­tive as Mark un­der­takes a se­ries of tests”

key pa­ram­e­ters is mea­sur­ing ef­fi­ciency of force and how it changes when you open your hips. Es­sen­tially power ver­sus aero­dy­nam­ics. Aero isn’t ev­ery­thing. If the po­si­tion’s not sus­tain­able, it’s no good. You might come up slightly and gain 30 watts while only los­ing 10 through a change of po­si­tion. Also, be­ing a triath­lete, you must be able to run af­ter.”

It’s a thor­ough re­view of Mark’s aches and pains, pros and cons, and, says Broad­bent, is so com­pre­hen­sive be­cause it’ll save time in the wind tun­nel. “I feed this info to Bar­ney [Wain­wright] so we can dis­count a num­ber of po­si­tions and pieces of gear straight away, which means we don’t waste pre­cious tun­nel time,” she says. With that info in the locker, Broad­bent passes the aero ba­ton to Wain­wright. Mark heads over to the wind tun­nel. Mean­while, in the phys­i­ol­ogy lab…

SUB-MAX­I­MAL PER­FOR­MANCE

“All good?” the Cen­tre’s lead phys­i­ol­o­gist Lee Ed­dens asks me. “Mod­er­ate,” my re­sponse, muf­fled by the gas-anal­y­sis mask that’s been strapped to my face for 15mins while I un­der­take a sub-max­i­mal step test. Ed­dens has been look­ing un­der my bon­net to un­der­stand my phys­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and it all be­gan with a blood test to ex­am­ine my health. Pa­ram­e­ters in­cluded choles­terol, haemoglobi­n and haema­t­ocrit lev­els. All come up fine health-wise. But what about per­for­mance?

We mount a Wat­tBike and face a large screen fea­tur­ing vari­ables in­clud­ing heart rate, cadence, pedal ef­fi­ciency and power out­put (in watts). Ed­dens then pops a sen­sor onto our fin­ger to mea­sure oxy­gen sat­u­ra­tion and that mask on my face to mea­sure fuel util­i­sa­tion. “Now cy­cle for 5mins but keep to 110bpm,” says Ed­dens. “This es­tab­lishes a power bench­mark.” Once warmed up, re­sis­tance in­creases by 20w ev­ery 3mins, at the end of which Ed­dens takes a blood sam­ple to as­sess lac­tate con­tent (a sign of anaer­o­bic ca­pa­bil­i­ties), while I shout out my RPE. Be­ing sub-max­i­mal, this doesn’t edge over seven but, as the stream of sweat re­veals, it’s still tax­ing.

“You’ll see some VO2 max num­bers on there, but these rep­re­sent a pre­dicted value, ex­trap­o­lated from the sub-max re­sponse, so take this with a pinch of salt,” Ed­dens says, which is com­fort­ing as they’re not won­der­ful. “More im­por­tant

is the frac­tional util­i­sa­tion; in other words, the lac­tic thresh­old and turn­point. What I say to a cus­tomer is you have your VO2­max. That is the up­per limit of your per­for­mance. But ar­guably, it’s more vi­tal what per­cent­age of that VO2­max can you sus­tain be­fore it all falls apart.”

Thresh­old re­lates to the av­er­age power that can be main­tained for around 3hrs; turn­point is around 40-60mins. Posttest, a PDF ar­rives in my in-box de­tail­ing each, plus my ped­alling and fuel ef­fi­ciency, all made more ac­ces­si­ble via a colour-cod­ing sys­tem. My lac­tate thresh­old’s a ‘good’ 67% of VO2­max, while turn­point is an ‘ex­cel­lent’ 80%. The re­port also sig­nals mod­er­ate fat-burn­ing po­ten­tial and an over-re­liance on carbs.

“Longer ses­sions would help shift this bal­ance,” says Ed­dens, “and there’s glyco­gen-de­pleted ef­forts, though keep these to a min­i­mum.” Armed with fu­elling info, I can also best plan race-feed­ing strat­egy, while all the data’s been fed through the Board­man sys­tem to de­liver be­spoke train­ing zones. Back to Mark…

AERO RE­FINE­MENT

“As air comes into the wider open­ing that the rider looks into, it goes through a se­ries of hon­ey­comb pan­els that smooths air­flow be­fore hit­ting the rider,” ex­plains James Ryan, Board­man’s prod­uct man­ager, who’s given me a back­stage pass to the tun­nel. Back stage is cav­ernous and has to be or the air­flow, and sub­se­quent data, will be dis­torted.

Up top, Mark’s about to set off on an­other spin, as a se­ries of cam­eras doc­u­ment him from the side and be­hind.

“My power is quite high – an av­er­age of 300w for a 25-mile TT and 330w for a 10mile TT,” he says. “But peo­ple are beat­ing me by 3mins. It’s got to be my po­si­tion.” The scope of re­fine­ments in the tun­nel’s huge as not only can wind­flow touch 65km/hr but a move­able floor means yaw an­gle can reach 30°. Al­ready top ath­letes in­clud­ing Lucy Charles have been through the tun­nel, and all un­der the watch­ful gaze of the ex­pe­ri­enced Wain­wright.

“We’ve put Mark in here with his Blue triathlon bike,” he says, “and now we’ve got him on our test rig. It’s just eas­ier to play around with things like the cock­pit as we’re short of time to­day and the in­te­grated cock­pit on the Blue doesn’t lend it­self to swift changes. Mark rides for 1min each time. We then as­sess from here in our own cock­pit, make the sub­tle changes and re­assess.

“Key is that we’re not just here to look at aero­dy­nam­ics in the aer­o­bar po­si­tion,” Wain­wright con­tin­ues. “We can look at

your goal event. Is it hilly? What are the av­er­age speeds like? We can tune the aero­dy­nam­ics to that. So if hilly, op­ti­mise po­si­tion on the base bar as that’s where you can gen­er­ate more power. But also find the best po­si­tion for des­cents. And then look at pac­ing. If you know the phys­i­ol­ogy, know how hard to go on dif­fer­ent parts. When and where to push. This fa­cil­ity can do ev­ery­thing.”

CUT­TING-EDGE TOOLS

Which the team would do but time re­stric­tions mean that’s not pos­si­ble to­day. There’s still time enough for the team and Mark to work through a num­ber of po­si­tional and gear changes that con­clude, sadly for Mark, that his Blue’s less aero than Board­man’s test rig.

“We ran eight dif­fer­ent gear, arm- and hand-po­si­tion set-ups and two speed sce­nar­ios across which we com­pleted 11 test runs,” says Wain­wright. “The base­line CdA [mea­sure of frontal-pro­file aero­dy­nam­ics] was 0.2199 and the best so­lu­tion came down to 0.2066. It’s not loads but Mark, be­ing a triath­lete, has drag-in­duc­ing broad shoul­ders and is al­ready in a pretty good po­si­tion.”

The runs were un­der­taken at typ­i­cal 20km sprint-dis­tance road con­di­tions and at an av­er­age 39km/hr, 5° yaw and 230w base­line power. That op­ti­mum 0.2066 de­rived from 40° ex­ten­sions that brought his hands up but meant he could tuck his head in. A Kask Mis­tral hel­met smoothes things out fur­ther. “This op­ti­mum so­lu­tion equated to a 11w sav­ing and 68secs faster over 25 miles,” says Wain­wright

For an ex­pe­ri­enced ath­lete like Mark, that’s im­pres­sive. And ar­guably an im­prove­ment he’d strug­gled to match on phys­i­cal train­ing alone, es­pe­cially with a young fam­ily. “It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to see the real-time feed­back from the tini­est ad­just­ment pro­jected in front of me,” Mark tells us. “It al­lowed me to see the dif­fer­ence in ‘turtling’ my neck and bring­ing my shoul­ders closer to­gether, which is some­thing I need to work on.”

A com­bi­na­tion of wind-tun­nel data and Broad­bent’s biome­chan­i­cal as­sess­ment also meant Mark will “def­i­nitely” change his bar ex­ten­sions from S-bars to 40° ef­forts, while he’s been given core and flex­i­bil­ity ex­er­cises to help him ad­just to the rec­om­mended lower-head po­si­tion. “I’ll also change my sad­dle,” says Mark.

The UK’s blessed with world­wide ex­perts in each dis­ci­pline and some im­pres­sive fa­cil­i­ties. Take the Cy­cleFit down at Covent Gar­den or Drag2Zero over at Brack­ley, but never be­fore have we ex­pe­ri­enced such an all-round of­fer­ing un­der one roof.

It’s all made re­dun­dant, how­ever, if the data em­a­nat­ing from these cut­ting-edge tools can’t be as­sim­i­lated and made ac­ces­si­ble to the ev­ery­day triath­lete. And that’s where the Per­for­mance Cen­tre’s real win comes from, as Board­man’s HR de­part­ment’s clearly scoured the UK for the best in each de­part­ment, whether it’s from the English In­sti­tute of Sport or the finest uni­ver­si­ties.

Yes, it’s not per­fect. Though the wind-tun­nel costs are more ac­ces­si­ble, they’re still not for the “price of a curry” that Board­man called it a few years ago. But with a full aero as­sess­ment for less than one car­bon wheel, it’s still damn good. Ul­ti­mately, with­out sound­ing too fawn­ing, it’s hard not to see the cen­tre be­com­ing the hub for pro­gres­sive triathlon clubs and in­di­vid­u­als alike.

“We’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced such an all-round of­fer­ing un­der one roof”

The outer shell of the cav­ernous Board­man wind tun­nel in Evesham

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