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Tour de France: Schleck’s team rejects advice from LeMond’s aero guru

  • By Ben Delaney
  • Published Jul. 24, 2010
  • Updated Aug. 2, 2010 at 5:17 PM EST

With his aerodynamic advice, Boone Lennon helped one man overcome a deficit to win the Tour de France in the final time trial. This year, Lennon flew from Montana to Bordeaux in hopes of helping another man do the same thing. It was not to be.

Greg LeMond won the 1989 Tour by eight seconds by putting 58 seconds on then-race leader Laurent Fignon in the final time trial in Paris. LeMond did this in part thanks to a low drag coefficient provided by using an aero helmet, a rear disc and — for the first time in Tour de France history — aero bars, which were designed by former U.S. national ski coach Boone Lennon.

This year, Andy Schleck sits eight seconds out of the yellow jersey worn by Alberto Contador. Contador has consistently proven to be the better time trialist of the two. Still, on the eve of the final time trial of the 2010 Tour, Lennon hoped he could consult with Schleck and perhaps help him regain the Tour lead. Saxo Bank shot him down.

Schleck’s team manager Bjarne Riis, who won the event the last time a Tour time trial was held in Bordeaux, said he was not interested in Lennon’s help at this stage in the game.

Lennon patented his aero bar design in 1987, and later worked with Scott to manufacture the product. At the time, some riders used bullhorn handlebars for time trials, which lowered their backs similar to riding in the drops of standard bars. What the Scott bars did was bring a rider’s hands and arms closer together, thereby reducing the overall aerodynamic drag through the wind.

What Lennon proposed to Riis in an email to Saxo Bank was basically to work with Schleck to drop his chin and/or raise his hands to “close up the parachute” made by the gap between the two.

“Andy Schleck has one of the higher chin positions of the top riders,” Lennon said. “It would be an easy fix.”

Saxo Bank director Brad McGee said a change at this late date wasn’t a possibility.

“Absolutely no way,” McGee said. “Already we’ve done a lot of work with Andy in his position. (Saxo Bank’s bike sponsor) Specialized, they have a good concept. Bjarne, he has good ideas. The reason we’ve got here today is that they’re quite well aligned with each other — what Specialized advised and what Bjarne wants.”

Riis said Schleck went into the wind tunnel “a couple of years ago” to work on his position. “His position is not bad,” Riis said.

That work was overseen by Andy Pruitt from the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine in Colorado.

“I have two years invested in Andy’s position and special winter training for climbing acceleration and time trialing,” Pruitt said. “On the TT bike we maintained his angles, but mostly worked on getting him narrow. He and Frank both struggle with getting low so we concentrated on narrow.”

But McGee said that time trials — especially long ones such as the 52km affair on Saturday — are not simply a matter of aerodynamics.

“At the end of the day, you can’t go too ridiculous in your need for aerodynamics,” McGee said. “Especially for non-specialists, they have to be comfortable with where they are. If they’re too worried about the width or the height of the bars, they can’t concentrate on the few details they need to focus on. For a pure climber, it is already very daunting to jump on a time trial and smash yourself silly for 50K. Especially in long time trials, you’ve got to meet it halfway.”

Lennon told VeloNews that he just wanted to have a chat with Schleck and Riis, and that a fix would be simple. He also said he understood how he may be perceived. “I realize I’m like an alien coming down in a spaceship from Saturn,” he said.

Lennon said he received the cold shoulder from LeMond for some time, too. “I sent him aero bars for two years, which his father intercepted and threw in the trash, until we finally connected,” he said.

Lennon pitched his concept to Riis via an email to Saxo Bank.

“There are adjustments that Mr. Schleck can easily make to become a better shape in the wind,” Lennon said in the email. “These are not extreme or strenuous, and would generate immediate speed improvements. The theory of aerodynamics for cycling should really be renamed as: techniques for diverting wind from ‘catch zones.’ The TT bicycle looks to fit quite nicely and should suffice exactly as it is set. Mr. Schleck has plenty of power, which coupled with better shape will certainly produce a faster TT. I am quite certain that an hour spent discussing and demonstrating the topic of wind diversion/body shape would absolutely result in a faster time trial this weekend.”

Riis was unmoved.

“It’s a little late to come in and say you can do magic,” Riis said. “If you can do magic, then you wouldn’t come right now.”

Pruitt said that Schleck may surprise many observers on Saturday, adding that the Luxembourger’s Shiv time trial bike is “awesome” and that “we will see Andy’s best TT effort ever.”

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