An article from Norwegian SciTech News at NTNU

Team Sky rider Chris Froome of Britain wears the race leader's yellow jersey as he speeds downhill during the 110.5-km (68.6 miles) 20th stage of the 102nd Tour de France cycling race from Modane to Alpe d'Huez in the French Alps mountains, France, in this picture taken July 25, 2015. (Photo: Stefano Rellandini, Reuters, NTB scanpix)
Team Sky rider Chris Froome of Britain wears the race leader's yellow jersey as he speeds downhill during the 110.5-km (68.6 miles) 20th stage of the 102nd Tour de France cycling race from Modane to Alpe d'Huez in the French Alps mountains, France, in this picture taken July 25, 2015. (Photo: Stefano Rellandini, Reuters, NTB scanpix)

Physicists help Team Sky suit up

When the Tour de France kicks off on July, Chris Froome will once again join the competition and fight for victory. But this time, he’ll have the help of Norwegian physicists.

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Gemini, NTNU Trondheim - Norwegian University of Science and Technology

NTNU is the second largest of the eight universities in Norway, and has the main national responsibility for higher education in engineering and technology.

The days when a bike suit was just a bike suit are over. Now it’s so much more. It’s all about aerodynamics and how well the suit performs at various speeds and in diverse weather conditions. In extreme cases, the suit can even make the difference between winning and losing.

Can help with efficiency

“The suit is important. You can save quite a lot of effort – especially when riding downhill or on the flats. For example, if you can have five per cent less drag, it will have a huge impact on performance,” says Luca Oggiano, a researcher at NTNU’s Department of Physics, to gemini.no.

And incidentally, this applies not only to cycling, but also to many other sports: swimming, skating, and Nordic and alpine skiing.

Team Sky contacted NTNU

NTNU has a lot of expertise in aerodynamics, which is a critical aspect of the suit’s performance. Using sophisticated equipment, such as a wind tunnel, researchers can test how materials and textiles behave in varied weather and wind conditions. This is an expertise Team Sky was interested in making use of.

The British cycling team, which includes both last year’s Tour de France winner Chris Froome and Norwegian Lars Petter Nordhaug, contacted NTNU last summer. They wanted to collaborate in developing new bike suits that can carry the team to new heights.

“Five years ago I completed my doctoral thesis on aerodynamics. Since then I’ve worked with top Norwegian Olympic athletes and Adidas, among others. Last summer, an email from Team Sky landed in my inbox,” Oggiano says.

“They had read my thesis and asked if it would be possible to work together,” he said.

Suit is ready for Giro d’Italia

Team Sky visited NTNU before Christmas, and the parties agreed to cooperate. Oggiano won’t go into the details of the project, but what is clear is that Team Sky and NTNU will spend the next few months testing and developing aerodynamic suits.

In May, the team will be at the starting line for the Giro d’Italia. Between now and then, Oggiano, his colleagues in the Department of Physics, and NTNU students will be working to optimize the current suit.

“We’ll be testing existing outfits and hopefully developing and modifying them. After the summer, we’ll start from scratch and create a brand new suit,” says the researcher.

Fabric type, texture and roughness are all important elements in this kind of work. The suit needs to fit like a glove, with as little air as possible getting in between the material and the rider.

The suit should be like an extra layer of skin for the rider, but at the same time it also has to breathe. In other words: nothing can be left to chance.

Very useful for the team

According to Simon Jones, Director of Development at Team Sky, the team has never been fond of taking chances. He likes the testing, innovation, evaluation and development that will be carried out in this collaboration.

“Innovation has always been important for the team, but when it comes to suits, there’s still a lot of potential for improvement,” Jones tells gemini.no.

“Air resistance is a major force that slows down the riders, so what they wear has a huge impact on their performance. Every professional team understands the necessity of aerodynamic suits. We want to find out if we can improve our suits even more,” he says.

Hoping for long-term collaboration

The hope and the goal are to develop a close relationship with the university that can bear fruit in the short and long terms.

“We’re starting with a small project so we can see how the cooperation benefits both parties. These projects can then help us to develop products with our equipment suppliers and sponsors,” says Team Sky’s development manager.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

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