Posted by Editoress on 05/29/23
Last Saturday, Cycling Canada took three athletes to RWDI Consulting in Guelph, Ontario, for a long day of wind tunnel testing. Cycling Canada received a SPARK innovations grant from Own the Podium to undertake this project.
The athletes were endurance rider Michael Foley and sprinters Kelsey Mitchell and Lauriane Genest. Each spent approximately three hours in the wind tunnel getting blasted with 70 to 75 kilometre an hour winds as they tried out a variety of position adjustments and equipment options.
We were fortunate enough to be invited for part of the time, while Kelsey Mitchell was being tested, and subsequently talked with Kelsey and Head Sprint Coach Franck Durivaux about the experience.
"The purpose is the same as it is for the endurance athletes, except we are going even faster," explains Franck Durivaux. "When you are going faster, the aerodynamics are even more important. We wanted to validate some positions that we have worked on; what are the best positions for both girls here [Kelsey Mitchell and Lauriane Genest]. As well as the positions we want to look at different components that the riders can use - like helmets, like handlebars, like using shoe covers over the strap or under the strap."
"We need to validate all these things to be sure that we have the best setup, so our athletes will be even faster. It doesn't change anything about training, because we still want them to be as powerful as possible, but every detail counts. We want to give them the best chance to be the fastest and the best in the world."
Durivaux obviously wouldn't reveal specifics of what they have learned, but did say they already have a list of things that will be adjusted, including positioning and components [Team Canada is testing a new handlebar, which we were asked not to photograph].
Sprint coach Franck Durivaux (left)
Kelsey Mitchell discussing with RWDI Consulting
"We were [previously] working on 'feelings' - from the athletes, from my eyes observing them - but that is not accurate and we need scientific data to make sure that we are validating something that is real, and not that is just imagined."
Kelsey Mitchell agreed that the discomfort was worth it. "It doesn't look like I'm doing much because I'm just sitting there, not even pedalling," commented Mitchell, "but the constant wind on you [75 kmph] and holding that position ... I got a good core workout."
Mitchell also spoke to the value of aerodynamic improvement even for shorter sprint events, "Even for the Flying 200 qualifier, we're hitting speeds of 70-75K an hour, so every little bit matters. So to be in the wind tunnel is key and I'm very grateful for this opportunity. Yes, the endurance [events] have to hold a position for four minutes, but I think it benefits us just as much."
"It was fascinating ... even tiny little changes make a difference. The helmet I've been wearing is the second fastest and there's one a little bit faster, so I'll have to try that one. Also adding in a head tilt or not a head tilt was a question, so we tried that - I actually already do that in the corners and it was a positive for me [more aero] ... it just depends so much on your body and every athlete is different."
I asked Kelsey how important this sort of work is to preparing for Paris 2024; she said, "It's so important and I think the timeline is perfect, to be honest - you want to be close enough to the Olympics but not too close. You want to have time to adjust your body to a new position and get used to the equipment, and then try it out at Worlds [in August]. Just getting the data on it all just gives you confidence, knowing that the changes are good."
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