Out of the Tunnel

By Tom Steinert-Threlkeld  |  Posted 2004-07-08 Print this article Print

Out of the Tunnel

All in all, the process of building an Armstrong bike no longer needs the aid of the Oran J. Nicks Low Speed Wind Tunnel at Texas A&M University. By the time Armstrong gets on a new bike, airflow, responsiveness and road feel have all been factored in.

Supposedly. Even after going through the "wind tunnel in a box, the true test is when the "rubber meets the road, says Andrews, a prototype technician, almost blandly.

That means not every computer-driven attempt to produce an "ultimate road bike" succeeds. Also produced by the Orion team for Armstrong this year was a bike designed for a special stage known as a team time trial, where he and his teammates jointly race against the clock.

When Armstrong earlier this year rode the team trial bike, he loved its acceleration, Sagan says. But he didnt like it, overall, because he "couldnt maintain watts. In effect, Armstrong was fast off the starting line but lost power over the long haul. Reduced rear-end spacing of crank and pedals produced, for Armstrong, less efficient transfer of energy from leg to pedal.

By the Tour de Georgia in April, Armstrong was back to riding last years bike, upgraded with 2004 components.

Even his secret weapon for the 2004 Tour is no longer so secret. In his favorite tuneup for the Tour each June, the one-week Dauphine Libere stage race, Armstrong used the same uphill time trial bike that he will use at LAlpe dHuez. This time, though, the uphill time trial was on the barren Mont Ventoux, a forbidding peak that appears regularly as part of the Tour de France route.

Armstrong was two minutes behind Mayo, who won the stage. Mayo also won the tuneup overall, by two minutes over Armstrong.

All is not lost for the Orion team. The bike Armstrong does not like is favored by his United States Postal Service teammate Viatcheslav Ekimov, who hopes to ride it not just in support of Armstrong in this months Tour but to a repeat gold medal victory at the Olympics next month.

Even if Armstrong fails to capture his sixth successive yellow jersey at the end of the Champs Elysee in Paris this month, the payoff for Trek is incontrovertible.

Next Page: The big payoff.

Tom was editor-in-chief of Interactive Week, from 1995 to 2000, leading a team that created the Internet industry's first newspaper and won numerous awards for the publication. He also has been an award-winning technology journalist for the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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