The day was sunny and warm in Waterloo, Wis., a low-key place where a truck stop operator can commute to work on a 16.5-horsepower Craftsman riding mower.
Its 1997. Paul Andrews is taking a 20-minute spin on a Trek Y-Foil road bike. The bike is black, revealing its unpainted carbon fiber tubing. Attached at three strategic spots are sensors. These sensors, affixed to the bottom bracket, the head tube and the chain stay, are wired to a small "data acquisition unit, a black box attached to the frame.
In effect, Andrews that day was taking an electrocardiogram of the bounces and stresses his route took up and down the hills of this farming country.
The sensors are strain gauges, and the output of that days ride was fed into a database of approximately 5,000 other rides taken by Trek testers in the past dozen years. The goal: to provide enough information on where real rides put torque and pressure on real bikes, in order to design lighter yet better bikes.
Andrews, who stands 6 feet 2 and weighs 195 pounds, had no idea at the time that his uneventful ride would ultimately benefit Lance Armstrong, a 5-foot-11, 165-pounder who just happens to be the only American ever to win the worlds most difficult race, the Tour de France, five times.
By the time you read this, Armstrong will be in the midst of trying to become the first cyclist of any nationality to win the Tour six times—and do it in consecutive years.
To that end, Armstrong spends six hours a day or more training on his bike, mostly in Spain and southern France, to be in shape to beat younger riders eager to knock him off his throne. He is his own engine.
But the vehicle he rides does matter. Saving the 32-year-old Armstrong as little as 10 watts of energy over the course of a 120-mile stage of the Tour will speed his trip by one minute. Not much? Last year, in his record-tying fifth Tour win, he edged German rival Jan Ullrich by 61 seconds after 2,125 miles of racing.
That was his closest call yet—and a clear notice that he will need every ounce of energy and reduced weight he can muster if he is to stave off such gathering competition as 26-year-old Iban Mayo of Spain and Tyler Hamilton, a much-respected American who finished fourth last year while riding almost the entire race with a broken collarbone.