What's Cool In Road Cycling

Carmichael Sez: The Impact of Wind

TDF Stage 2 Analysis: There’s no escaping the wind in Brittany, and it’s had a major impact on how Stages 1 and 2 unfolded. This northwestern region of France is buffeted by strong westerly winds that come off the Atlantic Ocean, and at times over the past two days the riders were helped and hindered by sustained winds of 25-40 mph (40-70kmh). There’s no escaping its effect on the race.

– By Chris Carmichael –

Here’s how these conditions impacted the riders and their strategies:

1. Headwinds favor the Peloton over the Breakaway
A large pack can move faster through a headwind than a small group because there are more riders to share the work of setting the pace on the front. Individual riders will take shorter pulls at the head of the peloton, but because there is more opportunity to move back into the draft and recover, they can maintain the strength to go faster when it’s time to go back to the front. With fewer riders to share the task of powering through the wind, it’s more difficult for a breakaway to maintain a pace that’s high enough to stay in front of the charging field.

There really is no escaping the wind on these early stages.

2. Tailwinds favor the Breakaway over the Peloton
In reality, the peloton almost always has an advantage over the breakaway, but a tailwind at least gives the smaller group a better chance of staying away all the way to the finish line. Riders have to punch a hole in the air and fight wind resistance even when there’s a tailwind, and the faster you’re going the harder it becomes to go even faster. In other words, it’s harder to increase your speed from 30 to 32 mph than it is from 20 to 22 mph. Since a tailwind helps both the breakaway and the peloton maintain higher speeds, it becomes difficult for the peloton to further increase their speed in order to close the gap.

3. Crosswinds mean a hard day for everyone
When there are strong winds coming in from the left or right side of the road, as there were for much of Stage 2, there’s a lot of fighting for position and fewer opportunities to hide in the draft. Since the slipstream of the rider in front of you is actually diagonally behind him on the side away from the wind, riders line up with their handlebars even with the hip of the rider ahead of them. The problem is that these diagonal lineups are limited by the width of the road, and anyone caught on the windward side is out of the draft. Riders in the breakaway have to work hard to power through crosswinds, but at least being in a smaller group means less need to fight for a draft when you’re not pulling.

4. A Headwind at the finish means a shorter sprint
Remember the part above about how it takes more power to accelerate from a higher speed? Well, when you add a headwind to the mix it gets even more difficult because you have to battle even more wind resistance. On a windless day or a sprint backed by a tailwind, you may see riders launch their final accelerations toward the finish at 300 or 400 meters from the line. When there’s a headwind, the sprinters like to stay behind their leadout men as long as possible and only put their noses into the wind in the final 150-200 meters. Sprinting into a headwind from a long way out means you’re likely to fade well before the line and get passed.

After dealing with strong crosswinds blowing from the southwest for much of Stage 2, the peloton turned into a tailwind for a little while before looping around into a headwind for the final few kilometers. The headwind was likely part of what kept Fabian Cancellara from pulling off his often-successful last-minute flyer, but it worked right into the hands of Thor Hushovd who benefited from a perfect lead out from teammate Mark Renshaw that delivered the big Norwegian to the final 200 meters with a clear path to the finish line.

Chris Carmichael coached Lance Armstrong throughout his 15-year cycling career. This year he’s providing commentary on the race for PezCycling News and offering a special Coaching + 12-month PowerTap Payment Plan promotion during July. For more information on Carmichael Training Systems’ coaching, the free Do the Tour…Stay at Home training program, and the free CTS Tour de France Newsletter,

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