How Giant-Alpecin riders proved the most efficient way to descend

A number of riders from the German team helped demonstrate the fastest way to take on corners on a descent in a scientific experiment

Giant-Alpecin has used hi-tech experiments to prove the fastest way to descend a twisty mountain road is to brake early, hard and for a short time at corners.

Six unnamed team riders have had their bikes loaded with sensors to record their trajectory, speed, steering, gradient and braking forces. They were instructed to take the swiftest line downhill from their high altitude training camp at La Plagne, France.

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Now, data captured by the sensors has confirmed that to corner quickly, you should brake hard and for a short time on the approach. While many pros know this from experience, it’s the first time it has been proven scientifically.

To verify the theory, each rider has had to freewheel down a one-kilometre road, on their own, four times, so that enough data was generated for scientific analysis.

The route they took is not for the fainthearted – it includes three hairpins, three other sweeping corners and a total fall of 64 metres in altitude.

La Plagne 23-07-2015 TRAININGCAMP TEAM GIANT ALPECIN Photo: Wouter Roosenboom

La Plagne 23-07-2015 TRAININGCAMP TEAM GIANT ALPECIN Photo: Wouter Roosenboom

By the final hairpin three of them hit 70 km/h (43.5 mph) before braking to little more than 20 km/h (12.5 mph).

The results have revealed a significant difference between the Giant-Alpecin pros. The most cautious put on the anchors some 50 meters sooner than the most confident and some riders lost an entire second at corners compared to their team mates.

The fastest completed the kilometre course 4.3 seconds swifter than the slowest – a variation due not just to better braking technique but also to lower drag and being heavier.

“Braking hard, over a short distance and early before the corner seemed to be correlated with a fast trial time,” says Niels Lommers, the scientist from the Technical University of Delft, Netherlands, who led the research.

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Four sprinters from the team rode their aerodynamic Giant Propel bikes and two climbers used the lighter Giant TCR Advanced SL, fitted with Dura Ace Di2 and Pioneer power meters.

More research is planned and new sensors will measure how much the riders lean when the attack a corner.

“This is just the beginning’, says Teun van Erp, the scientific expert at Team Giant-Alpecin.

‘We’re going to be collaborating with the TU Delft Sports Engineering Institute to see what the next step should be. We are certainly keen to further develop this method of measurement and to make more widespread use of it.”

Descending: Measuring and comparing descending technique and performance in professional road cycling. by C.R. (Niels) Lommers can be downloaded from here.

Max Glaskin is an award-winning freelance journalist who tweets about cycling and science as @CyclingScience1 and is the author of Cycling Science (published by Frances Lincoln UK, Chicago University Press USA, and seven other languages).