Britain’s cyclists have been utterly dominant in the velodrome at the Rio Olympics, winning seven medals so far (four of them gold) and with a good chance of taking three more golds in the final session this evening.
Alongside natural talent and lots of training, one of the reasons for this success is the fabled marginal gains approach, with aerodynamic socks, carbon-moulded custom shoes, and even telling riders not to shave their pubic hair in order to reduce the problem of saddle sores.
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Inspired by this, a number of Britain’s rivals have come along with their own innovations that British Cycling’s “Secret Squirrel Club” didn’t come up with.
1. Left hand cranks
While most (if not all) of the British track cycling team are riding the Cervelo T5GB that has been specially developed for the Rio Olympics, these are still very standard track bikes with all of the components in the same place that you would expect from any other bike.
Contrast this with the Felt TA FRD used by most of the American rider, which has the drivetrain positioned on the left hand side of the bike. Not only does this improve the bike’s handling as the weight and centre of gravity is shifted to the inside of the velodrome, but also improves the aerodynamics as Felt says that the bike is faster when the airflow is coming from the drivetrain side (as it always is when riding around a velodrome).
2. Custom skinsuits
While all of the British riders seem to be wearing the same model of skinsuit for every event, Elia Viviani was wearing a different Castelii skinsuit for each event as he took victory in the Omnium ahead of Mark Cavendish.
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Each of Viviani’s skinsuits has been tested and altered to perform at different speeds, meaning that the fabrics are different for when he’s riding at 60kmh for the 1km time trial or 50kmh in the points race.
3. Thru-axle front wheels
While Team GB’s Cervelo T5GB’s use old-fashioned skewers and bolts to secure the front wheel, a number of other track bikes in the Rio velodrome use thru-axle front wheels for improved aerodynamics.
The Pinarellos used by the Italians and the Look R96 used by the French and a number of other teams feature a thru-axle at the front which means that there is no need for bolts protruding from the side of the axle.
4. Pin-less numbers
One marginal gain that no fewer than three of Britain’s track cycling rivals have employed is the use of see-through pockets to attach race numbers, which is slightly more aerodynamic than pinning them on with safety pins.
Riders from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Australia have all used the system from British company Nopinz, which has also supplied the likes of FDJ and LottoNL-Jumbo on the road, while Endura also produces a skinsuit used by Movistar that features a similar number pocket.
5. Waxed chains
In races that can be won or lost by fractions of a second, five watts can make all the difference, which is why a number of Team GB’s rivals have been using special chains that have been treated with a special wax to reduce the amount of friction between the links in the chain.
To be fair to GB, they are using Muc-Off’s “nano-tube optimised” chain that have been deep-cleaned in a sonic bath and treated with a special lubricant, reportedly costing £6,000 to develop for Bradley Wiggins’ Hour Record.