Aero benefits without breaking the rules? Tim Wellens' handlebars take centre stage
The Belgian's 2022 Lotto-Soudal team bike has a peculiar handlebar hack and hood position. With two wins under his belt already it appears to be doing the job.
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Lotto Soudal’s fast start to 2022 has seen the Belgian outfit rack up seven wins ahead of Opening Weekend.
A major contributor to Lotto Soudal's total is Tim Wellens, with the 30-year-old taking a stage victory in the Tour des Alpes Maritimes to back up his win at the Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana one-day race in January. Those with an eagle eye on cycling tech may have noticed he was running a rather interesting handlebar set-up.
The all-rounder, who’s been with Lotto since turning pro ten years ago, eventually finished the stage race on the second step of the podium behind winner Nario Quintana (opens in new tab). His strong showing in southern France was hot on the heels of another runner up place, this time at the inaugural Clásica Jaén Paraíso Interior race.
At first glance Wellens’ Ridley Noah Fast bike looked like a pretty standard affair. However, as he rode to victory on stage 2 from Puget-Théniers to La Turbie it was impossible not to notice the rather extreme angle of Wellens’ Shimano Dura-Ace shifters.
Wellens had the shifters mounted low on the bend of the drops with the hoods pointing dramatically inward. His narrow Deda bars only accentuated the set-up that presumably was designed to help him attain an aerodynamic yet still comfortable position. Certainly compared to last year his hands and forearms were at a noticeably different angle when he’s riding low on the hoods.
Of course it’s not the first time that we’ve seen a rider tweak the angle of their shifters. It’s an emerging trend in the pro peloton as riders pair ever narrower bars with ‘turned in’ hoods. Other endorsers include Remco Evenepoel (opens in new tab) although perhaps no one has gone quite as far as Wellens.
As Wellens crossed the line, raising his hands in the air in celebration, things got weirder still. The tops of his bars appeared to have grown two humps. In reality it seems as though he’s significantly raised the profile of his Lizard Skins bar tape, likely with some kind of padding sitting below the tape.
Initially we could only speculate as to the reason for this rudimentary hack. Wellens was a well known proponent of the ‘lying your arms over the front of your bars’ position as he turned over a big gear on one of his many solo attacks. With the UCI subsequently banning this ‘puppy paws’ position (it now states the only points of support allowed are ‘‘the feet on the pedals, the hands on the handlebars and the seat on the saddle’) perhaps Wellens was seeking to find a legal position that’s equally effective and just as comfortable? However after speaking with his Lotto Soudal team they’ve confirmed that Wellens uses a “sort of mousse (gel?) under his handlebar tape which helps release pressure on his wrists when he is in an aero position”. Mystery solved.
The rest of his set-up however is far more traditional.
Wellens used Ridley’s Noah Fast frameset across all three stages of the Tour des Alpes Maritimes. The frame’s layup is a mix of Toray carbon - 24T, 30T, 50T and 60T to be precise. The ‘T’ stands for ton, and relates to the tensile strength of the material. Ridley uses a blend for the Noah with the aim of balancing stiffness, weight and comfort.
Interestingly, Wellens relationship with Ridley started before his time at Lotto Soudal. His father Léo, an ex-pro cyclist who finished the 1981 Tour de France in 102nd place, has run a bike shop since his retirement with the younger Wellens often riding Ridley bikes from the shop long before getting paid to do so.
Lotto switched to Shimano groupsets for the 2022 season with Wellens and the team now using its 12-speed Dura-Ace Di2 semi-wireless groupset. During the French stage race he paired a traditional 53/39 chainset with an 11-30 cassette. He also relied on a 4iiii (opens in new tab) dual sided Precision powermeter to deliver him his numbers - the Canadian brand is another new sponsor for 2022.
Also new to the team is DT Swiss (opens in new tab). During the Tour des Alpes Maritimes Wellens used the Swiss-brand’s new ARC 1100 Dicut in the 50mm depth. The tubeless-ready hoops are further evidence of DT Swiss’ commitment and belief in the technology. Clearly Lotto-Soudal and Wellens are also believers, with Wellens running Vittoria Corsa tubeless tyres on the ARCs.
Wellens’ next race is Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (opens in new tab) where he’ll ride alongside teammates Victor Campenaerts, Jasper De Buyst, Philippe Gilbert, Harry Sweeny, Brent Van Moer and Florian Vermeersch. It signals the start of a busy Spring Classics campaign for Wellens, with him pencilled in to ride Strade Bianche, Amstel Gold, De Brabantse Pijl, La Fleche Wallone and Liége-Bastogne-Liége before turning his attention to the Tour de France (opens in new tab).
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Luke Friend has worked as a writer, editor and copywriter for over twenty years. Across books, magazines and websites, he's covered a broad range of topics for a range of clients including Major League Baseball, the National Trust and the NHS. He has an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University and is a qualified bicycle mechanic. He fell in love with cycling at an early age, partly due to watching the Tour de France on TV. He's a passionate follower of bike racing to this day as well an avid road and gravel rider.
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