Greg LeMond adjusted his helmet seconds before entering the exit ramp of the last stage of the Tour de France in 1989. Already in position, he took a deep breath, took the handlebar and fired towards the Champs-Elysees. He had just 24km of time trial to turn around a colossal company: recover 50 seconds of disadvantage with which he start to be able to snatch Laurent Fignon the yellow jersey in Paris, at home, the last day of the Tour.
The Frenchman wore his hair ribbon, his golden hair pulled back with a tail and his rounded glasses: it was his usual image. But what about LeMond? The American came to the final stage with an attire that many at that time seemed to them the image of a Martian on wheels: aerodynamic glasses, aerodynamic helmet, aerodynamic bicycle and … a very strange handlebar.
LeMond had seen these new handlebars for the first time in the Hawai’i IRONMAN, a competition that since 1978 marked the beginning of triathlon as it is known today. These new inhabitants of the Sport Planet, the triathletes, began to bring innovations and LeMond noticed one that would be key: the aerodynamic handlebar (also known today as aerobar).
On that strange rounded tube the cyclist supported his elbows, lowering the position of the trunk and, therefore … eureka! said LeMond, reducing the resistance to the cyclist’s progress. It was the first time that a bicycle like that was seen in professional cycling and the premiere could not be better as research shows that, in time trial races, the advantage of TT bikes on road bikes is so great that those 58 seconds that LeMond stole from Fignon in just 24km, thanks to the equipment he used. That innovation gave him the final victory, that July 23, by a difference of just 8 seconds, the smallest in the history of the Tour. Fignon on reaching the finish line collapsed and the whole France cried, as they could not believe what had just happened: a cyclist dressed as a Martian had just conquered the Champs Elysees.
From that moment on, cycling experienced a revolution based on the science applied to the bicycle and accelerated in such a way that today it continues to take advantage of that inertia.
Since then the investment in science and technology is constant, always looking for the optimization of the cyclist’s performance. The decade of the nineties featured the heart rate monitor, a tool widely used today. And next to that, the foundations were laid for creating lighter and more resistant materials, bicycles with different geometries according to whether the goal is a time trial, a flat or hilly mountain stage, intelligent fabrics and helmets and even clothes more aerodynamic. All this accompanied by the enormous evolution of the individualized training plans.
And today: where is the key to maximizing the performance of a cyclist? When the professionals are asked what they would always carry for a training or a competition, the answer coincides forcefully: the powermeter. That is a tool to measure (in watts) the power exercised by the cyclist every time he applies force on the pedal. Thanks to the enormous amount of information that it gives, it is possible to get the athlete to reach his/her maximum level, to such an extent that some classic voices of cycling ask that its use must be prohibited since it provides so much data and is so accurate that for them cycling stops pedaling with the soul, with emotions and becomes pure mathematics, pure physiology. Although the fact is that the powermeter provides even more possibilities, it is enriching and helps the cyclist and his coach get to know each other much better, something that allows many more doors to open when conquering a competition, as Froome did during the last Giro d’Italia, attacking from afar, in the old style, while everyone expected everything to be decided in the last climbs of each hilly stage. And is that the powermeter, well used, enriches cycling.
The Tour de France is already underway for a week and surely the cyclist who will dress in yellow on the last day in Paris will have been attentive at all times to the watts he has been generating, calculating every detail to be the final winner without giving advantages that may mean that another LeMond appears, this time in the 21st century, again in the Champs-Elysees.