This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Vincenzo Nibali and Jakob Fuglsang spent Friday and Saturday working on their time trial bike positions with technicians from new bike sponsor Specialized, as they looks to save every possible second, and so limit their losses in races against the clock.
Specialized has developed an in-house Performance Program team of experts to help riders from the Astana, Saxo-Tinkoff, Omega Pharma- Quick Step and women's Specialized-Lululemon teams.
The US bike company spends millions sponsoring the likes of Alberto Contador, Mark Cavendish and Nibali but is also investing over a hundred thousand dollars to help improve their riders' performance.
Specialized believes that as professional cyclist evolves and the relationship between a rider and their bike becomes more complex and important, the role of a bike sponsor is changing from that of a simple bike supplier to that of a performance supplier.
Nibali and Fuglsang underwent Body Geometry fit sessions at the Italian Specialized headquarters in Milan on Friday, testing several variations of their time trial positions. On Saturday they validated the same positions using a specially fitted telemetry system developed with the help of former F1 pilot Jarno Trulli, F1 engineer Gianni Sala and Moto GP specialist Matteo Flamigni, who works with Valentino Rossi and others.
Jarno Trulli is sharing his F1 experience with Nibali and the other Specialized riders
Surprisingly it was the first time Nibali rode the Specialized Shiv time trial bike.
On the advice of Body Geometry Fit manager Sean Madsen, who was flown in from the USA, both Nibali and Fuglsang raised their aero bars to give them the shoulder flexibility to be able to drop their heads lower. Nibali's aero bars were also shortened to move him back on the bike and help him use his powerful quadricep muscles more and his hamstring and calves less. However on the track, Nibali struggled to keep his head in the low turtle neck position and the data indicate there was only a real performance gain when his arm position was narrowed. Nibali promised to work on lowering his head but insisted on using the new position in the Tour of San Luis next week.
Nibali is considered a good time trialist but lost 5:40 to Wiggins in time trials at last year's Tour de France. He finished third overall at 6:19. He has a lot of work to do but knows that any improvements, and especially a more dedicated approach to time trialing, could help him when he takes on Wiggins at this year's Giro d'Italia. He is a traditionalist when it comes to equipment and technology but is also open to spending time on finding his own marginal gains.
"My old position wasn't bad but the Specialized Shiv is a new bike and I'm using the new Specialized shoes, and so I was keen to dial everything in and work to find some improvements. It was an important test, I was on the track for four hours," Nibali told Cyclingnews.
"We were looking for a balance between aerodynamics, power and stability, and I think we've started to find it. I feel more comfortable and I'm faster. Now I need to train for this position and get used to it."
Fuglsang traveled to Italy from his home in Luxembourg for the two days of testing. He worked with Specialized before moving to Radioshack and riding a Trek bike.
Fuglsang in one of his early positions
"I want to know I've done everything I can to achieve the maximum. I need to know that this is my best position, without any doubts that something else could be faster," he said.
"At the end of a major stage race, it's small, small percentages that make the difference between first and second and even third and fifth; were talking about just a few seconds separate in key moments of the race. You've got to be open to change and improvement. Looking for change can also give you extra motivation. I like to do this stuff and see what is better and what isn't."