Those watching the Tour de France’s opening time trial yesterday may have spotted some unusual kit choices, particularly amongst the Team Ineos-Grenadiers and Specialized-sponsored riders.
Beyond Filippo Ganna’s new Pinarello Bolide F, there were some unusually large time trial helmets, visors with oddly pronounced edging and former Tour winner, Geraint Thomas, wore a gilet over his skinsuit.
So what was going on? Let’s take a look.
Big helmets, marginal gains?
Conventional wisdom suggests things that are designed to be aerodynamic should, ideally, be as small as possible. Smaller objects have less frontal area, after all.
It’s for this reason we often see professional riders trying to squeeze into the smallest helmets possible.
It’s long been rumoured, for example, that pros will remove the padding from helmets in order to squeeze into a smaller size, all in search of the most marginal of gains.
However, with aerodynamics expert, Dan Bigham, joining the Ineos-Grenadiers team as a performance engineer for 2022, the marginal gains specialists look to be trialling a different tactic.
The Tempor is a radical time trial helmet which debuted in 2012, but was – despite it being a very fast helmet in the right conditions – much derided for its unconventional shape and looks.
Fast forward a few years and all time trial helmets were starting to look like the Kask Bambino; small and tear drop-shaped.
In contrast, the Tempor used a larger, duck-billed helmet body to help direct the airflow over and around the riders shoulders. It looks like Bigham and Ineos could be attempting to replicate the effect within the constraints of team sponsorship agreements.
With Kask (Ineos-Grenadiers’ helmet sponsor) not having a Tempor-like helmet in its range, perhaps simply wearing a standard helmet a few sizes too big can achieve a similar result.
The new Specialized S-Works TT5 time trial helmet (which was launched alongside the new S-Works Evade and Propel 3 helmets) also appears to follow similar principles, using an oversized shape and a rear edge designed to integrate with the rider’s shoulders.
Could we be on the cusp of a revolution in time trial helmets, finally moving away from traditional teardrop shapes towards something more akin to those seen in speed skiing?
Unfortunately for the marketing teams, stage winner Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) wore the old Specialized S-Works TT helmet, rather than the new S-Works TT5.
Optimal helmet choice tends to be highly dependent on the rider’s individual position and body shape, however, so it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions from this result.
As well as big helmets, many of the Ineos-Grenadiers riders also had some new, rather unusual visors for their Kask helmets.
The visors had a small but pronounced lip along the lower edge, which flared forward from the visor at an angle.
Dr Xavier Disley, an aerodynamics specialist at AeroCoach, told BikeRadar, it “looks like it’s there to deflect air around the shoulders”.
It could be a similar aero trick to the oversized helmets, then.
As for the potential gains for both items? Clearly, it’s impossible to say without insider knowledge, but we can assume it’s likely a measurable gain at the very least, since so many Ineos-Grenadiers riders adopted both the oversized helmet and new visor.
Lastly, what about Thomas’ gilet? Was that another Bigham-inspired aero trick? A prototype aerodynamic gilet specifically made for cold, wet time trials?
According to a report by Cycling News, there was no method to the madness this time – it was just a mistake. Having put it on to keep warm pre-race, Thomas simply forgot to take his gilet off before starting his ride.
Even the best teams and riders make errors sometimes, it seems.