Geekdom won’t radically change cycling says BC’s R&D head

British Cycling won't push boundaries with anything "borderline legal"

Tony Purnell says cycling is way behind F1's aerodynamics understanding

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British Cycling’s R&D supremo has that said despite cycling being “way behind” Formula One’s aerodynamics knowhow, there is not enough scope for “geekdom to change the game” in a sport where the athlete remains the main contributor to the result.  

Speaking at the UCI Track World Cup in Manchester on Saturday night, British Cycling‘s (BC) Tony Purnell, who oversaw 100-people strong aerodynamics divisions in previous roles at Jaguar and Red Bull F1 teams, said the UCI rulebook, bike tradition and budget constraints meant innovation would be evolutionary rather than based on “one or two super ideas”.

Questioned on the cycling world’s understanding of aerodynamics, Purnell – also a visiting professor at Cambridge – said: “It’s definitely not like Formula One – it’s way, way behind.

“I think cycling will look a little bit different [in 10 years’ time] – the UCI actually likes progression and the manufacturers certainly do, but there are rules that must follow the tradition of the bicycle. There’s just not that much scope for geekdom to change the game.” 

Despite suggestions that new UCI president Brian Cookson will order a review of bike regulations laid out in the so-called Lugano Charter – possibly with an eye to liberalising them – Purnell said he would prefer the sport to change gradually.  

“I think it’s right for the sport to just let things evolve. I wouldn’t like to see the rules get cast in stone with one direction for ever – occasionally they should open up an area to let something whizzy evolve because I think it keeps the public interested.”

Despite UK Sport investing £30.6m in cycling in the run up to the Rio Olympic Games in 2016, based on two previous Olympics where Team GB dominated on the track, he said budget constraints also meant development would have to be targeted too. BC currently employs a single aerodynamicist, said Purnell.

BC announced Purnell’s appointment as head of technical development in May. He said he was still in an observatory stage at the governing body.

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“My mind is one that spots little opportunities so I want to understand the environment. I’ve got no intention of swanking in with whacko ideas or anything sort of borderline legal,” he added.