Edited by Hans Strijbosch

Giant cycling team embraces science

The mysterious powers in sports, about which even books have been written, sometimes hide in a simple delicacy. Since two years the Giant-Alpecin cycling team has adopted the Slush Puppy, a water ice made of a fruit syrup. It seems to have given Tom Dumoulin a place on the podium during the World Championship time trial.

Proof of that is shown on a giant screen. Nine cyclists in black and white are warming up for a team time trial. Around their bodies there are cooling vests. In one hand they have a cup, in the other hand a small spoon. It seems to be very palatable, the Slush Puppy.

On Thursday afternoon the Delft Technical University shows the relation between science and cycling races. On the podium there is a “measuring bike” showing how the riders descend. On the table there are the helmets: a combined product of science and industry. And in that atmosphere Teun Van Erp presents his sorbet.

For five years Van Erp has now been employed as a physiotherapist by this cycling team. He tells his audience about time trials in hot surroundings. That body temperature may then reach the critical line of 40 degrees Centigrade. That the brain then sends a signal to the body to slow down a bit.

So everything must be aimed at not reaching that point or at least postpone it as long as possible. Therefore the riders wear a vest stuffed with ice bars during their warming up for the time trial. This keeps body temperature rather low. And on top of that they eat their Slush Puppy.

Cooling vest                                                  Warming up Pedro Delgado             Teun van Erp

From the measuring results of Van Erp it appears that this approach yields an advantage of 3 to 8 percent. It would have given Dumoulin a bronze medal in 2014. But also the second place in the last time trial in the Tour de France of that same year could be attributed to it.

Van Erp, for that matter, is the first to put that relation into perspective. “8 percent is indeed very much. And there is always the placebo effect. With those cooling vests the riders also get the idea that it helps. But still. The benefit will surely be measurable”.

According to him Giant-Alpecin is leading in the scientific approach to sports achievements. Other teams also employ physiotherapist, but very often they function as trainers. But this is my only role; therefore I have the possibility to cooperate with universities.

The attention is especially focused on time trials because this discipline can be measured accurately. And Tom Dumoulin is of course the spear point. The Delft technical university also helps in that.

The University paper states a question brought up by the rider himself. Should he stand on the pedals after a bend in order to gain speed? Or would it be wiser to remain seated with a view to aerodynamics? Investigator Jenny De Jong: “That question is so complex that it requires a promotion investigation.”

It could yield a little time gain, often decisive at the top. Teun Van Erp has looked for these answers since last year. “It has really begun when Tom had completely focused on the yellow jersey in the opening time trial of the Tour in Utrecht.”

Tom Dumoulin                                                 In action

The quest will be intensified during this season with a view to the Olympics. “We are working on a project which I cannot disclose right now. We try to keep it a secret as long as possible so that other teams cannot benefit.”

Today the first test of the season will take place in the Tour of Romandy: a time trial of somewhat over 15 kilometers. Van Erp: “I think Tom is going to win.