Belgium Part 1

We’ve now been in Belgium over 2 weeks and have done 4 races.  We flew in a day before our first Pro Kermesse, got promptly lost on our first day riding around Aarchot. We lined up in downtown Buggenhout (don’t worry none of the town names make any sense) still very much jet lagged not knowing what to expect. Giddy with excitement and nerves my heart rate was pegged at 160 just sitting on the start line from adrenaline. I’m not sure if it was the jet lag, the different riding style, course itself or combination of everything, but I only made it 60 of the 100 miles.

It was a little disheartening to only make it halfway through the first race here in Belgium but I reserved judgement knowing that a continental flight the day before at least had SOME factor to do with it. The next race on the docket was the UCI 1.2 Havenpijl Antwerpen race. But that was nearly a week after our first race, so we had some time to overcome the Jet Lag and get acclimated to the country.

Matt Green took us on our first legitimate ride around the Belgian countryside without getting lost. My first reaction was how crazy the riding is here. There’s no Froome-ing it riding around here in Belgium, if you put your head down for a second you’ll catch a gutter, hit a car, slide out on cow turds, you name it. There’s almost no steady riding, you’re continuously turning and hopping curbs (just on a ride!); a ride around here is more like an alley cat race.

I did my first big solo ride a few days later and decided to get really lost and figure my way back home eventually. To my suprise it’s really easy to get around here. The trick is this: If you have particular roads or a route you want to ride, you WILL get lost, but if you just head in a general direction you’ll be fine. There are no dead ends in the Belgian road system, ever road leads to Rome, or um Aarschot. Also there are literally bike routes every where you go. This not only includes paths along canals and rail-trails, but touring routes. All you have to do it pick up a numbered sign that are usually zip tied to traffic signs and follow a given route.Pave IMG_3233

Back to Havenpijl Antwerpen, our second race. By that point we had started to get the hang of cleaning our bikes and washing our shoes every day (it rains a lot). The 170km race did two large 50km circuits then a bunch of small 17km circuits. There was also a large storm that was the remnant of a hurricane that almost hit America, decided to head East instead, and rain on our race. This meant 20mph wind and torrential rain. Also this was the first race with cobbles! I know I was nervous at the start, I had pictures of Roubaix and Flanders in my head, with pave splitting the field. We rolled out got to the first cobbled section and things, um, slowed down. I thought, whatever, it’s early in the race, not a decisive moment. The decisive moment, it turned out, was to happen 20 km later because of….corners. Running into the last 2km there were 6 corners on some very tame brick roads, however it had started raining. I was probably in the top 50 guys (not bad in a field of 200), and when we hit the corners, guys were dropping wheels in the corner like it was their job, the Belgians were bad at cornering.

I’m not sure where the difference came from, maybe it’s that in America every dude is willing to crash in every freaking corner not to drop a wheel, or the fact that they’re all running at least 120psi in their tires at all times (long story), but the Belgians were taking the wet corners very gingerly. So the field split, and the winning move of 25 got away because a guy dropped a wheel in the corners. The thing the Belgians are VERY good at is positioning, there is NO space to move around in the field, you’re always bumping guys in the field but not in a dangerous way. Because of this they don’t do the whole leaving space in front of you before a corner thing, or take a good line through a corner, they just do this:

Marching Band Turn

Since this sort of field split thing has happened to us several times, I’ll address it, we are flying totally blind in these races. I mean we know generally what teams are good and where the decisive sections SHOULD be, but it’s easy to underestimate how big a factor knowing the course and riders around you have. I mean in the US we race every weekend with the same guys, but here it’s 90 race days out of the year, and they’ve all been racing since before they could walk and know the courses inside and out. To us, ever attack is just another bunch of huge Belgian dudes going up the road.IMG_3329

The rain really started coming down after that point, we attacked and chased to try to get the break back, the field split a bunch of times, but in the end it stayed away.

Just two days later we raced a Kermesse that was formerly the world Kermesse championship (totally unofficial, I think). By this point we were actually starting to get the hang of Belgian style racing, plus the short 7km circuit was the closest thing to a crit we were probably ever going to get.

We stayed super active in the first part of the race. I eventually made it into a move of 14 some guys and we rotated through, and it was hard. We got a minute fairly quickly, then we all got Ice Bucket challenged by a 5 minute torrential freezing cold rain storm, but our gap just stayed up there at one minute. Here’s another difference: there’s apparently no sitting on in the breakaway here, you ride until you’re cross eyed and then just get dropped from the break (it’s a noble death). I was rolling through pretty good for most of the race but most the guys had a foot and 20 kilos on me and I was really starting to hurt, so I started skipping pulls. This prompted all sorts of, what I assume were Flemish curse words, hip slings, and even a poke in the butt (not on the side by the way although he may have also just thought I was cute).

Breakaway

We eventually got caught, and I noticed ANOTHER particularity of Belgian racing. In America, when you get dropped almost EVERYONE applaudes you: “Good job”, “You gave it your best”, etc. Maybe this is because cycling isn’t an American pastime, or it’s just a cultural thing. However in Belgium, when you drop out, all the old people just stair at you like this:

I couldn’t help it, I really felt embarrassed rolling around the course after getting dropped. Although it could have also been caused by the fact that at one point I had 20/6 odds on me to win at the bookies and they just lost their money…

We had a few days off before our next race so we took a couple rest days and train-ed it up to Amsterdam for a night so see the sighs, have a few beers, etc.

Amsterdam

Once back we did a little bit more training and a day trip to Brussels before our next race the UCI 1.1 Zottegem (could you imagine a UCI 1.1 race just being on a Tuesday in America??).

Zottegem was a 190km race in the Flanders region. We even did a climb from the actual Ronde. I wasn’t feeling super this race, we missed the break, chased, didn’t catch it, the usual. There were cross winds and actual climbs this time. I flatted and had the pleasure of going through the caravan…which is WAY more enjoyable than doing it in the US (more experienced caravan drives I think here).

Anyway we walked away with no results there as well, but had a good race as a team (we tried hard).

Today we’re racing the Dutch Food Valley Classic complete with not just one World Tour team but 3: Belkin, Cannondale, and Movistar, NBD.

I THINK there’s also a live stream to watch the race (although you might have to be in Belgium…no idea):

http://www.arnhemveenendaalclassic.nl/profkoers/live-stream/

Race starts at 9am EST and should finish around 2pm EST

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Road Race tomorrow

We’re doing this one tomorrow:

<iframe src=”//player.vimeo.com/video/71731336?byline=0&amp;portrait=0″ width=”500″ height=”281″ frameborder=”0″ webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe> <p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/71731336″>NL. Antwerpse Havenpijl full report</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user1841390″>Motomediateam.be</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>

I’m holding off on a full report on Belgian racing for now since I’ve only done one so far and want to do one not jet-lagged before I make any verdicts on the racing here, check back for updates.

Oh yeah and it’s supposed to rain and be super windy…SWEET!

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First Belgian Race Today

So we’ve gotten into our Belgian house here in Aarshot Friday morning. It’s a super nice house, and looks like it’s right out of an IKEA show room. We had our first legitimate ride that afternoon and promptly got VERY lost, stopping at least 10 times to check our saved maps on our phones. Belgium has the 3rd highest road density in the world. This isn’t even counting the endless network of bike paths and random goat paths. So basically there’s roads everywhere you go in every direction you could want…but none of the roads are longer than a km (only slight exaggeration). It generally makes for very confusing and and heads up riding with all the pedestrian and car traffic: think of doing an Alley Cat race on every single ride, forget the idea of zoning out in a ride.

Toe-ing up for a Pro Kermesse race today. It’s going to be 20 laps of an 8 km course.

I’ll be sure to have a good write up on the race come Monday or whatever, so in the meantime enjoy this video I finally put together from the GoPro I had at Athens Twilight, complete with sweet music track and more importantly: Audio from our self neutralization:

 

 

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So long Murica!

So I’ve been really slacking on the whole blogging thing of late. I missed out on my favorite weekend of racing: Hyde Park Blast, a mid-season break, and a trip to Vancouver and the French Broad Classic (aka Asheville SRS).

Anyway on Thursday I’m hopping on a plane in Atlanta to fly to Toronto, to fly to Montreal, to finally fly to Brussels!

Astellas is sending a squad over to Europe for a healthy month long dose of UCI and Kermesse races.

Belgium is sort of the holy land of bike racing (no rockets involved currently), so I’ll be a really once in a lifetime trip.

Anyway bring on the Beer, Frites, Kermesses’, and these guys:Belgian Gilles

 

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Wind Tunnel vs. CFD

So after getting a prototype made up we finally made it to the wind tunnel yesterday up in Charlotte. The A2 wind tunnel is a bit of a commercial wind tunnel, renting out wind tunnel on a time basis. If you read any cycling publications you’ve seen its fans as backdrop for any number of “Aero” tests. It was a really nice facility. It was an open circuit wind tunnel that was sized almost perfectly for bicycles (although maybe a bit small for cars). It was a really professional facility.

We ran our prototype vs a few of the top aero wheels currently in the US with VERY good results, but we can still use a little refinement.

A2 Wind Tunnel, Aero Rim Prototype

Our Uber Lightweight Prototype Rim in the Wind Tunnel

On the way back from the wind tunnel I had some good car time to think about why my CFD was missing some important things that we were seeing in the model. That’s when I stopped at a bike shop and happened to start talking to a bike builder and we got on the topic of CFD and wind tunnels. I mentioned that we did CFD analysis on a bunch of rim designs before heading to the wind tunnel with a prototype, he looked at me incredulously that we would even consider wasting our time at a wind tunnel when we could just model everything in CFD.

I just about threw a chair at him.

Yes computers now are very powerful, and a lot of CFD out there is VERY good at approximating scenarios. But, CFD will never replace a good wind tunnel test, ESPECIALLY with something like bicycle components. There are a few reasons for this.

First of all is Reynolds number similarity in the wind tunnel, which basically means matching accurately simulating flow phenomenon in a wind tunnel. Essentially you want your Reynolds Number and Mach number to be similar between your model in the wind tunnel and real life. For aircraft and rockets, this is very difficult. You cannot put a 1/50 scale aircraft in a wind tunnel and run it at flight speed, that would reduce your Reynolds number by a factor of 50 relative to real world, changing all the flow phenomenon. Your alternative is to increase airspeed by 50 times, this obviously is very difficult to physically do for any flight type air speed, but it will also entirely change the mach regime your model is in, rendering your model useless. Bicycles on the other hand are VERY easy to put in a wind tunnel. You can put full sized models in a relatively small tunnel, then run them at real world air speeds, giving  you essentially real world drag results.

Second is that fluid flow, specifically turbulence is INCREDIBLY complex:

“I am an old man now, and when I die and go to heaven there are two matters on which I hope for enlightenment. One is quantum electrodynamics, and the other is the turbulent motion of fluids. And about the former I am rather optimistic” - Horice Lamb (1932) British applied Mathematician

 

“Perhaps the biggest fallacy about turbulence is that it can be reliably described (statistically) by a system of equations which is far easier to solve than the full time-dependent three-dimensional Navier-Stokes equation”  - Peter Bradshaw Professor of Engineering @ Standford University

It might seem that bicycles, traveling at a relatively low speed of 20-30 mph are simple things, but the fact of the matter is that there are a ton of very complex things going on in the bike system. Take spokes for instance. They are not simply wires traveling through air, they are rotating, and they are small relative to the rest of the system. This means that they create entirely different types of flows than the rim. There’s also the interface of the rotating wheel and the fork, the stationary ground. Don’t even start on the body of the cyclist (which accounts for 80-90% of all drag anyways).

The solution to this is approximation. In every field of complex engineering we try to break up the model in to manageable parts, then figure out the interactions between these parts. Currently I’m modeling the rim shapes in a 2 dimensional domain. This has some very obvious shortfalls, but to run an accurate model of a 3D rotating wheel (just the front), is beyond the computational power that I, and probably most bike companies, have on hand. It is a light model that allows us to run through a relatively large design space with essentially a souped up gaming computer. That’s one of the reasons why we go to the wind tunnel in the first place, to refine the CFD. Yesterday I found out that my model was predicting the performance of some of the wheels incorrectly, and now that I have other data to reference the CFD against, I can refine the model.

There’s nothing wrong with approximation, it is how design is done. However if you forget that the model within your computer is just a model, you will make missteps or worse. CFD a.k.a Cleverly Forged Data, Colorful Figure Delivery, etc is great for marketing, it shows that you have made the steps to improve your product methodically. However it is very easily altered to suit your needs, I can make a CFD model show that our product is better than brand X easily with the right assumptions and models. You will never have a fully realized fluid model of a bike or any other complex design, in sports or aerospace. In order to close the gap between the simplified CFD world we work in and the real time gains on the road, the wind tunnel will never be replaced.

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