TT Position Testing With Lance Armstrong And Tom Danielson

In late 2008, Lance Armstrong returned to the wind tunnel to test his Time Trial (TT) position. You can see a short video excerpt here.

The audio quality is a bit flaky, so I've made a summary of his comments for you.

What Armstrong Tested

Steve Hed had Lance try 3 hand positions:
  1. Fully out on the ends of the TT bar extensions
  2. Choked up half-way
  3. Choked up all the way back on the extensions, close to the elbow pads.
Combined with these hand positions, they tested 2 sitting positions on the saddle:
  1. Back in a normal position
  2. Moved forward onto the nose of the saddle.
Note, sitting forward on the saddle with the hands choked all the way back in front of the elbow pads is just too compact a position to ride properly. Lance didn't bother with that position.

A Blend Of Athlete & Equipment

Hed makes some comments about how a good TT position is a combination of the athlete and the equipment. You can be 5% slower in the wind tunnel, but if you can pedal with 25% more power, you're going to go faster.

On one day, Lance tried to ride with the seat back, the nose of the seat up, elbows very narrow, bars low. He couldn't ride the bike.

The next day, he rode with the nose of the seat down, the seat forward, elbows a bit wider, and the bars raised some. He was much more comfortable.

Testing On The Velodrome

Around the same time, Lance also tested his TT position on the velodrome. You can see that video here. The goal was to ride various test runs in different bike positions yet holding a constant speed. The required power output was the measured success variable. A lower power that produced the same speed pointed to a more optimum position.

4 UCI Rules For Your TT Set-Up

According to the UCI rules there are 4 key points that most commissaires will be checking. You need to keep these in mind for your set-up:
  1. Your forearms (not your hands though) must be parallel to the ground when the commissaires assess the legality of your position.
  2. The top-most portion of any piece of your TT bars (except the shift levers) must be equal to or lower than your seat height.
  3. The ends of your TT bars (except the shift levers again) can extend no further than 75cm horizontally forward of the center of your bottom bracket.
  4. The tip of your seat must be at least 5cm horizontally behind the center of your bottom bracket.
You can only qualify for "morphological" exceptions to points 3 and 4. That is, excessively long legs or arms can allow you exceptions to these rules. The commissaires will put you on your bike and assess the following measurements:

If you exceed the 75cms in point 3, your elbow angle must be less than 120°. Even considering this point, your bars ends can be no more than 80cm ahead of your bottom bracket. The commissaires will make sure you're sitting normally on your saddle and that your hands are extended all the way to the ends of the extensions, as you could normally grasp them - no choking up on the bars to tighten your elbow angle.

In point 4, your seat can be closer than 5cm to your bottom bracket only if your knee remains above or just behind the pedal axle when your right foot is in the forward 3 o'clock position and you sit normally on your saddle (again, the commissaires will make sure your don't scoot yourself way back on the seat to change the angle of your knee).

The previously extreme "praying mantis" positions of Floyd Landis and Levi Leipheimer are now technically illegal.

I remember when I first saw Landis' position in the 2006 Tour de France, the ends of his bars were well above his seat - and that alone made his position illegal as it violated point 2 above.

Tom Danielson On The Road With His TT Position

And look here what Tom Danielson is doing with his TT position.

In this video, the side-angle shots show Danielson's bars are horizontal, and he can get his forearms parallel to the ground. But in the front-on shots he has moved his hands up high, so the bases of his palms are resting on top of the shift levers. His forearms are no longer parallel to the ground; they are approaching the praying mantis position, allowing him to "hide" behind his hands, like Armstrong commented in his video.

You might be able to get away with this change in hand position during your time trial, so long as a commissaire doesn't see you make the move. Otherwise, do your best to keep those forearms horizontal, certainly while your position is being assessed pre-race.

Test, Make Your Own Refinements, & Train In Your TT Position

Like Lance, you'll need to experiment to find what works best for you. Check out my earlier post, Free Speed In Your Next Time Trial, for some ideas to test the aerodynamics of your position.

Remember, you'll need to train in your TT position to get the best power in that position. If you're serious about your time trialling, you should be training at least once a week in your TT position.