Science backs Team GB!
Elliot Howe and Rebecca Jordache | 27 March 2017

When you have many elite athletes that are all similar inability, you have to consider the minute details and how these could give youthe edge over other athletes. The smallest of advantages can make a differencewhen fractions of seconds are involved. This is why countless hours are spent on the advancement of newtechnology.

In cycling, the three sciences work hand in hand. Gainingmaximum use of muscle power and energy comes from looking at the demands on thebody from a biological or physiological view. Almost everything can be measuredand altered to be more aerodynamic as the cyclists need to 'punch' a holethrough the air - this is where physics comes in.  On a horizontal surface, there are two mainforces acting against a rider's motion: air resistance and rolling resistance.It has been said that a cyclist moving at 20mph puts 80% of his effort intoovercoming air resistance, which increases with speed.  Air resistance is all to do with the impededair flow produced by the rider and the bike, so it is impossible to eliminateit completely.

So how do cyclists competing at Olympic level keep drag to aminimum?  A simple bike frame - unlike asolid block -- is uneven, increasing drag due to air flow separating around theframe.  A solution to this problem is toproduce a smooth shaped frame, resulting in less drag due to a smoother airflow.  Mathematicians calculated thathaving a smooth shaped frame can save up to 2.5 minutes over 40 km. And, ofcourse, the building of the perfect bike and other equipment comes down totheir chemical structures. A carbon fibre frame is made from several sheets ofcarbon, each sheet a layer of carbon-reinforced plastic.  A cyclists' height and arm length is neededto tailor a frame specifically to them. The manufacturer makes each part of the frame from a 'latex balloon',which they then cover in the carbon fibre material.  The fibres on the material are all arrangedto run in one direction, to add greater strength to the frame.  Carbon fibre is very light, aiding motion dueto the fact that more force is required to accelerate a unit of mass on a wheelthan on the frame.

'Sticky' tyres increase tackiness before a standing start.They are made by spraying alcohol on the wheels to remove a layer of dirt.Despite suspicion surrounding the production of the GB team's bikes, they haveall been checked and signed off by the sport's governing body, in fact you caneven buy one online for £20,000!

The helmet is modelled to make it as aerodynamic aspossible. They use a honeycomb of aluminium inside, not foam like most others.This aluminium is light and effective at absorbing impacts, which also meansthey can be made smaller. A very streamlined shape is used, so that air flowsover the helmet much smoother than over a full head of hair.

Team GB's body suits are made from lycra equivalentmaterials.  When the cyclists arepreparing for races they wear 'Adipower' trousers, which are heated bybattery-powered strips to keep the muscles warm and deliver more power when therace begins. The shoes are made-to-measure, and almost impossible to walk inbecause of blocks underneath that lock them into the pedals so that the powerdriven down the leg muscles goes directly into them.

During training sessions the cyclists spend hours in windtunnels, being analysed and assessed to see how the slightest changes inposture can improve their performance.

There is one common fear for athletes: being ill during theGames.  To prevent this, the cyclists doall they can to avoid dreaded germs. For example, whenever the athletes travelabroad to train, the use of public transport is forbidden and personal bedsheets and pillows must be used instead of the ones provided by hotels. Thewhole team is also trained by a specialist on how to properly wash their hands!

We may all see our Olympic athletes as super-human andextremely talented individuals, but science plays an enormous part in theirachievements in the Games. Team GB recognises science as a key reason behindtheir success, as it enhances and boosts their ability.

James Routledge 2016