TU Delft’s Ring of Fire boosts Team Sunweb in run-up to Tour’s team time trial

News - 07 July 2019 - Communication

TU Delft is helping with Team Sunweb’s preparations for the Tour de France team time trial (Sunday 7 July). The Ring of Fire measuring system determines the air resistance of a line of cyclists with a view to improving their positioning and strategy in the team time trial. TU Delft and KPMG have also taken a look at how to collect data during a training session and how it can immediately be made available to the trainers and cyclists.

Ring of Fire
TU Delft and Team Sunweb have been collaborating for years on improving sporting performance through scientific research. “Optimising the team time trial is far more complex than the individual time trial because the performance depends on several racers,” says Team Sunweb’s embedded scientist’ Teun van Erp. One of the parts of the puzzle is the exact air resistance or drag of the cyclists who ride in a line. The air resistance influences the order in which the cyclists ride during the team time trial, and a unique measuring system, the Ring of Fire, has been developed at TU Delft with support from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) to determine this drag as precisely as possible.                                                                   

Dr Andrea Sciacchitano, an assistant professor at the university explains: “The Ring of Fire consists of a tunnel containing little bubbles of helium. The bubbles don’t easily burst and despite gravity stay suspended in their position in the air. By lighting up these bubbles with a laser and taking photographs really quickly with a high-speed camera, we create a precise image of the airflow around the moving cyclists. This is in contrast to a normal wind tunnel where the cyclists are stationary.” Van Erp: “We’ve taken readings where we have a number of cyclists ride in the team time trial order through the tunnel. That information allows us to improve the cyclists’ positioning, have a look at their helmets and determine the optimal formation order of the racing team.”

Real-time data
TU Delft and KPMG have also looked at collecting data from the cyclists during the team time trial. Sensors on the bikes and on the cyclists measure three things: heartbeat, speed and the power output on the pedals. “The data from these sensors can now be transmitted immediately to the dashboard of the team leader’s car,” says Paul Adriani from KPMG Digital Advisory. Adriani: “By integrating the real-time data in a model that simulates a team time trial as closely as possible, the team leader is able to decide on a strategy and on who should ride at the front, and for how long.” At the moment, using live data during the race itself is not allowed. During training, though, the cyclists are taught to follow the strategy in perfect detail.

Using energy to the full
The plan to race the optimal team time trial is in essence really simple. Real-time data makes putting that plan into practice easier. One of the things involved is switching the positions of the cyclists. Mathematical models allow you to develop the ideal strategy. It is also important to keep a record of exactly how long a cyclist is at the front, because that has a major influence on how quickly his or her body’s ‘battery’ runs down. The model works out the times at the front on the basis of details including speed and wattage. Van Erp: “Hopefully, our preparations will pay off and we’ll achieve a great result in the team time trial in Brussels.”

The projects described above are also featured in Team Sunweb’s team time trial video and in the Dutch documentary, De machinekamer van Tom Dumoulin (Tom Dumoulin’s engine room): https://www.npostart.nl/de-machinekamer-van-tom-dumoulin/05-07-2019/POW_04376639

Team time trial video Team Sunweb

Andrea Sciacchitano (TU Delft researcher): +31 6 38401655, A.Sciacchitano@tudelft.nl
Arend Schwab (TU Delft cycling researcher): +31 6 28527539, A.L.Schwab@tudelft.nl
Lenny Bakker (TU Delft media relations officer): +31 6 44227176, L.Bakker-1@tudelft.nl
Peter Reef (Team Sunweb communications manager): +31 6 39010359, peter@keep-challenging.com
Andy Bellm (KPMG press officer): +31 20 6567039, bellm.andy@kpmg.nl