A common misconception is that the strongest rider wins the time trial. Looking back at the past masters of the clock
Indurain, Armstrong and Ullrichit is easy to see why there is such a perception. However form, or position on the bike, is almost as important as strength. If you aren't as aerodymanic as possible, you're wasting watts and that's costing you time.
Dave Zabriskie has won time trials (TT) in both the Tour and Giro d'Italia and is the current world champion silver medalist. It is no coincidence that his form on a time trial bike is as perfect as it gets. Last year, the Z-Man came up to my house to preview the key stages of the Tour of California. As we rode the time trial course, it was almost impossible for me to get any sort of draft! The final seven miles of the course was into a steady 20mph headwind. Most of us would blanch at the thought of finishing into such gusty conditions, but Dave, realizing what a critical role proper form plays in cheating the wind remarked that a headwind was an advantage for him. I am going to miss seeing him in the Tour's TT's, but like Michelangelo's David, he is definitely a study in form.
The spring before the 2004 Athens Olympics, Dede Barry, wife of T-Mobile rider Michael Barry, traveled to the testing track operated by the power people at SRM for analysis of her TT form. With some minor adjustments to her position on the bike, Dede was able to generate about 30 more watts--a whopping 10 percent improvement in her power output. Barry went on to win the silver medal in the TT in Athens capping a stellar career as one of America's most accomplished female racers.
Recently, we have seen that Levi Leipheimer has adopted Floyd Landis' unconventional, hands-up-in-front TT position. Obviously the result of wind-tunnel testing, Levi also realizes that time in the tunnel is just as important as time on the bike. Last winter, I accompanied Saunier-Duval pro riders David Millar and Gilberto Simoni to the San Diego Low Speed Wind Tunnel. What impressed me most was their attention to detail. Millar spent almost four hours in the tunnel just working out the most optimum combination of helmet and sunglasses!
Michael Rasmussen's drumsticks aren't the most powerful on the flat roads, but with optimal aerodynamic position, and the right combination of helmet and sunglasses, he just might keep the yellow jersey after the first time trial in Albi on Saturday.