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Will a 29” wheel bike win Lourdes?

Human element counts more than the mechanics

News from Lourdes has been driven mainly towards the Santa Cruz 29” bikes but with 27.5” ruling timed training here in Lourdes maybe Sunday’s final is destined to go to the form riders in Hart, Atherton and Kerr. What do the mechanics and history book reveal on the bigger wheels?

They minimise mistakes offer more stability, increased speed and added grip, it’s surely a foregone conclusion that a 29” wheel bike will win Lourdes world cup opener. For certain the larger wheel have the characteristics that lead to a very definite performance advantage, after all the Syndicate would be crazy to run bikes that are slower after all the testing, prototyping and development right? They seem very certain of their decision.

There are however, some people who believe 29” wheels are suited to certain size riders and only work better on certain tracks. Clearly the people making such comments cannot have lived in other people’s bodies on those tracks so its an observation based on what exactly? Well its pretty subjective, after it could well be that many riders who have tested 29” wheels and not found a performance advantage have simply not spent enough time learning the rhythm and timing of 29” wheels. Or have been riding poor designs.

It’s important to recognise the folly of generalising that a 29” wheel is faster irrespective of frame and suspension design, tyre options and a whole host of other criteria. It has to be a good bike, the correct size for the rider. It does appear that Santa Cruz have done a great job on the new V10 and if as they’ve said have kept geometry from the 27.5” wheel version on paper it looks a great bike.

Except that mechanics only get you so far, the human element at work is still the leading factor. So will Syndicate riders Greg Minnaar, Luca Shaw or Loris Vergier win Lourdes?

The latter have history against them and neither the Frenchman or American have won a world cup. Its certainly a possibility. Luca Shaw is climbing fast. Three top ten results in 2016 including a fifth placed Mont Sainte Anne podium in only his second senior season and he certainly has the mindset.

Loris Vergier is also in his third senior season. The French rider had a spectacular second to Gwin at Leogang last season and third behind Gwin and Minnaar at Mont Sainte Anne in his first senior season. These are strong results.

Minnaar needs no introduction. He knows how to win races, has won 19 world cups in 16 seasons. He comes off the back of a win and three podiums in 2016 and surely bringing big wheels and more speed into the equation all leads to a rollercoaster victory for the South African here in Lourdes?

There are many questions to answer – and that’s before even factoring an opposition that is consistent, on an upward curve with arguably with no shortage of fire in the tank. Can Minnaar keep the momentum into an eighteenth senior season, how much time is there in the bigger wheels?

Lourdes is a three minute track, in fact Gwin is the only person to have gone under three minutes. From the talk in the pits and from what we have learned from the many teams who have been testing 29” wheels is that there is a good three seconds over three minutes at a conservative estimate. This is consistent with our own testing on many different bikes and we believe that on a downhill bike the advantage is even greater. The problem with this depends on whether the riders have truly adapted to the new wheel size to squeeze the advantage and of course rider form.

The only thing we know for certain are the hard facts of the racers in question. Podium placings alone hide the fact that there are varying time differentials between tracks. Some make for close racing, others the tracks see wider differentials.

When you look at the average time that each of the heretics has been separated from the winner in the last few years it all leads to the fact that they all might have a job on their hands against Gwin, Bruni and Danny Hart who appears to be in an uncompromising mood. Below are time differentials excluding results that are outside the top twenty during the 2016 season.

 

Minnaar                      5.7 seconds

Shaw                           5.8

Vergier                        7.3

 

2015 was the first year senior for Shaw and Vergier and the season Minnaar spectacularly took two wins – at Fort William and at Lenzerheide.

Minnaar                      3.3 seconds (skewed heavily from Lourdes 11th)

Shaw                           9.1

Vergier                         6.2

It seems Shaw and Vergier are on an upward trajectory, how much have they improved over the winter is unknown and quite how far they go nobody knows as no end of young talent has climbed hard only to struggle at the summit. In the end it depends if the rider is having a good day and it will be totally impossible to know to what extent the bike has played a part in the result.

The bigger question is what would be the effect of Gwin, Hart, Bruni and Brosnan getting the big wheels rolling? And what if Gee Atherton maintains timed training form an gets on a 29″ at Fort William?

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