Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Is It Really Necessary?

I already know the answer before writing this, but I just thought it was an interesting observation.

As I'm sure most of you already did, you've poured over the results from the Ironman World Championships, including all the photos and videos from the various sources of coverage. There is a ton of cool stuff out there, with all access coverage from inside the race. It was only after reviewing a bunch of photos recently published by Competitor, that I realized something:

Both the Men's AND Women's champions didn't wear aero helmets. Interesting....

Now that isn't to say that I don't believe they provide any benefit. Plenty of scientific studies have shown that the aero advantage over the bike course of an Ironman race is pretty significant. But why then, did they choose not to wear them? One thought is the heat. Most aero helmets provide less ventilation due to fewer vents, and being that the race was in Hawaii with temperatures in the 90s, the added heat impact on one's body could have minimized aero advantage one would gain on the course. Other than that, comfort? Anything else I'm missing?

But then that got me curious - do they ever wear aero helmets in other races? And it appears the answer is mostly no. I found a few shots of them wearing aero helmets, such as the one to the side, but the majority of the photos show them wearing regular helmets. I mean, if aero helmets provide "free speed", why wouldn't they wear them?

One other observation is that neither triathlete posted the fastest bike split, so it is pretty clear that aero helmets do help post faster bike splits, as they were worn by each of the top cyclists in the race. But then again, triathlon is much more than a long bike ride, sandwiched between a swim and a run. Contrary to what most people say, it ISN'T all about the bike. This year, it was all about the run. The differences in the bike splits this year weren't significant enough to create enough separation between the faster cyclists and the faster runners. It came down to the run, much like it usually does in Ironman. A good cyclist can post a solid lead, but a strong runner who is a solid cyclist will catch them on the run, such as what happened this year in the men's race.

I'm not trying to draw any conclusions from this, because I'm not qualified to, nor do I care to get into too many specifics. I just thought it was interesting that they both don't wear aero helmets and I wondered to myself why. No matter what the strength of the triathlete is, the winner in the end is the man/woman that swims, bikes, and runs that fastest over the course of the race.

Anyone else have any other thoughts on this?


jeanne said...

yes, I know why they didn't wear aero helmets: cuz they didn't want to look like tools!

It's not all about the bike; it's all about the PHOTOS!

Audrey said...

i love this post. it is not about the athlete, not the gear!!!

Sean Lemecha said...

This is a really interesting observation. My best guess as to why they would fore-go the aero helmet, like you said, would be the ventilation aspect. Given the heat/humidity at Kona, perhaps the (lack of) comfort level would have played a noticeably large factor mentally as well as physically.

Also, I don't know too much about professional cycling, but I was under the impression that the average time trials were shorter than the 112 mile Kona course. If that assumption is true, then they also wouldn't typically wear the aero helmets on longer rides. They can draft though, so perhaps that makes this thought inconsequential.

Sean Lemecha said...

This is going to sound stupid - I "friended" Chris McCormack on facebook and asked him why some athletes decided not to wear the aero helmets and this was his response:

"it is so hot in Kona so heat can be a decision around helmet choice."

I also spoke with a friend of mine who was down in Kona for the race and sat in on some interviews where the racers talked about that. Here are her thoughts:

"...when we were in Kona there was lots of talk about how many athletes just found the aero helmets too hot, not enough ventilation. I guess it is all about how each individual does in the heat. We watched a Q&A with former champ Tim DeBoom and he said there was no way he would wear one.....said that yeah he may lose some seconds, but would rather that than pass out on the bike since he doesn't do that great in the heat."

Sasha said...

It's not all about the bike; it's all about the PHOTOS!


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