Every year the team behind the Journal of Science and Cycling organise a fantastic conference that takes place in the host city of the Tour de France Grand Depart.
In 2020 I applied for and won the IBFI (International Bike Fitting Institute) CPD travel grant to be able to attend the conference in Nice. Little did we know what was around the corner when the Covid-19 pandemic hit us all. The conference, along with the Tour, was cancelled. While the Tour managed to run later in the year it was logistically impossible to have a conference of delegates gathering in conference rooms at that time. I was unable to attend the 2021 edition in Leuven due to work commitment, so roll on 2022 and a trip to Copenhagen!
It was going to need an early start to make the timings work so it was with bleary eyes and dark skies that we took to the road to head to Heathrow. At least by the time we got through all the security rigamarole and grabbed some breakfast we were treated to a stunning sunrise to raise our spirits.
Thankfully the rest of the journey went like clockwork and a very efficient train had us in the centre of Copenhagen in 15 minutes for just £5 - this was as good as it was going to get for things being affordable. I had been warned that things were going to be pretty expensive.
As soon as we stepped off the train it was clear that the TdF was coming to town with bins wrapped in yellow, polka cladding around pillars and lots of signs promoting the various events that would be going on over the coming week. I had unwittingly booked a hotel that was situated on the road the teams would be riding down for the team presentation and also one street over from the time trial course so that was a nice surprise.
I was travelling with my wife so we had planned to have a day in Copenhagen prior to the conference to see the city and sights. Lots of cities are described as 'cycling friendly' but Copenhagen really takes this to another level where segregated cycle lanes form part of nearly every main road around the city. So we grabbed a couple of hire bikes from the hotel and went out exploring. We traversed between waterside paths, botanical gardens, food markets, and the Kastellet ( a 17th century fort and rampart which was later rebuilt into its now distinctive star shape with surrounding moat). The Kastellet still houses a military base and operations but the grounds and ramparts are open to the public and you can walk around the raised perimeter.
We capped off the day with an amazing dinner at Norrlyst and an early night with the conference starting the next morning (well, for me, someone else was going shopping!)
The sun was shining again as I walked over to the conference host hotel for Day 1 of the Science & Cycling Conference. It was great to arrive at the exhibition room and see some interesting new tech from SRM, Cyclus, and Inscyd amongst others while picking up my obligatory free bag and mingling with other delegates.
Then it was time to get into the morning session which had some great presentations surrounding athlete development and holistic support looking beyond 'power' as a marker for monitoring athlete performance and outcomes. Four key attributes were linked to those that made a successful transition from amateur ranks to pro level riding - VO2max, HRmax, Motivation, and Self Confidence.
The second morning session featured two great talks, one from Jeroen Swart (Head of Medical at UAE Emirates) looking at the challenges of return to play (riding) following serious injuries. Some of the key points from this presentation: lower limb and knee injuries had the slowest RTP; in all cases, apart from clavicle fractures, those that required surgery had a slower RTP; polytrauma (severe injury to more than one area) has double the duration in RTP.
The second was from Dajo Sanders of Team DSM who was exploring how teams profile their athletes for performance in different disciplines (sprint vs endurance etc) and thus plan riders training plans and race selection.
A quick break for lunch before the afternoon session kicked off and I have to say there was one absolute stand out lecture in the afternoon, Go HIGH or Go HOT, presented by
. Their research explores the physiological responses on training / performance from altitude and heat training. The fascinating point to note here was not just what sizeable gains can be made from both altitude and heat training but how quickly the gains are 'lost' once the stimulus is removed - in the case of altitude training, all of the physiological changes (gains) measured had returned to baseline at Day 14. So it is interesting to consider how professional teams are organising altitude camps with the aim of improving performance when it counts the most (in the mountains) when the first mountain stage will often be quite far into the race (Day 11 in this years Tour).
So after reaching near information overload it was time to head back to my hotel to cool off and recharge my batteries before heading back into town for the conference dinner. This was a great evening put on by the organisers to allow more relaxed get together to network and catch up with colleagues and other professionals in the field. I had a great time chatting with Andy Brooke (Cyclologic and Head of the IBFI) and Wendy Holliday who would be presenting some of her PhD work on Day 2 of the conference.
Day 2 started with another absolutely fascinating presentation from James Hull looking at the complexity of breathing problems in cycling. It is widely understood that exercise induced bronchoconstriction in endurance athletes is very common but what's more intetesting is how often it is misdiagnosed. Dr Hull pointed out the importance of what tests are used and also the state in which the athlete is tested. Athletes often fall under the umbrella of exercise induced asthma and are treated as such and while some respond well others don't seem to improve at all. Dr Hull discussed one of the other key diagnoses, Exercise Induced Laryngeal Obstruction, or EILO. In the case of EILO, inhalers will do nothing to help, unless there is co-existing exercise induced asthma, which there often is, but not always. If there is underlying EILO then other treatments would be indicated such as breathing techniques to try and alter the airflow into the mouth and reduce the negative pressure which causes the tissues to draw in and create the obstruction (take a look at the next TdF stage and have a closer look at riders practicing various pursed lips breathing techniques when the going gets tough). Surgery is also an option in recurrent or severe cases where the excess tissue is removed by laser.
Later in the morning there was a big focus on biomechanics and positioning on the bike and its influences on performance and injury.
Claes Hoegh Cubel presented a nice study looking at 'how low can you go' in TT positions. First noting that top level pros on average have a lower torso angle than national level TT competitors. However, previous research has shown that lowering the hip angle too much can lead to negative performance deficits in Gross Efficiency, VO2, Peak Power, and VO2max (Fintelman 2015,2016, Fennel 2020).
In his study they looked at a group of national elite TT riders and assessed performance in their 'normal' TT position, at 4, 12, and 20 degrees. They only found that in the 4 degree position there was an increase in Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) compared to other positions but no other significant differences. This was a nice study although the techniques used to quantify hip angle were indirect (greater trochanter to shoulder) and thus introduce quite a big possible measurement error. None the less, it shows an area that certainly warrants further attention.
There was a very cool presentation on body positioning and drag reduction effects of the second rider on the first in track pursuit. Prevoius research (Blocken) has indicated that the second rider, if close enough, can save the first rider between 2-5% drag, known as 'Overpressure Push'. However, these measurments have always been carried out in a wind tunnel with static wheels, so it is suggested that this effect may be altered in a 'wheels rotating' condition. It was also noted just how close the wheels of rider 1 and 2 (etc) need to be to maximise these gains, in effect, unrealistically small to make a sizeable advantage.
The final phase of the conference featured two excellent talks from Wendy Holliday (whbikefit.com) and Andy Brooke. The former centred around looking at some of the comtemporary research in bike fitting and applying it to practice. An example being the key considertion of riding intensity during a fitting session - there is a marked changed in knee extension angles between higher and lower intensity cycling - so it is vital to ensure you are fitting the rider at or close to the intensity they will be most frequently riding to best translate that fitting position from the studio to the road. One nice point that Wendy raised from her own resesrch was the association with increased hamstring flexibility and lower handlebar position were associated with improved performance - so get working on those hamstring and see what gains are there for the taking!
Andy is currently completing his PhD which is looking into to the role of the ankle and ankling motion during pedalling. Something which I talk about a lot with my cycling patients is the role of the soleus muscle in stabilising the ankle and resisting the pedal reaction forces generated during cycling. A lot of people tend to use a straight leg calf raise as their only calf strength exercise but this misses the point and emphasis on soleus as gastrocnemius is a bi-articular (two joints - knee/ankle) muscle and its ability to generate force is dimished with knee bend - a condition which is present in nearly all of the pedal stroke apart from
out of the saddle efforts. Andy referred to a great piece of research which illustrates this point on relative contribution of forces from the two calf muscles (Lewis et al 2012).
Andy also presented some other interesting points on the effect of cleat position on relative force effectiveness based on more forward or rearward positioning. The more rearward position reducing the length of the force lever arm which can reduce the required muscle force needed to overcome pedal reaction forces. I willl certainly be looking forward to him completing his PhD and seeing the completed results and data on this element.
Next up was Jon Irriberri a physio working with the Jumbo Visma team as well as privately who was presenting various data surrounding a hot topic of how to optimise / harness best perforamnce with relation to biomechanics, mechanical effectiveness, and pedalling efficiency. Now, his presentation was awesome but I have to see it was a real shame he only had 15 minutes to deliver it as there was so much to dig into and explain in more depth. As a result I wasn't really able to get a handle on some of the elements he was discussing. Though one take home for me was the idea of what is 'optimal' - can we ever really know? How can we compare what is proposed to be the best for a certain athlete with another approach or position etc? We can only ever try one approach at a given time.
Dr Robert Lamberts then wrapped up the conference with an insightful piece of qualitative research that set out to see if questionnaire-based methods were sifficient in measuring sleep, recovery and mental well-being in a team of elite female professional cyclists. In short the answer was no but it raised some intetesting points in how information is gathered from riders in terms of recall, accuracy and also willingness to share this data. With more and more wearable devices that can measure everything from blood sugar to sleep quality should we dispense with these traditional methods in favour of a data driven monitoring system? My sense says that discarding rider feedback and subjective feedback would be a mistake and we should look to combine both subjective and data driven methods to best monitor athlete performance and recovery.
So, that was a wrap for the Science and Cycling Conference for 2022 and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed all of the gems of information I picked up along the way as well as getting to catch up and meet lots of like minded professionals withing cycling, bike fitting, and sports medicine.
Now the bonus was getting to head back into the centre of town and watch the Tour de France team presentation as the atmosphere in the centre of Copenhagen around the Tivoli gardens was reaching fever pitch. I met up with another bike fitting colleague, Darryl Fitzell, who runs BikeFitPro in Copenhagen and we watched all the teams rolling down the streets on a warm sunny evening while sipping on a few cool beers (from the supermarket - now understaning how to make Copenhagen slightly more affordable!). We then joined up with Wendy and Deena (Cycling Coach and Junior team DS - Drivetrain.cc) to go out for an awesome meal. Cheers to Darryl for picking up the tab on that one ;)
For my last morning Darryl had planned a super chill 60km offroad route around Copenhagen to take in the sights which included some gravel trails through the suburbs, the seaside town of Dragor aka the Hamptoms of Copenhagen, the bridge/tunnel over to Sweden (how cool is that!), the hippie commune in an old military base on the outskirts and then into the city centre to roll through some cycle lanes, over some bridges and up to check out Darry's fit studio. We then pinned our ears back to get back to his flat so I could make my way out to the airport. Well, what a trip it was, nerding out on cycling, soaking up some Tour atmosphere and then a bike ride - Copenhagen, you were awesome!