Sunday, 16 December 2012

Getting in an expert - David Harmon Skype Session

The Skype session we had with David Harmon was great; it gave us a good view of cycling as a whole and his job in particular.  David Harmon works for Eurosport as a commentator on cycling, which makes him pretty much an expert.  In the session we covered various subjects such as where the funding for cycling comes from, technology in cycling and its future as a popular sport.  His knowledge in these areas will prove extremely valuable in our presentations at the end of the unit.

We began by focusing on technology/science and other things that makes the team stand out from the rest.  Recently in cycling there has been a huge emphasis on marginal gains, this is based on the idea that being slightly better in all areas than everyone else will lead to a measurable overall improvement.  These gains can be from seemingly unimportant things such as sleeping with your own pillow at night to get more sleep and washing your hands correctly to reduce the amount you get ill, these changes can be the difference between being average, or a champion.  Many technological advances such as all in one suits, the aerodynamic helmets and the use of wind tunnels all help with these marginal gains and make that 1% difference.  For an excellent article, click here.

David Harmon also focused on ICT and how teams record data and assess an athlete’s performance; he mentioned the way that teams calculate how much power an athlete is using and in road racing if this is past their threshold.  In road cycling athletes have to keep a fast pace throughout a long race and still have the energy for a sprint at the end, if the athlete is working too hard the teams can calculate it using data and tell the cyclist to slow down and save energy.  This can make the difference between Mark Cavendish winning or losing a sprint at the end of a race.  For an explanation/article on this please click here.

During the session he also explained where cycling gets its funding from and why sponsorship is so important.  As regards to funding cycling is very unique, it is different from the way traditional sports such as football is funded, focusing solely on sponsorship.  Without sponsors, there would be no road cycling or Tour de France.  Teams are not made up of certain nationalities or named after locations, in road cycling they are made up of teams of people being funded by a sponsor.  This sponsor runs the team employing coaches, analysts and cyclists alike, they also provide the equipment necessary for running a team.  All of this costs the sponsor a lot of money but they do this to get their company in the public eye, for them it is an investment in advertisement.  Unfortunately, this means when the sponsor deems the arrangement to no longer be profitable they end the team, this makes anyone involved in the team jobless and with no income.  To see a list of Team Sky'd sponsors and details of how they contribute, click here.

Finally, we discussed the future in cycling and why it is suddenly so popular.  Obviously this is being caused by the tremendous success of Team GB and Team Sky and the role models that it is creating.  Cycling has become one of the most successful areas of British sport dominating the medals in the Olympics and Team Sky having great success throughout the year.  This success has been rewarded by media attention and sponsorship; however it begs the question of what happens when we stop winning?  Honestly, this can only be answered when that time comes, hopefully it will be a while yet.

So, here is a summary of the Skype session with David Harmon:

Background of cycling in UK

  • Culture.  Other countries have cycling as one of their top sports.
  • UK doesn’t have cycling at the top of their culture.  Other sports such as Football are part of our society.
  • Cycling used to be huge in the industrial/older times.  Used to be a high class activity/pursuit.  Lower classes weren’t allowed to road race until after WW2.  Because of this, we missed out on Tour de France.  Missed out on 100 years of culture.  Used to be the working man’s transport.


  • 25 years ago – electronic pulse meter measured pulse rate.  28bpm.  Used as a measure of performance.  Unreliable.
  • Last 5-10 years.  Power meters one of the most important pieces of ICT data analysis equipment.  Measure the amount of power you produce in watts.  Allows you to see physiologically how good you are (are you stronger in left leg/right leg).  Gets them to see their power threshold to ride at that level over a race.
  • Sensors on bike, feedback to race car, they can feedback to you and tell you to increase pace, chat etc.
  • Cyclists train to data.  4 million processes per second being analysed in training or in competition.  Can see how well a rider is performing and work on it in training.  Can analyse this data and adapt it a race or competition.  If they aren’t racing at their physiological threshold, the team can speak to you via radio and tell you to work harder.


  • Mountain biking led the way in technology.
  • Brought in ideas from industry (disc brakes from motor cross to mountain biking).
  • UCI have rules of what you can and can’t do in races for safety reasons.
  • UCI also wanted bikes to be relevant for normal people.  You can get something similar in a shop.  If you can’t, you can’t build/use it.
  • Teams take the rules to produce lightest, stiffest and aerodynamics bikes possible.  Help the riders.
  • Most bikes made from carbon fibre.  Two types.  Carbon fibre is bound to resin.  Got to get balance right.
  • Ride, weight, aerodynamics all important.
  • No disc brakes on road bikes.  No hydraulic brakes.
  • Clothing - skin suite.  Initially used in track cycling but now on road as well.  Designed to smooth the airflow over your body.  Weave aerofoils into the suite to make it more aerodynamic.  These foils are seen as lots of seams.  They break up the air and help save energy and ride faster.  Also designed to cope with air from all angles.
  • Helmets – closed vents.  Increase air flow.  Faster with less effort.  More aerodynamic.


  • Road cycling is not a premium sport.  Very difficult to get money because it rides around cities and spectators don’t pay.  It’s a street sport.  No stadiums like other sports (except track cycling).
  • Teams entirely funded by sponsors.  Very little money from anywhere else.  Lose sponsorship; you’re out of a job.
  • Benefits to sponsors.  Why sponsor?  No real reason.  Maybe get some exposure in some countries.  Some European companies where cycling is in their culture may sponsor a team (for example, in Belgium where cycling is part of their culture, a Belgium company may sponsor a team).
  • 8,000,000 Sky sponsor Team Sky.  This covers over 30 riders to ride their bikes.  Many just give products (hotel rooms, tyres, nutrition).
  • Most riders paid a salary.  Salary sorted by team manager.  Because this is funded through sponsors, riders must do events.
  • Bike companies pay riders to ride their bikes.


  • Coverage in the media is higher than other minority sports (badminton, lacrosse….).  But not as high as the obvious sports like Football (even though Cycling is more successful).
  • Mainly a cultural problem in the UK.  Not part of the culture like Cricket, Rugby and Football.
  • Very long sport – not a 90 minutes or 80 minutes duration like other sports.  Also means hard to put 4-6hrs aside in a TV schedule for a cycling race.
  • Used to be primarily covered in newspapers where time isn’t an issue.  Not so much in other media though.
  • Belgium have cycling on all the time as it’s part of their culture.

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