Posted on July 13, 2016 by staff

British Cycling’s Rio 2016 bid not all about the bike


This week and next BusinessCloud is placing the spotlight on how tech is revolutionising sport.

With the help of sports scientists, teams and individuals are harnessing technology to improve performance and transform the way they make decisions.

The British Olympic cycling team has partnered with Cervelo to develop the best bike yet for the upcoming Games in Brazil.

However Tony Purnell, head of technical development at British Cycling, says: “The biggest gain for Rio is definitely in the approach to training the athletes rather than the equipment.”

Purnell admits he was surprised by the nature of his role when he began in 2013 following a career that has included serving as team principal of the Jaguar F1 team.

“When I took the job I thought it would be all about making faster bikes, but I soon realised it was all about studying the way the athletes are trained and then thinking about how we can assist the coaching staff in making their decisions and helping the riders get more out of themselves,” he says.

“When I worked in F1 it was 95 per cent car and five per cent driver, but in cycling it’s the opposite.”

Under Purnell’s guidance, cyclists preparing for the Rio Olympics are using new training technology at Manchester Velodrome in the hope of bringing home even more medals than they did four years ago.

Transponders fitted to bikes measure the time taken to get from A to B and offer power profiles through readings taken from the bikes’ cranks as riders kick out of the starting gate.

Where previously rides were timed using a stopwatch, the technology has removed the potential for human error – which makes all the difference when the goal is to shave fractions of time off a performance.

“It’s accurate timing, accurate power and speed and accurate weather monitoring,” Purnell says.

“The temperature and pressure in the velodrome can change the performance that you’re capable of and the riders can adjust for that now we’re able to take accurate readings.

“We’ve developed the technology ourselves and some of it seems really simple, like the automatic timing equipment, but it’s surprising how inaccurate stopwatches are and how much the coaches get distracted by having to time people.”

Working with a supplier, Purnell and his team have worked on the power measurement technology that looks at wheel speed and cadence of the pedals during a ride.

At the end of training the rider and their coach can see exactly how they have performed using the resulting data, which can provide the basis for future training sessions or gym work.

“Over the past two years we’ve seen more of this data-driven culture; in the beginning the coaches would talk to the riders and there would be more opinion, but today there’s more fact and that lifts everything,” adds Purnell.

“Sport loves opinion and emotion, but scientists have no time for either.

“We don’t want to spoil the good feeling but we can balance that by equipping them with hard scientific fact when they go out, and I think we’ve achieved that balance.”