Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tour de France Bikes 1989

Many people look at the 1989 Tour de France as being significant not only for the high drama of the battle between Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon, but also for ushering in an era of new technologies for the bicycles used in the Tour. Nevertheless, I think people sometimes overstate the importance of the technology, and I don't completely accept that the technology used by LeMond in the '89 Tour was necessarily new, though one could say that it was improved. For instance, aero helmets and the use of aerodynamic designs for time trial bikes had been around for several years by '89.

Most, if not all, of the time trial bikes in the '89 Tour were designed with aerodynamics in mind -- with disc wheels, and smaller diameter front wheels, and handlebars that put the riders into a deep drop. It's just that the aerodynamic position gained by the Scott "triathlon" bars used by LeMond was better. Not only that, but the Scott bars, and similar versions, had been used in other races before the '89 Tour. For example, the 7-Eleven team had used them in that year's Tour de Trump. Likewise, LeMond was hardly the first to wear an aerodynamic helmet. Many racers, including Laurent Fignon, had used them for years. If he believed it could make a difference, why Fignon chose to forgo a helmet in the final time trial of the '89 Tour is a mystery.

Anyhow, having said that . . . let's look at some bikes.

Both LeMond and Fignon (and most competitors in the TdF for that matter) used multiple bikes throughout the race, depending on the terrain and type of racing. Here are some of the bikes they used:

Here's a pretty good drive-side picture of one of the most important bikes used in the '89 TdF, LeMond's Bottechia time trial machine. From the tubing diameters and profiles (and the Columbus tubing stickers), it is almost certainly built from Columbus aero-profile steel tubing, with some aero-profile gussets at the main triangle joints. Mavic Comete disc rear wheel, and a smaller-diameter 650C spoked front wheel (spoked front wheels are easier to handle than discs). The components are mainly Mavic SSC. The Mavic rear derailleur is a traditional parallelogram design, modeled extensively on the Campagnolo Nuovo Record, but with more industrial, erector-set aesthetics. The crank is the aero-design Mavic 631, which came to be known by some as the "starfish" crank for its large smooth spider and hidden chainring bolts. The brakes are Mavic SSC, made by Modolo. The shift levers look to be Simplex retrofriction, mounted on top of the down tube. One of the notable features is the addition of the Scott aero bar bolted onto the bullhorn handlebars. The real benefit of the Scott bar was that it placed the rider's forearms out in front of the body, with the elbows tucked in, which has been proven to be more aerodynamic than having the arms out wide at the ends of the bullhorns. For gearing, he had a high-gear combination of 55 x 12.
For many stages, especially in the mountains, LeMond rode this carbon fiber tubed bike built by TVT, re-branded as Bottechia for the sponsor. The TVT was similar in construction to the aluminum and carbon fiber bikes built at the time by Alan and Vitus in that it used "normal" diameter tubing (that is, comparable to traditional steel frames of the time) bonded into aluminum lugs. Like the time trial machine shown above, the road bike used Mavic SSC components. The crank, in this case, is the standard SSC, not the heavier, aero-design 631. Rims and hubs are also Mavic. The bars and stem are Mavic-branded as well. The brakes are dark-gray anodized Mavic units, made by Modolo. Shift levers are down-tube mounted Simplex retrofriction shifters (a Retrogrouch favorite). As a side note, TVT also built TdF bikes for Pedro Delgado.
LeMond also used this lugged steel Bottechia in some stages. Like the other bikes he rode in the Tour, it was equipped with Mavic SSC components throughout. This bike used the same 631 "starfish" crank and SSC brakes as were used on the time trial machine. Also, like his other bikes, it had down tube retrofriction shifters. All of LeMond's '89 Tour bikes were also equipped with clipless pedals from Time.
The red and white Bottechia road bike shown above is on display at the Three Oaks Bicycle Museum in Three Oaks, Michigan. See more pictures HERE.
Here is Laurent Fignon's time trial machine, built by Cyfac in France, but labeled Raleigh. The frame is Reynolds steel, with aerodynamic gussets at the joints. It has a smaller-diameter 650C front wheel, and disc wheels front and rear. The bike is fully equipped with Campagnolo's C-Record group, including the aerodynamic Delta brakes. Aerodynamically, the bike itself isn't that much different from LeMond's time trial machine, and the disc front wheel probably cut drag more than LeMond's spoked wheel, but might have been harder to handle in crosswinds. The biggest aero difference was the more "tucked-in" rider position that LeMond got with the Scott clip-on bars -- that, and the fact that any helmet, aero or otherwise, would probably have been an improvement over the ponytail-flapping-in-the-wind sported by Fignon.
See, he did know what an aero helmet was.
For road stages, Fignon used this lugged-steel Raleigh-labled bike, again built by Cyfac. The frame was built with Reynolds 753 (there is a tubing sticker on the down tube just above the shift levers, and I think I see a purplish "3" there), and like the time trial bike, it was fully equipped with Campagnolo C-Record throughout. Note the cyclometer mounted down low on the fork instead of on the handlebars -- I would think a bar mount would be easier to see and use. Looking through photos from the '89 Tour, it would appear that Fignon sometimes used another bike apart from this one in road stages. The bars on this bike are wrapped white and red (the pearly look of the wrap would suggest Benotto cello tape -- very popular in the 80s), while one can see another bike with bars wrapped only in white. Otherwise the bikes appear to be the same, though there may have been differences in geometry, tubing gauge, or something else not discernible from photos.
I'm pretty sure these are the frame tubing stickers I'm seeing on Fignon's bike above.
Though carbon fiber was starting to show up in pro racing, and aluminum would gain in popularity, lugged steel still had a few more years in the TdF before it would disappear completely from the professional ranks.

One last thought on the impact of aerodynamics and technology. People often talk about how much of LeMond's time gain in the final time trial was due to the handlebars and aero helmet, etc. Experts would point to wind tunnel data to pin down an exact number of seconds saved (even LeMond himself said it might have saved him 10 to 20 seconds). But I think it would be wrong to imply that LeMond's win was mainly due to aerodynamic or technological advancements, and thereby downplay his physical achievement. Think about this: LeMond rode one of the fastest time trials in history at 54.55 km/h. Most pro-level time trials since then have been run with equipment equal to or better than what LeMond used in the '89 Tour -- bike weight has dropped, and wind-tunnel testing has become a huge part of the sport, yet his record still stands. It's worth noting that Dave Zabriske's 54.676 km/h record set in 2005 was over a shorter distance, and in the first stage, not after more than 3,200 miles and three weeks of racing. No, I think when it comes to the impact of technology on race results, it's a little harder to quantify than some people would like to think. Just sayin'.

20 comments:

  1. Fignon's bike was made of 753 and I'm pretty sure his frame was made by Cyfac but used Raleigh decals...

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    1. Checked on that - and you're right Sascha. Corrected.

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  2. Just discovered your blog, very nice articles, thanks!

    As to why Fignon might have decided not to use the same aero advantage as Lemond, I personnaly think it's a french thing...

    In french culture, it's often better to lose in style (see Poulidor) than win by small incremental improvements ("gagne-petit")... This is often interpreted as arrogance from other cultures (and it's probably justified, as least in part)...

    This kind of attitude has always plagued France to this day... Many tatented people but lack of pragmatism and attention to detail...

    Another maybe simpler explanation is that when a pro sportsman has won a major race, he will often be really reluctant to make any change in subsequent attempts unless he really has no choice (this is often seen as superstition).. So he might have tried new gear in other less important races but when it came to the TDF, he decided the difference wasn't clear enough and went with his tried and true gear...

    Just my 2€ of course :)

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    1. Your explanation is as good as any -- it works for me.

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    2. I very much agree with your take on this, especially in regard to the "French arrogance" aspect, & even more so in the case of Monsieur Fignon (RIP), the winner of that Tour's tongue-in-cheek "Le Prix Citron" award from the press for being such an utterly awful person to deal with each day! Despite the terrible saddle sores that Fignon was suffering from during the last week of the Tour, he was so arrogant about "having it in the bag" that the night before the final ITT in Paris, he congratulated Lemond upon his fine second place, given his comeback from his incredibly near-death hunting accident back in April, 1987, less than a year after Lemond's 1st TDF victory. And in "Slaying the Badger", Lemond recounts that as they had both raced together at Renault under Cyrille Guimard, their coach had ALWAYS impressed upon them that the race was NEVER won until you had crossed the line. And THAT was the moment when Lemond truly felt that he would win the final ITT the next day. And I'm sure that Fignon loved the 'romantic' image of winning his long-awaited 3rd Tour (after having won his first-ever TDF in which he had raced in '83, due to Hinault's absence & then blowing Hinault & his new La Vie Claire team away by more than 10 minutes the following year) in his hometown of Paris, with the famous blonde pony-tail flapping about in the wind. I've read various articles that claim that "tests" have shown that his point-tail & lack of aero helmet alone cost him about 10 seconds but haven't found any scientific data to accompany these claims!

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    3. I remember reading an article at the time that stated that Fignon's team had actually introduced a cruder version of the Scott bars, basically a sort of "hoop" that attached to his bullhorns, after Greg used them in the earlier TT with so much success, fearing the exact scenario that played out. Laurent allegedly tried them, but couldn't get comfortable with them in time to use them. The handlebar tape was indeed cello tape, and the red-white-blue was adopted by the team to celebrate Bastille day. Great blog, and thanks!

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    4. Yes - I read that too. I recall that it was in Winning Magazine in their TdF coverage from that year.

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  3. When people ask me why I don't have just a single modern carbon fiber bike instead of 14 steel bikes I say "I like what was cool when I was cool." Same thing tends to be true in cars, motorcycles, and airplanes.

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  4. hi, nice blog! I own a replica of Laurent Fignon's white Raleigh. Bike is still in excellent condition. Campagnolo throughout, and a Reynolds 653 frame and forks. I actually came up on your blog today whilst trying to find out a bit more info on my Raleigh. I have been trying to establish some sought of value on this bike.

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    1. Another awesome article, RG. Ever since I first read your article about headset needle bearings (I own a number of Stronglight headsets featuring such designs, including a NOS Bernard Hinault B10, still in the cheesy 80s box - & I say cheesy because, Heaven forbid, Le Blaireau is actually smiling upon it!), I've been a regular reader of your articles & IMO they just get better, like a fine wine. I own an exact replica of Lemond's ADR-Agrigel TVT92 "Bottecchia" that he rode in the mountains that year, as well as the steel (Columbus EL-OS, hand made by the Bilatto Bros) & carbon (TVT92 again) tricolour Team Z Vetements that he rode to his 3rd TDF victory in '90 & the LOOK KG86 that he rode to his first victory in the epic battle with Le Blaireau in '86 - the first to be won upon a carbon-framed bike, also made by TVT but with an alloy rear brake bridge & a few other small differences from the TVT92. Anyway, apologies for my verbosity but please keep up the awesome work, because I LOVE your mindset, your passion & your writing style - far more succinct than mine, white obviously! Chapeau, mon ami!

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  5. I read that Fignon's bike was not made by Cyfac but by Worksop in England.
    http://www.cyclist.co.uk/in-depth/2082/bike-collections-no2-rohan-dubash

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    1. I had first assumed that Fignon's Raleighs were built by the Raleigh SBDU. Then I was told they were Cyfac-built (with Raleigh decals) - and on the Cyfac website, they claim to be the builders (and have photos of Fignon on the very bikes used in the '89 TdF - one photo is the same as one I have in the article). However, it's quite possible the the shop in Worksop made replicas like the one mentioned in the Cyclist article you have linked. That was an interesting article, by the way. Thanks.

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  6. There is a documentary that features an interview with Fignon about the 1989 Tour, where he talks about the handlebars. You can probably find it still available on YouTube.
    When asked why he did not use the handlebars, he says that he and the team actually tested the handlebars during that same Tour. He says they contemplated fitting them on the bicycle, but ultimately decided not to. The main reason, he says, was simply that "there was no way that we were going to deviate from tried-and-true principles and equipment during the very Tour itself". Everything was so carefully planned and set up, that they did not want to jeopardize the Tour victory through what they perceived at the time as a very risky move, an unproven technology.
    As it turned out, the victory was already in jeopardy.

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  7. Lemond seems to get upset when he's praised for riding the "fastest TT in history". He always humbly corrects anyone mentioning this by saying the final TT in the '89 TDF was a "downhill/tailwind" TT. That being the case does anyone know the decline % of the "hill" and the speed of the tailwind in that TT? Inputing those numbers into the online bicycle calculator would figure his wattage and you could figure what his avg. speed and overall time would be on the flats/windless. BTW Fignon placed 3rd in that TT behind bis teammate Terry Marie who was only 30+ seconds slower than Lemond. I believe Fignon would have won the TDF by 1-3 seconds if he had just worn his aero helmet. He was being cocky. I imagine that decision drove him insane.

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    1. G'day Michael - while I'm unable at this stage to provide you with the exact numbers that you require re: the % of decline of the road along the Champ -Elysées upon which the final TT in '89 was run, nor the speed of the tailwind that was that they had behind them for much of the course that day, I did catch this small quote re: the circuit from the Wikipedia page re: the '89 TDF: "The final time trial was over a course approximately 25 kilometres (15.5 mi) long, with a net elevation loss of 75 metres (247 ft). The riders had a moderate tailwind."

      So, while the 75 metre/247 feet NEL that is quoted may assist you to calculate the % decline of the circuit, we both know that the "moderate tailwind" part is about as useful as tits upon a bull when it comes to calculating the tailwind speed. However, I do know that Lemond stated in an interview shortly after his amazing victory - on the same day - that although he never lost faith in his ability to win the '89 Tour after the final ITT, he felt that his chances of winning were diminished when he saw what the tailwind was like that morning, knowing that it would serve to somewhat even out the field more than if there had been no wind at all, or perhaps even better, a predominant headwind.

      But as for the 'eternal unknown element' of the TT - re: the lack of aero helmet upon Fignon's (RIP) head that you mentioned, as well as his questionable choice of double disc wheels upon a windy day (not entirely a tailwind, btw but certainly the majority of the course), I wholeheartedly agree that an aero helmet alone could/would have made all of the difference re: those 8 vital seconds that cost him the Tour. There have been plenty of "calculations" thrown about in regard to how much of an advantage Greg's Boone Lennon-designed Scott aero 'tri-bars' were, in conjunction with his use of the aero helmet (albeit not the teardrop-shaped ones to which we had become accustomed over previous years & which I, for one, first saw being used at the 1984 Olympics in LA, when the Australian 4,000 metre pursuit team defeated the home-team favourites from the USA, when both teams used this 'new' style of aero helmet - next I saw Hinault, Lemond & the rest of their La Vie Claire team-mates using the famous Cinelli 'teardrop'-shaped helmets in the 1985 TDF - but few others had adopted them by this stage.)

      I will ALWAYS believe that Fignon wanted to win the Tour as somewhat of a poseur & to do it 'in style', meaning doing so with his famous blonde ponytail exposed in front of his hometown Parisienne audience & felt that he had enough of a lead over Lemond to do so over such a short course(Lemond requiring fractionally more than 2 seconds per lap over Fignon to win the race). I also know that in the ITT's in which he rode when he won the '89 Giro d'Italia less than 2 months prior to the Tour, he wore a simple 'sausage' helmet that were still rather common in the earlier years of the decade, rather than nothing or an aero helmet - so merely for protection. However, he always wore a matching aero helmet (although often a different colour - such as theirs in white & his in yellow) with his team-mates during the team time-trials!! Quite the enigma was Monsieur Fignon!

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    2. And seeing as though he was suffering from an extremely severe case of saddle sores in the last week of that Tour - which could only have been at its worst on the final day, with saddle sores requiring rest, above all else to heal - he did ride a great deal of that TT out of the saddle, especially considering that it wasn't a mountainous course. Sure, some of those occasions when he came out of the saddle were as a result of his team manager, Cyrille Guimard yelling out the split times to him - each of which informed him that Greg was gradually wresting the Tour from him - but there were certainly other times that he did so of his own accord & when the wind was occasionally buffeting him from the side while out of the saddle, it would hardly have been easy to handle the bike AND ride as quickly as possible at the same time while doing so.

      If I discover anymore details that would assist you with your calculations, particularly re: the strength of the tailwind - not to mention just what percentage of it was in fact a tailwind, rather than from the sides or even a headwind while the two riders rode their TT - then I'll be back & will let you know, & in a FAR more succinct response next time - I PROMISE!!

      Cheers & best wishes from "Down Under", mate...Matt.

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  8. G'day again, RG...while I'm here, I might as well ask you something re: this TT frame...

    Do you (or anyone else on here) know whether it is at all possible to purchase this Bottecchia TT frame that Lemond rode to his incredible comeback success at the '89 TDF anywhere? Or a similar steel "lo-profile" (650/700 wheels) frame with the slight "webbing" at either end of the top tube, where it joins the down & seat tubes? I know that this same frame from 1989 was simply repainted & used by Lemond for the 1990 season with the Z Vêtements team & in the past, I have seen similar-looking Litespeed frames, as well as a couple produced by other manufacturers - but I can't recall the other brands at present.

    Anyway, thanks heaps for your time & ANY assistance of ANY type re: this search of mine would be INCREDIBLY appreciated, as I already own exact replicas of the neon yellow ADR-Agrigel TVT92 Carbone that he rode through the mountainous stages, as well as an identical replica of his red/white Bottecchia steel, lugged frame that he rode through the "standard" (meaning non-time-trial), flatter stages - so it would be AMAZING to own all 3 replicas of the bikes that he rode during this incredible edition of the '89 Tour.

    Cheers & best wishes for now...Matt.

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  9. I agree that there was an element of Frenchness involved in the loss, he would have wanted the pony tail free and double discs for maximum style. However the most important aspect really is what he said after - that the team wanted to stick to what they knew to ' bring it home'. Its like in soccer, which I played a lot, when you are winning 1-0 and there's fifteen minutes to go the best thing to do is try to score, to keep doing what you've been doing all game - THATS WHY YOU'RE WINNING. The problem is that this attitude doesn't apply to sports based more on raw physics and parameters. The choice to not use the helmet and bars was a deliberate choice to go slower, thinking that there was less risk somehow. This is where it crosses into vanity.... some of that decision was a balance of style and pomp ( not needing to use all the technology in order to beat your opponents ) . Or to put it simply its not really very cool to get the tri bars and helmet out when you are 50 seconds up in front of your home crowd.....

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