Are road bike time trials safer?
Stefan Bissegger won stage three of the 2022 UAE Tour time trial on a day that saw the first gaps in the overall standings. Much further down the score sheet, Luke Plapp finished 102nd for the day. As one of the pre-stage favourites, finishing at 1:16 and almost being overtaken by his “man of the minute” Joao Almeida in the 9km test was not how Plapp envisioned his first time trial of the World Tour. Beyond the score sheet, the reason for Plapp’s lackluster performance was clear, the former Australian national time trial champion raced the time trial on a road bike.
Unconfirmed reports suggest Plapp crashed in the pre-stage reconnaissance run and damaged the only time trial bike he had on the UAE Tour. It’s unclear if Plapp put in the same gas effort he could on a time trial bike, and we’ll never know exactly what Plapp might have accomplished in the same stage on a time trial bike. -the watch. Still, given comments from Chris Froome, Tom Pidcock and others recently on the subject of the potential ban on time trial bikes, perhaps Plapp’s ride is a glimpse into the future of the World Tour time trial. A glimpse of what a slower and ultimately equally dangerous road bike time trial might look like if today’s speed machines were ever banned.
Cameras didn’t capture much of Plapp’s ride and what we saw was mostly in an opening headwind, but what we saw was enough to tell us that a simple ban on bikes from time trial probably won’t solve the safety issues at hand. Plapp has found a way to achieve an aero position on his road bike that most can never dream of on a dedicated time trial rig. The young Aussie looked aero and quick as he rode through the opening section with his hands barely resting on the levers, his forearms in the center of his handlebars and, interestingly for this conversation, his head down. with a seemingly nil view of the road ahead. Ironically, the position looks far more dangerous than the one Plapp adopts on his dedicated time trial bike, a Pinarello Bolide. Plapp looked up steadily to briefly check the road ahead, but spent much of the shots we saw with probably very little to no view of the road ahead.
Rider safety has been the basis of much of the recent talk about banning time trial bikes. As some riders take on increasingly extreme time trial positions with reduced visibility and presumably bike control, some wonder if road bike time trials alone could create game conditions safer and more equitable. Without time trial bikes, riders would have more control and wouldn’t need to train in extreme positions on open roads, the theory goes. The various counter-arguments can be condensed into three points. First, runners will always adopt extreme positions. Second, not all aero road bikes are created equal, and bigger teams will always find advantages that smaller teams cannot. Finally, banning time trial bikes would have an unfair impact on specialized time trial riders.
Personally, I think time trials are at the forefront of our sport, guiding certain aspects of performance research and development, or as Wout Van Aert said, banning TT bikes is an idea “ bullshit”. Many time trial fans will have the same reaction to the idea of banning time trial bikes, for them (myself included) the only real question here is whether Plapp should have been disqualified for putting his forearms on the handlebars?
The UAE Tour continued today, with Plapp again catching the eye with a solid run to the top finish.