Tour de France Physics: Lead-Out Trains

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One of the most impressive cycling techniques for drag reduction on a rider is the lead-out train that delivers a sprinter to the finish line. No current team is better at this than HTC-Highroad. Watch for them in the white and yellow from about ~4:00 in the above video.

The lead-out train begins 5 km or so before the line, with the entire team in a line at the front of the peloton with the sprinter in the final position. The rider at the front will ride for as long and hard as he can, ensuring that the pace is such that no riders from the main field are able to pull ahead. This accelerates the sprinter to higher speeds while sheltering him in the wake of the rest of the team.

One by one, the riders of the team will do their time at the front, expending their energy while protecting the sprinter. The final lead-out rider will be sprinting a few hundred meters from the finishing line; at this point the sprinter in the back may be riding 70 kph while enjoying protection from the wind. Finally, with the finish line in sight, he will swing out around his lead-out man and go all out for the line. Sprinters can hit speeds of nearly 80 kph in these short bursts.

FYFD is celebrating the Tour de France with a weeklong exploration of the fluid dynamics of cycling. See previous posts on drafting in the peloton, and pacelining and echelons.

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