Wheelsucking: How can it work in climbs?

Sep 29, 2012
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Hi everyone. :)

I know that I might look a bit dumb or stupid for some, especially with the fact that I'm here for quite a bit of time, but I've never understood one cycling mechanic - because I don't figure out how it can work.

I don't understand how the fact that having someone in front can help to climb easier - aka "wheelsucking".

I know there is a relation towards air penetration, that the guy in front has more air resistance, but considering in climbs the average speed is around 20 km/h, the strength needed to overcome air resistance is nearly negligible compared to the strength needed to propel the body and the bike in a steep slope. It's way different on flat surfaces as the speed can reach 60 km/h, a speed where the air resistance is much more important, and you don't need to "fight against gravity".

There might be a "psychological" thing into it, thinking "I can follow him" that can help, but if the legs can't keep up, that won't last far. Otherwise we'd have massive sprints all the time at the end of 200-km long stages with MTF.

So if someone can explain to me how this works, because this simply bugs my mind. Thanks! :)
 
Even if its less than on the flat its still a big help.

I cribbed this a couple of years ago from a thread in the clinic.

Here at 6% gradient, fully 10% of your energy is going to break the air resistance.

Save 20% or so of that and thats still ~2% of the total.

 
Jul 29, 2012
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Vino attacks everyone said:
What D_T said, + ofc it is a mental thing to consentrate on holding a wheel insted of keeping the pace up yourself
Depends on the % of the climb too. At 20% it'll make pretty much zero difference but at climbs of 6% it's a different story.
 
May 19, 2010
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Catwhoorg said:
Even if its less than on the flat its still a big help.

I cribbed this a couple of years ago from a thread in the clinic.

Here at 6% gradient, fully 10% of your energy is going to break the air resistance.

Save 20% or so of that and thats still ~2% of the total.

It should be mentioned that those proportions will change with the power assumed (here 300W), because power needed to overcome air resistance raises quadratic with speed, others just linear (rolling & gravity) or not at all (implied here for drive train efficiency). So if Contador and Froome battle things out at >400W, drag is even more important.
 
Aug 16, 2011
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Miburo said:
Depends on the % of the climb too. At 20% it'll make pretty much zero difference but at climbs of 6% it's a different story.
Another factor is lay of the land on the climb. On a climb with lots of trees on each side, the trees are going to provide a buffer from the win. Whereas a open climb (like the top of Ventoux) you'll feel the effects of the wind more.
 
My interest in this topic lies in the way the practice is viewed (both on the flats and on the climbs). We fans use the term "wheel sucking" a lot, and I guess I've heard it bandied about on club rides, but has anybody ever heard of a professional that complained about it?

I'm not talking about somebody not working at all in a break (which, even that you don't hear complained about that often), but this idea that many fans have that "champions" or "courageous riders" don't follow wheels. They all follow wheels sometimes, it's part of the sport.

Remember that quote in Tim Krabbe's The Rider from the great Hennie Kuiper, who knew a thing or two about winning bicycle races: "Racing is licking your opponent's plate clean before starting on your own."
 
christopherrowe said:
My interest in this topic lies in the way the practice is viewed (both on the flats and on the climbs). We fans use the term "wheel sucking" a lot, and I guess I've heard it bandied about on club rides, but has anybody ever heard of a professional that complained about it?

I'm not talking about somebody not working at all in a break (which, even that you don't hear complained about that often), but this idea that many fans have that "champions" or "courageous riders" don't follow wheels. They all follow wheels sometimes, it's part of the sport.

Remember that quote in Tim Krabbe's The Rider from the great Hennie Kuiper, who knew a thing or two about winning bicycle races: "Racing is licking your opponent's plate clean before starting on your own."
And now we know Gerrans' favorite book. :D
 
Akuryo said:
And now we know Gerrans' favorite book. :D
Have you read it? I think it may be my favorite cycling book, fiction or non-fiction. Just looking around trying to find a cogent one-sentence description of it, I found this great line from the Guardian's review of the English translation (the original is in Dutch): "Nothing better is ever likely to be written on the subjective experience of cycle-racing."
 
christopherrowe said:
My interest in this topic lies in the way the practice is viewed (both on the flats and on the climbs). We fans use the term "wheel sucking" a lot, and I guess I've heard it bandied about on club rides, but has anybody ever heard of a professional that complained about it?

I'm not talking about somebody not working at all in a break (which, even that you don't hear complained about that often), but this idea that many fans have that "champions" or "courageous riders" don't follow wheels. They all follow wheels sometimes, it's part of the sport.

Remember that quote in Tim Krabbe's The Rider from the great Hennie Kuiper, who knew a thing or two about winning bicycle races: "Racing is licking your opponent's plate clean before starting on your own."
The only time I have heard it was from lance in regards the "draft eligible" Olympic tri rules versus the real stuff of the Ironman.

The fact that Lance got pulled around France for many years by a team obviously eluded him.
 
Feb 1, 2011
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christopherrowe said:
My interest in this topic lies in the way the practice is viewed (both on the flats and on the climbs). We fans use the term "wheel sucking" a lot, and I guess I've heard it bandied about on club rides, but has anybody ever heard of a professional that complained about it?

I'm not talking about somebody not working at all in a break (which, even that you don't hear complained about that often), but this idea that many fans have that "champions" or "courageous riders" don't follow wheels. They all follow wheels sometimes, it's part of the sport.

Remember that quote in Tim Krabbe's The Rider from the great Hennie Kuiper, who knew a thing or two about winning bicycle races: "Racing is licking your opponent's plate clean before starting on your own."
I view any comment accusing a rider of "wheelsucking" as naive. Drafting is part of racing.

We might admire a rider who goes to the front and initiates, but there's no obligation at any point in a race for any rider to go out in the wind. If you don't take advantage of drafts and lose, you need to re-examine your tactics. If Froome would had dragged Contador to the line in Stage 2 of the Dauphine then lost, he would deserve some criticism.

The only time you hear riders criticize each other for not working is when there is a move where both riders have an opportunity to gain, a breakaway where they could all gain time or they might stay away for the win. Similarly when a move needs to be brought back and a team doesn't contribute.

Not all riders can contribute equally, not all riders have the same gain. Yes there's gamesmanship. Riders fake weakness, for example, but that's the intrigue of racing tactics.
 
Catwhoorg said:
Thanks, very helpful.

JimPanzen said:
It should be mentioned that those proportions will change with the power assumed (here 300W), because power needed to overcome air resistance raises quadratic with speed, others just linear (rolling & gravity) or not at all (implied here for drive train efficiency). So if Contador and Froome battle things out at >400W, drag is even more important.
Good point, and absolutely correct. Another thing which could make wheelsucking more beneficial on climbs (than the table suggests) is that the frontal area and the drag coefficient usually will increase as the gradient goes steeper! As seen in these photos of Quintana in two different TT's (Dauphine 2012 flat TT, vs Giro 2014 MTF TT):



 
Catwhoorg said:
Even if its less than on the flat its still a big help.

I cribbed this a couple of years ago from a thread in the clinic.

Here at 6% gradient, fully 10% of your energy is going to break the air resistance.

Save 20% or so of that and thats still ~2% of the total.

Nice chart.

As pointed out, more powerful riders will go a bit faster, shifting the chart to the right a little, plus if there is any headwind the draft benefit is amplified.

But don't discount the psychological aspect of being able to hang on when you are suffering. Motivation is a big factor in performance.
 
e.g. for same rider morphology and air density as shown in the chart, but at 400W on 6% gradient, then the energy demand split is gravity 78%, air resistance 16%.

If there is a headwind, say 2m/s, then the energy demand split for lead rider at 400W changes to gravity 72%, air resistance 21%.

So while impact of aerodynamics is reduced on climbs, it still has an effect, and wind especially has a large impact on rider speed when climbing.
 
Jul 7, 2012
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changing the subject slightly, presumably the fact that all riders have the same weight of bike means that heavier riders are able to compete with smaller riders on long climbs. if it wasnt for the weight of the bike someone like hesjedal could never get anywhere near a rider like quintana
 
May 25, 2009
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A related aspect I guess is that by allowing another rider to cover a move, you can have a less sharp acceleration
 
Nov 16, 2011
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It matters quite a bit. There's really only a small handful of climbs where the instantaneous gradient goes over 15% over any meaningful legnth, the point where it begins to really slow these pro riders down. These pros are really hauling along at stuff like 7% gradients.
 

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