Lake Norman & Mooresville

Cyclist rode the wind to her win

Olympic cyclist Kristin Armstrong tested at A2 Wind Tunnel on Mazeppa Road in June before her gold-medal performance in the Beijing games.

A2's Mike Giraud worked with Armstrong, 35, of Boise, Idaho, to refine her position on the bike, A2 General Manager Dave Salazar said.

Wind tunnels are commonly associated with stock-car testing, but pro cyclists test at A2 Wind Tunnel to get a similar edge.

Wind tunnels are long chambers in which gigantic electric fans shoot air at controlled speeds to study how a car, or human, can improve performance.

A2's wind tunnel rises to about 30 feet. Its fans generate air from 30 mph (for cyclists) to 85 mph for cars.

A computer system analyzes whether a cyclist gains or loses drag based on such factors as elbow placement, and can even discern which skin suit the rider wears.

Even a slight adjustment adds up over a 40-kilometer race, Salazar said, since about 80 percent of the power a cyclist puts out is just to overcome air resistance.

Kristin Armstrong (no relation to cyclist Lance) won the women's road Olympic time trial with a strong performance on the last half of the course. Emma Pooley of Great Britain won silver and Switzerland's Karin Thürig won bronze.

“When you lower (cyclists') drag and still allow them to be in a comfortable position to produce power, they are going to be faster on the bike, because there is less wind resistance,” Salazar said in an email. “Over time, even a small reduction in drag will add up to big-time savings.”

In Kristin Armstrong's case, the difference between gold and silver was seconds.