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Written by: Aaron Hersh
Once and future triathlete Lance Armstrong amazed the cycling world by placing 4th –5 seconds ahead of pre-race favorite Alberto Contador—in the prologue time trial to open the Tour de France on Saturday. Armstrong had many obstacles to overcome in order to put in this spectacular performance, including scathing doping accusations, but he also had some advantages. Giro, Lance’s longtime helmet sponsor, contributed to his effort for an 8th Tour title by designing an aerohelmet specifically for Lance’s unique hunch-backed time trial position.
Armstrong’s unusual body shape creates a gap between his back and the tail of most aerohelmets, which increases aerodynamic drag. Giro’s solution was to create a helmet that eliminates that gap.
Giro’s just recently created their Advanced Concepts Group (ACG)–a team of engineers, laboratory technicians and industrial designers–to work on exactly this type of specialized, high-tech project. Their objective was to design a lid specifically for Lance’s body shape, but Mr. Armstrong’s time is in high demand and he wasn’t able to sit in the wind tunnel while Giro’s ACG tested nearly 100 prototype helmets. Instead, they created a life-sized plastic model of Armstrong in his time trial position and used Plastic Armstrong for dozen of wind tunnel trials.
In the end, Giro created the LAX, an aerohelmet with a tail that rests cleanly atop Armstrong’s back. In addition to the tail shape, this special lid tucks tightly against the side of his face and has a rough texture over the front and smooth texture at the rear.
Giro dedicated $15,000 to creating Plastic Armstrong but this technology will be available to consumers in the near future for far less coin.