Pictures circulated around the cycling community early in the week of Luke Plapp's 'rocketship' a time trial setup with an unusual aero bar configuration at the front.
Come race day Plapp was ready and waiting to warm up, sitting with his new TT machine and his normal bike asking an Inform TMX MAKE soigneur to 'throw the other one on the ergo, keep that one looking pretty'.
37.5 kilometres of time-trialling was to prove what a great many in the cycling community suspected, that Plapp was flying at the moment, producing ridiculous power from a very aerodynamic, consistent position to beat Durbridge by over a minute on the road, though Plapp would be penalised 20 seconds for his follow car getting too close during the ride.
Plapp is very good about name-checking all his sponsors and people who have helped him over the years to get to this position, but the 20-year-old was particularly enthused when the subject of his unusual aero bar setup was brought up.
“Honestly those bars are unbelievable," said Plapp, "they’re a project me and Ken have been working on for the last 12 months now. We picked them up a few days ago off the printer ready to go and I can’t tell you how good they are.
"They lower my CdA a lot, we did some testing on Monday and out on course today in the real world they were unbelievable. I can’t thank Ken enough for the time he’s put into me. Nick from Saint Cloud built it up and it was an absolute rocketship."
The Ken referred to is Ken Ballhause of Sync Ergonomics, a company that designs and customises speciality aero-bar components from time trial and triathlon riders to achieve as an aerodynamic position as possible by reducing CdA or 'coefficient of drag times frontal surface area'. SBS Cycling Central caught up with Ballhause at the time trial to explain the product.
"It's a new product. It’s based on a 3D scan of the rider and the position they’re trying to achieve and then reverse engineer the components from there," said Ballhause. "For this part we use 3D printing and titanium is the material.
"We create the optimal structure that gives us the position and the aero gains that we’re chasing within the limits of the UCI rules. Just maximise what we can and squeeze every little bit of performance of the entire system."
The result of a year-long process directly after Plapp won the Under 23 men's time trial last year, the product is exclusive, very much for the top-end of cycling and triathlon. There's a reason why a button on the Sync website is title 'Buy Time'."
"It’s not a product that every second time-triallist is going to buy," said Ballhause, "we don’t expect to sell a whole lot of them. It’s basically a $6000 product, it’s not appropriate for everyone. It’s for the elite end of the sport."
Preliminary testing on the new equipment was impressive, and the ultimate test, out on the course on Wednesday in the time trial was impressive.
“We tested these Monday this week and we’re looking at a 13-15 Watt gain at race speed," said Ballhause when asked to compare it to a typical good aero setup.
That sort of gain is significant in the world of time-trialling, a real advantage in the cutting-edge world of the discipline if it can consistently deliver similar returns.
The majority of the Sync Ergonomics business isn't based on the exclusive end of the market, but also on the more affordable add-ons, with a trinity of power, aerodynamics and ergonomics the key to a good solo performance according to Ballhause, extolling the benefits of often-overlooked ergonomics within high-performance cycling.
“You can get a comfort gain without an aero gain, you can get an aero gain without a comfort gain but also if you go for an aero position that’s not comfortable, there’s no way that you’re going to be sustaining that position," said Ballhause. "Another thing that’s really underrated is a metric for position consistency, or how long you can hold your time trial position.
"If you’re only in your best position for a short time out on course you don’t really have your best position, it’s somewhat less than that. That’s something we’ve focused on with Luke in the last 12 months, don’t just focus on being super low, super aero, focus on being and having a really consistent position where you can focus on things that improve your CdA, which is narrowing your shoulders and keeping your head low. Comfort and performance they’re not necessarily two different things, you can find equipment that delivers both in the one outcome."
While there's been a lot of word-of-mouth publicity around the 'Plappmachine', Sync Ergonomics, like many businesses around the world, are looking for a lifting of Covid restrictions to return to full trading.
“It’s interesting. I think what drives our business is competition," said Ballhause. "When there’s competition on, people are motivated to ride their time trial bikes. We ultimately only do time trial components, if there are no time trials on, be it triathlon or road time trialling, we don’t sell many components. As much as we have these parts out now and that’s great publicity, our sales are down on this time last year. "
Separating the man from the machine is largely a futile process these days with the amount of customisation, preparation, testing and component development that goes into the highly specialised discipline of time-trialling. What is safe to say is that the nationals time trial showed that if you combine Luke Plapp with some of the best technology around, he's going to be very hard to beat.