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Has the peloton found an aero loophole to the UCI's minimum bar width rule?

Handlebars are required to be wider than 350mm, but they didn't say anything about hood angles...

From the looks of things at the Tour Down Under's prologue, more than a few WorldTour teams have spent the winter trying to find an aero solution to the UCI's new minimum handlebar width rule.

As we reported back in November the UCI wanted to clamp down on the trend of narrow bars, the latest fad for the aero-conscious made popular by riders such as Dan Bigham and Victor Campenaerts, forcing a minimum handlebar width of 350mm on the peloton.

> Tech trends: Narrow bars with shifters angled inwards – should you be copying the pros to ride faster?

However, from these stills of this morning's action there seems to be a widely exploitable loophole — regulation width bars with aggressively turned-in hoods. Cover your eyes, things are about to get ugly...

Stage winner Alberto Bettiol, second-placed Magnus Sheffield of Ineos Grenadiers and third-placed Julius Johansen all sported varying degrees of turned-in hoods during the 5km prologue.

Tour Down Under prologue hoods (GCN+)
Tour Down Under prologue hoods (GCN+)

Other riders from teams such as Groupama FDJ, Team DSM and Trek-Segafredo all seemed to have spotted the solution too. This still from home rider Miles Scotson shows one of the more striking angles on display.

Tour Down Under prologue hoods (GCN+)
Tour Down Under prologue hoods (GCN+)

The hood angles appeared to enable riders to adopt a position not dissimilar to the 'puppy paws' position banned by the UCI in 2021, but without removing their hands from the hoods.

Alex Whitehead/ - 17/09/2020 - Cycling - 2020 Tour de France - Stage 18: Meribel to La Roche-sur-Foron - Marc Hirschi

[📷: Alex Whitehead/]

Banned on safety grounds, the UCI outlawed "using the forearms as a point of support on the handlebar [...] except in time trials", (where TT bars make the position safer) even if the rider's hands have something to hold. 

In fairness, turning your hoods inwards for aero gain is nothing new. We have seen the ultra-narrow and boundary-pushing set-up before, notably by Dutchman Jan-Willem van Schip. It even found its way into the national, regional, and local racing scene.

At the British National Criterium Championships in June, for instance, Harry Tanfield was spotted sporting similar bars on his Ribble Ultra road bike.

2022 Ribble Weldtite crit racing bars Zac Williams

[📷: Zac Williams/]

But today's Tour Down Under tinkering is the first time it has been used to specifically overcome a UCI regulation.

The minimum bar width change was published at the back end of last year in the 'Clarification Guide of the UCI Technical Regulation', stating that "the minimum overall width (outside – outside) of traditional handlebars (road events) and base bars (road and track events) is limited to 350mm", but does not limit the way shifter hoods can be manipulated to give a rider a narrower frontal area.

As our tech writer Jamie pointed out last year, most sources indicate that for every 2cm closer together you bring your hands there’s a 25W advantage when travelling at 40km/h, suggesting these turned-in hoods could be here to stay.

It does, however, remain to be seen how many riders are keen for such an extreme position when tackling a six-hour road race, not a six-minute prologue.

Dan joined in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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