Denmark’s pursuit shin tape: UCI rule loophole or team-wide shin injury?

All four Danish riders in the team pursuit had identical strips of kinesio tape on their shins, but are these similar niggles or UCI rule loopholes?

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Alex Porter’s shocking crash was the topic on everyone’s lips following the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games team pursuit qualifying on Monday. That nasty crash overshadowed a superb Olympic record-breaking ride from Denmark. The Danes clocked a 03:45:014 to qualify fastest and book their spot in the round one rides tomorrow to qualify for the gold medal race. But a tweet from former Olympic champion, Chris Boardman, has raised some questions around the team’s use of kinesiology tape, potentially circumventing the UCI rules on sock height.

Sock height rule?

The UCI introduced a sock height rule on January 1st 2019, officially to ensure clothing is used solely as clothing and for safety, and not as a performance benefit ala the Team Sky vortex generating skinsuits from 2017. The rule is designed to prevent the use of tall leg coverings for either compressive or aerodynamic advantage.

“Socks and overshoes used in competition may not rise above the height defined by half the distance between the middle of the lateral malleolus and the middle of the fibula head”

UCI sock/overshoe height rule

Time triallists and track riders have long known of the aero benefits offered by aero overshoes and aero socks which used fabrics more aerodynamically efficient than skin and so-called trip strips to create an aero advantage when compared to a bare leg.

“Compared with a UCI legal overshoe which can decrease total system drag by >3% compared with bare leg and standard shoe, you can get another 1% if you wear overshoes that go up to the knee. So anything you can do that’s beneficial between top of overshoe and knee that’s within UCI regulations will be a benefit.”

Xavier Disley, Aerocoach

Some clothing brands, including Aerocoach and NoPinz, designed calf guards specifically for the purposes of smoothing out the airflow over a rider’s legs. However, that UCI ruling has limited the marginal gains available in UCI governed competitions. Until now?

While the Danish team today all had the overshoe box well and truly ticked with £600 per pair aero overshoes from British company Vorteq, it was the seemingly strategic placing of the physio’s friend, kinesiology tape, that caught the most attention. While kinesio tape itself is nothing new and relied upon for many teams, its usage increase often tracking with stages in grand tours, rarely (read never) will we see a full team suffering from the same injury at the same time, requiring tape all in the same location. Not even the Spidertech team from the early part of the last decade, sponsored by a kinesio tape manufacturer, was as tape-coordinated as the Danes were Monday.

Although possible, it is unlikely the whole team is suffering the same injury or even using the tape for protection. More likely is the strategically placed tape creates a wind tricking aero benefit akin to that previously achieved using fabric.

The Danish team has worked with aerodynamicist and performance engineer Dan Bigham in preparation for the Tokyo Games, and his influence on the team’s bikes was clear to see. All four of the team pursuit squad lined up with aero extensions from Bigham’s Wattshop brand and Vorteq who make the overshoes are another company known to work closely with Bigham in developing aerodynamically optimised clothing for teams and riders. Given Bigham’s aerodynamic expertise and his background in Formula 1, where it was his job to find gains no one else had spotted, it is probable Bigham has spotted an aero gain from strategically placing the Kinesio tape on the rider’s shins. Theoretically, the kinesio tape could smooth out the riders legs/airflow around the legs and replicate the gains found using high socks and calf guards without falling foul of the UCI regulations.

Boardman later tweeted again to clarify he believed the Danish team had cleared the usage of the tape with UCI commissaries. If a commissaire has given the go-ahead, this is the case it likely creates more questions than it answers.

This is not the first time this year we have seen confusion over UCI rules and their application at races, we all know how that worked out for Jan Willem van Schip in the Baloise Belgium Tour.

A side on view of the taped up shins

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