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Olympics-Cycling-The British 'nerd' helping Denmark rule the track

·5-min read

By Martyn Herman

TOKYO (Reuters) - Dan Bigham is not only a world-class track cyclist who is about to make an attempt on Bradley Wiggins' world Hour record, he is also a whiz-kid when it comes to aerodynamic engineering.

The perfect skill set, you would think, for the British Olympic track team whose iron grip on the blue-riband team pursuit will come under attack like never before next week.

So it will come as something of a surprise to learn that the former British champion will mastermind a Danish raid on the discipline Britain has ruled at the last three Olympics.

The 29-year-old Motorsport Engineering graduate from Oxford Brooks University became so disillusioned with the British Cycling set-up in 2019 that he approached Denmark's federation with a plan to turn their pursuit team into world beaters.

Welcomed with open arms and given licence to combine his "nerdy" passion for engineering with his cycling talent, it has been a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Denmark have since taken the discipline to a level that makes Britain's Rio 2016 gold medal time look pedestrian.

In beating Australia to claim a third successive gold in Rio, Britain's quartet of Ed Clancy, Wiggins, Owain Doull and Steven Burke lowered their own world record to 3:50.265.

Last March, at the Berlin world championships, Denmark set three successive world records on the way to gold -- taking it down to a staggering 3:44.672 in the final.

Tellingly Britain's best was stuck at 3:50.341.

DYNAMITE DANES

Bigham says the dynamite Danes will go even quicker in Tokyo and if, as looks likely, Britain are usurped, awkward questions might be asked as to how Bigham was allowed to take his talents elsewhere. His explanation is illuminating.

"I think for me I didn't find my home with British Cycling for a multitude of reasons," Bigham told Reuters from his Copenhagen base before the team flew out this week.

"Primarily, how I approach performance wasn't really fitting in with their cookie-cutter approach to what they want from an athlete. I am not just a rider, I'm an engineer and the primary reason I chose cycling was because of the engineering and the aerodynamics and the application of all that knowledge.

"It's what gets the juices flowing and I know that's a weird and nerdy thing to say."

Bigham, who did a placement in the "aero department" at the Mercedes F1 team and runs his own cycling performance business Wattshop, realised he had come to the end of the line with the British Cycling team when he was not selected for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, despite being one of the quickest.

He says he was told by head coach Ian Dyer he had to be a rider or an engineer, not both.

RUFFLED FEATHERS

At about the same time cycling's governing body the UCI banned trade teams from competing in track World Cup events -- ruling out Bigham's tiny Huub-Wattbike team who ruffled feathers in 2018 by beating Britain's pursuit foursome twice.

Desperate to stay involved in track cycling, Bigham approached the Danes -- a team he had always found refreshingly open to thinking out of the box.

"I got in touch and said I'm keen to help you guys out. They were obviously outrageously talented on the physiology side but needed a bit of polishing on the "energy out" side of the equation to be dominant basically from what I could see."

SPECTACULAR RESULT

The result has been spectacular on a budget of 55,000 euros ($65,351.00), which Bigham says would pay for one British Cycling engineer.

"It's been a great thing to be a part of with the Danish team so welcoming, so open, progressive, and willing to change, to do things differently," added Bigham, part of a five-man team given free rein on everything from aerodynamics and race suits to riding positions and strategy.

"And obviously having a load of world class athletes, embracing the ideas that I came up with was pretty awesome."

Bigham sometimes rides with the Danish B team and says it offers him a unique insight into what can be improved.

Ominously, he says they have ridden a couple of seconds faster than the British squad for Tokyo.

"So should I be in the team for Tokyo for GB?" I think speed is what wins races so yeah," he says.

Bigham claims Britain have been "cranking the same handle" too long, expecting the same results when team pursuit has evolved, but will hold up his hands next week if proved wrong.

"It's not about revenge," he said. "It's just frustrating. I would be proud to ride for Britain in these great events but it just seems that they want to do things their way."

Britain will unleash a radical new Lotus-Hope bike in the Izu velodrome that the engineer in Bigham loves.

But he said it will not be a 'silver bullet' for the Brits.

"It's a pretty awesome bike, but what they have done is pretty intelligent," he said. "But drag is roughly 80% rider and 20% bike, wheels and cranks. Bug you are not going to find five or six seconds because of a bike, more like tenths of a second."

If Denmark win will he have mixed emotions?

"To see them achieve that would be something special for me, and to feel part of that team and feel valued," he said.

($1 = 0.8416 euros)

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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