Hot water? Fränk Schleck’s Camelbak

Fränk Schleck Corsica

Fränk Schleck won the Critérium International race, taking the lead after a powerful solo ride up the Col de l’Ospedale and defending his lead the following day in the short 7km time trial. Watching the event on TV I thought his chest looked weird and at the time put it down to hard breathing and his extremely thin state creating an avian-looking thorax. Plus I had my eye on Gent-Wevelgem and live coverage with the Pavé crew, that was a lot more exciting than a time trial.

But now it sees he was using a Camelbak. In case you don’t know, this akin to a small backpack with a hose and when filled with water the rider can drink from it. It’s popular with off road riders. Only the pouch is worn on the back but apparently Schleck wore it on the front, creating a bulge on his chest. As such this narrowed the gap in the area between the chest, arms and legs and made him more efficient.

Schleck side profile

Some claimed this was being used as a “chest fairing”, indeed dubious Italian doctor Michele Ferrari puts the race result in question, saying that it could be worth two seconds and thus 14 seconds in the 7km chrono… Schleck won the overall by 13 seconds ahead of Movitar’s Vasili Kiriyenka, meaning it made all the difference if you believe him. I find it amusing to see Ferrari questioning the methods of others… but let’s look wider.

Was it illegal?
There are UCI rules on clothing. In particular, here is rule 1.3.033:

It is forbidden to wear non-essential items of clothing or items designed to influence the performances of a rider such as reducing air resistance or modifying the body of the rider (compression, stretching, support).

As such if the Camelbak aided the aerodynamics then you can argue it breached the rule, being an item designed to help reduce air resistance. But the item in question is also allowed in competition as a means to help keep a rider from getting thirsty, it is allowed and if the consequences mean it makes the rider more aero, then so be it but that is secondary.

Thirsty work
Corsica can be a warm place but a morning in March is not the normal place to need water during a 7km time trial, a 12 minute effort. It seems that Fränk Schleck probably didn’t need the water and I struggled to spot the hose. Indeed, when he crossed the finish line he reached for a drink, as you can see in the picture below.

Frank Schleck

So it seems to me he was pushing the rules as well as the pedals. But, and here’s the important bit, it is for the UCI to control this. It supplies the commissaires. Apparently race officials saw the Camelbak and did not enquire nor protest. Rule 1.3.072 sets out the possibility of a fine of 50 to 200 Swiss Francs and not being permitted to start… but nobody objected and Schleck duly started. Now the UCI have announced an investigation.

Not new
I’m reliably told other teams have looked into this, indeed inflating the Camelbak for a better profile but that they found it was not efficient. Perhaps it might work better with some riders than others?

What next?
I suppose someone could appeal, they could make a protest. For example Kiriyenka and Movistar might feel they lost out but it’s probably too late, overturning the result is far from certain and they’d be certain to lose friends in the bunch.

The UCI is investigating but it might prove hard for them to blame themselves for not spotting this, plus their rules are not precise enough to rule on the Camelbak. This is probably an issue best left to history rather than the CAS. Don’t be surprised to see riders this summer trying the same techniques but the UCI in turn will also be more vigilant.

Thanks to the Italian Cycling Journal for sending in the side profile pic.

16 thoughts on “Hot water? Fränk Schleck’s Camelbak”

  1. Could it be to help with cooling the body? Perhaps he had a temperature and wanted to try to cool his body down just long enough to get through the race?

  2. What is it with “2 seconds per kilometer”? First Cancellara’s magic bearings are saving him 2 seconds per km, and now Frank’s “Camelchest” is doing the same? It’s now the official figure used by anyone pulling numbers out of thin air. The number of seconds per kilometer saved by any reduction in drag would be proportional to square of the rider’s speed, so anyone throwing around numbers like that without giving more specifics about their assumptions can be dismissed as making them up. Furthermore, we all know what Dr. Ferrari’s expertise is in, and it’s not aerodynamics.

  3. I couldn’t help but remember when Laurent Fignon tried to use clip-on aero bars well AFTER Greg LeMond used them so well in the Tour, only to have the officials tell him NON! I think this may be the last time they let the “Camel-front” be used as it’s clearly an attempt at streamlining. Nobody is going to fall for the drink excuse for a 7 km chrono stage again! Didn’t they put an end to the stretchy-armpit “batwing” skinsuits used last year for this same reason? Someone’s always going to push the rules, but the UCI needs to CONSISTENTLY enforce them so some riders don’t get away with using an unfair advantage.

  4. The only way franks gaining 2 seconds a km is with some new legs, and even then maybe not as both schlecks problem with TT’s is they don’t want to do them imo, they have the wattage to imitate contadors TT ability but not the mindset, unfortunately.

    But as far as the camelbak issue, if its wrong the guys at the start line should have have stopped him and took it… no use trying anything now as its their fault he was wearing it =/ (that is of course if fault needs to be placed), but it does seem illegal according to the rules…

    But an interesting point is the reason people are saying its illegal, mostly saying “you don’t need water for a 7k tt”, they should really be focusing more on, “that camelbak positioning is illegal”, because what are they going to say when he uses that thing in a 20k or 40k tt? he’ll certainly need the water there… lol, it can’t just be illegal for sub 10k runs….

    Also if people go away and do some tests and find a real bonus to it being front mounted, what will be the ruling if we see cav or farrar having one on in a sprint? i’m sure it would be far more usefull in a sprint than a tt anyway with the calculations for drag

  5. Larry T seems to have nailed it – “consistency” and “UCI” should not be in the same paragraph.

    BTW, Frank was riding a frame without a 2011 UCI compliance sticker? Where’s that protest?

  6. If there’s any question they should just ban the practice from here forward. But don’t retroactively fine him or regulate the results.

  7. Let’s see what the UCI investigation brings.

    Apparently other teams have experimented with the same idea, inflating the bladders with air to adjust their profile whilst saving weight. But the results were mixed, it was not worth the it.

  8. This is nothing new.

    Julich was doing this years ago. Here is a pic of him in 2006 I think:

    Mick Rogers at ToC last year:

    DaveZ in 2006:

    Julich at the Athens Olympics (if the UCI don’t enforce this at the Olympics, why should they anywhere else?):

    This whole thing is dumb.

  9. Isn’t it correct that in previous instances they were wearing Camelbak hydration vests for hydration purposes in longer TTs. Where it looks like here that Schleck was wearing an actual Camelbak on his front that was possibly air filled?

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