RealTime IT News

Tech Rolls With Tour de France

Lance Armstrong's 2000 autobiography is titled "It's Not About The Bike." It's a clear reference to the fierce determination that helped him beat testicular cancer and win the Tour de France six times.

But as he pedals through valleys and over mountains in pursuit of a record seventh title, the Texan's sponsors would like to remind sports fans that the bike, and the technology that helped build it, play an important supporting role.

Several companies with tech ties have joined Armstrong. The most visible is chipmaker AMD , "the official technology sponsor" of Armstrong's Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team.

AMD inked Armstrong and the team (then the USPS Pro Cycling Team) in January 2004 and recently extended the relationship through 2007. Terms were not disclosed, but AMD spokesman Travis Bullard said sports marketing makes good business sense. The AMD corporate logo is visible on the team's bikes and jerseys.

"Global sponsorships allow AMD to further establish corporate brand value and significantly increase brand awareness," Bullard said. "However, these are more than mere commercial agreements. AMD's sponsorships are also true technology partnerships."

Compared to other Armstrong partners, like Nike and PowerBar, semiconductors and cycling seem an odd match. But the company points to several areas where its products have helped the team in the months preceding the Tour.

Its Opteron and Athlon processors power computers used by bicycle manufacturer Trek. Back in 2000, Trek trashed its previous systems and built a new workstation using AMD chips. The move slashed the total bike completion time in half.

For the 2005 race, Trek designed a new bike for the uphill Alpe d time trial. Designers narrowed Armstrong's bike, cutting drag and weight, which are the primary enemies of competitive cyclists.

In addition, Armstrong and several teammates traveled to the Allied Aerospace Low Speed Wind Tunnel to train. AMD-processor-powered systems at the San Diego facility helped the riders learn proper positioning to limit wind resistance.

AMD Wind Tunnel
The Allied Aerospace Low Speed Wind Tunnel
Source: AMD

Mathematical models show that aerodynamic changes can trim as much as 90 seconds off of an individual cyclist's time over a 34-mile time trial, AMD said. While that doesn't sound like a lot, keep in mind that the Tour totals 2,241 miles and Armstrong won in 2003 by just 61 seconds.

AMD also provided a workstation, which serves as the tunnel's bike computer, displaying drag, rider heart rate, speed and cadence information.

Finally, AMD said Armstrong, his teammates and support staff use HP laptops and personal workstations equipped with mobile AMD Athlon processors to keep in touch while traveling.

Others on Lance's corporate team include sunglasses maker Oakley, which has designed the Oakley Thump, "digital music eyewear" for training. The glasses with built-in MP3 player weigh only 1.8 ounces and have a USB connection, so Lance can quickly download the Sheryl Crow catalog.

Some firms choose to sponsor the race itself. France Telecom/Orange provides callers with updates, rankings and interviews and mobile users with Orange's video service can also download clips.