One of the old school dogmatic tenants of road bike fit is that the knee should be aligned directly above the pedal spindle. This relationship is viewed by some fitters to be more coincidental than causal, and it gets tossed out the window when fitting for a non-drafting position—positioning the knee 5cm in front of the pedal is not abnormal aboard a tri bike—but Pruitt believes this rule of thumb still has merit for a road cycling position. Verzbicas’ position is very similar to a typical road setup, but with a small concession to the time he will spend breaking the wind. Instead of using the traditional knee-over-pedal-spindle standard, Pruitt elected to push Verzbicas forward by about a centimeter. “Cheating forward allows him to use his little clip-on bars if he finds himself alone in the cycling portion of the race. It does allow him to get there comfortably,” says Pruitt.
The advantages of a forward-oriented position for aerodynamic performance are well researched, documented, tested and proven by athletes in a multitude of cycling disciplines. Lowering the upper body down into an aerodynamic tuck position tightens hip angle—the angle between a rider’s torso and their leg when viewed from the side. If it gets too acute, the rider isn’t able to push the same wattage. Moving forward, however, counteracts this effect. The farther Verzbicas moves forward, the lower he can drop his shoulders without compromising his hip angle. Despite the relatively small 1cm concession to Verzbicas’ ideal road position (the tip of his saddle is 6.9cm behind the bottom bracket), Pruitt asserts Verzbicas can “absolutely” ride his clip-on aerobars comfortably for an extended duration.
Situating his road bars with only a vertical drop of 4.5cm below the saddle instead of a bar location that creates a crunched over, stretched out position often associated with elite-level athletes gives Verzbicas the range to efficiently ride in the aero position. Using the 2D video capabilities of the Peak Motus Motion Measurement System’s 3D system, Pruitt identified 75 degrees as the tightest hip angle at which Verzbicas can comfortably pedal. Rather than position his bars low enough on the bike to approach the outer limits of his fit capabilities, the brake hoods orient Verzbicas with a hip angle of 82 degrees, substantially more open than his minimum. When he rotates downward on to the bars, this critical angle narrows to 78-80 degrees, but still doesn’t approach the point Pruitt identifies as Verzbicas’ current physiological barrier.
Compared to some of his peers, Verzbicas’ position is fairly conservative, but it isn’t set in stone. “Currently, [his fit] looks like him,” offers Pruitt. One of the foundational characteristics of Pruitt’s fit philosophy is that soft-tissue characteristics—strength and flexibility—limit a person’s fit. Some philosophies stress structural skeletal limits and view soft-tissue constraints as something that an athlete can endure. Pruitt disagrees: “I have seen so many uncomfortable triathletes that actually improve their efficiency and speed and power output by making them less aerodynamic.” As such, the fit that “looks like Lukas” can change dramatically as his strength and flexibility evolve. Despite an engine worthy of an Italian sports car, Verzbicas has a weak core, weak gluteus medius muscles and poor hamstring flexibility—all attributes Pruitt says play a critical role in determining an individual’s bike fit. “If he can strengthen his core, strengthen his glutes and get better hamstring flexibility, he will acquire then a more aggressive look to his position,” but until that happens, Verzbicas will stay with a more upright orientation.
His Specialized Venge is a size 58cm to accommodate his long legs. The bars that came as stock equipment, however, are shaped for a much broader person. “If you’ve ever seen Lukas, he’s a very slight young man,” describes Pruitt. As a result, the 44cm stock bars have been replaced with a 40cm version. His saddle was swapped to a 155mm-wide Specialized Romin Evo, and his clip-on aerobar of choice is the Vision Team Mini TT. This bar positions the elbow pads directly over the road bar. When Verzbicas grabs the extensions, roughly half of his forearm extends behind the aerobar pads, which creates very little structural support. Lacking the bone-to-bone support that comes from leaning directly onto the elbow puts further pressure on his core muscle to suspend his upper body.
With all the changes made and his bike ready to go, Verzbicas is “champing at the bit to ride” his new setup. He will have ridden the new bike for five weeks, which Pruitt says is more than enough time based on this position, before putting his new fit to its first real test in the ITU World Triathlon Madrid on May 27. It will be his first test against the world’s fastest triathletes, and if he can stick with the pack through the swim and bike, his incredible run pedigree may be enough to get him across the finish line at or close to the front.