Project Echelon is a unique US-based cycling team and non-profit organization dedicated to educating, equipping and empowering US veterans and their families through physical activity and self discovery. Founded in 2016, the cycling team serves as the public face of the non-profit, promoting the cause as the team trains, races and interacts with communities across the country. Team members all have a direct connection to the veterans that Project Echelon supports by leading or participating in a variety of programs, personal development workshops, and other resources and activities.
We had a chance to speak with Eric Hill, founder and team principal, and Zach Gregg, one of the team riders - and self-described ‘data nerd’.
Tell us a bit about the team’s goals this season.
Eric: This is a pretty big year. We’ll be going to Europe for a few races, but more immediately, the US Cycling Pro Nationals is a major focus. Zach is one of the guys who has a chance at the podium for the TT there. A lot of the training and work we’re doing with aero testing right now is focused on Nationals.
Let’s talk aero. You recently went to the wind tunnel and are testing with Notio. Why test outside with Notio if you already have test data from the tunnel?
Eric: One of the well-known benefits of the tunnel is that you can optimise your position and equipment and get extremely precise results, but the conditions themselves in the tunnel are optimal. The yaw stays the same, you don’t have to steer, you’re only holding the position for a few minutes.
Zach: Exactly, the tunnel is kind of an idealised situation. With Notio, we can take what we’ve learned in the tunnel and apply it on the road, in real conditions. For example, you may want to take a small watts advantage that you’ve found by testing your position in the tunnel, and trade that advantage for a position you can actually maintain over a full TT. We were lucky in that we used exactly the same equipment – wheelsets, etc. – in the tunnel as on the road, so we have an accurate comparison of the two testing methods, and could make the right choices.
Eric: The Notio testing really validates some changes that we always suspected would pay off, but never had data for. So it provides data that we’ve always guessed at. Say you’re doing a reconnaissance ride on a course the day before the race, and check three different levels of tire pressure to see which gives you the best results. Then you get it right on race day – and the best option is sometimes counter-intuitive from what you thought would give you the best performance. Those little things that add up to say a two- or three-watt advantage, which can change the outcome of a race.
Is Notio part of an ongoing training program for the team then?
Zach: I think it definitely can be. This is the first season we’ve used it, and next season I’d like to start testing earlier so that we have the data to work with in earlier training sessions. Right now we’re focusing on TT, but I think we could use it for the road bikes as well. I could definitely see using Notio during the team camps a few times throughout the season.
Eric: There’s been so much innovation in bicycle design over the past few years that now you see a lot of similar performance advantages on all the top bikes. So what sets you apart, how do you find your advantage? Notio can help with finding those opportunities. It takes discipline and data to find out what to focus on and turn that into results. Many cyclists zoom in on power data, but with Notio you’re looking at more than that, you’re looking at things that make you be more efficient with the same power output. You can see what happens if you raise your head a bit in the middle of a TT, and realise that cancels out some of the power you’re putting in.
Zach: And there’s an accountability factor. You’re seeing the results right there, you’re seeing exactly where you raised your head.
Eric: Yeah, it’s like having a coach with you on the bike. And then after your ride you sit down to have something to eat and you’re looking at your data, interpreting your data, so you have another piece of the puzzle that helps you understand the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of your results. We ask a lot of our bodies in this sport, so we should be optimising how we use them.
Zach: Beyond the team’s training program, I would also love to use Notio for the work we do with the veterans community. In para-cycling competition, there are performance standards for different levels, so an athlete has to make a certain time cut-off or standard to reach each level. Then when they move to a new level, they can access greater funding. It would be great to use Notio to help the veterans in the paracycling community that we work with to meet those performance targets and then be able to access more funding for race fees and equipment, for example.
Eric: Definitely. The team is always focused on our work with veterans, so this is another opportunity to really make that work matter.
Eric Hill is the founder and team principal for the US based Project Echelon Racing Team. Eric has team ambitions of winning the US Pro Road Tour and earning podium finishes at US Pro Road and Time Trial Nationals in 2021, dreams that are brought closer to reality through great partnerships with supporters like Notio and Argon 18.
Zach Gregg races for Project Echelon and serves their veteran community through coaching and mentorship. He holds a Masters in Exercise Physiology and uses his experiences as an elite athlete and cycling coach to further Project Echelon's mission of educating, equipping, and empowering veterans through physical activity.