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In.Cycling - Chris Harper (Jayco-AlUla)

In.Cycling - Chris Harper (Jayco-AlUla)

12th Jan 2024

World Tour cycling is ever-developing. It’s getting faster, more technical and more detailed. The term “marginal gains” is drastically overused in sport, but in pursuit of performance, it is the term that is best used. A change measured in millimetres can be the difference between winning and losing.

“Improving the human-bike interaction” is the beginning of everything Sync Ergonomics does. Whether it be position optimisation through Adaptive HP, or developing new products with Sync.

Since 2022 we have been working alongside the numerous iterations of Greenedge Cycling (currently Jayco-AlUla). We provide the riders with our extension solutions for their TT bikes as well as aid them in position optimisation. And with the off-season in full swing, that is exactly what is taking place on the ground at Adaptive HP.

About Chris Harper

Chris Harper joined Jayco-AlUla at the start of 2023 after spending three years with Jumbo-Visma. The Australian is talented across the board, but his strengths lie in the climbing and general classification world. He has ridden all three Grand Tours, and this year finished 16th overall at the Tour de France, and that’s not to mention the stellar support role Chris played in this edition.

For a rider like Chris, having an optimised set-up is of utmost importance. Time trials may only make up a couple of percent of the total annual race kilometres, but they can be some of the most important to a rider with GC ambitions and a GC support role. For Chris, this trip wasn’t just about investigating his TT bike setup, but to also refine his road position.

He’s based out of Adelaide when back home, and Andorra while racing in Europe. Over the Europe winter / Australian summer, Chris spent some time with Sync founder, Ken Ballhause, in the bike fit lab, and at the velodrome for track aero testing.

The Bike Fit

In AHP’s Melbourne lab, Ken set to work fitting Chris to both his TT and Road bike. Although Chris has been in the pro ranks for half a decade and has ridden the Tour de France, there are always improvements to be made.

“When I was on Jumbo we had a coach who was super into aero stuff. I did a fitting session with him once and I think he spent so much time in the wind tunnel he knew all of the little ways to change the position to make me a little bit quicker. I think that’s why I had a good base position coming into Jayco-AlUla.”
— Chris Harper

Cycling is a highly repetitive sport with specific biomechanical challenges. For a rider such as Chris, who is spending tens of thousands of kilometres each year in the saddle, the risk of injury is always there.

When you have to endure 21 days of grueling racing, aero is definitely not everything - comfort is king. For amateurs, often the culprits can be things such as slammed stems which “look cool”, but not being able to ride due to an injury is definitely not cool. The concerned athlete should always be asking the question, can I put the power out? Can I do the long miles in the saddle? It’s hard enough racing for 21 days, imagine training for it.

“If you’re spending lots of hours in the position then you want to make sure it is set up properly. Not just to prevent injury but also to make sure you’re comfortable doing the hours required in training. I think with new products coming out it’s always to go back and check in and see if there are any small improvements that can be made. I think as well in the past couple of years there has also been a big focus on optimising positions on the road bike to try and make them as fast as possible. The trend seems to be narrower bars and more aggressive positions.”
— Chris Harper

AHP’s bike fit process uses 3D motion capture ( Stt Systems) and movement analysis technology to carry out detailed kinematic analysis of each individual athlete. This technology is a fundamental part of our bike fit process, but Ken Ballhause, the founder of Sync Ergonomics plays just as important a role.

Ken has spent the vast majority of his life in the cycling world, whether that be working in a professional capacity or competing himself. His process in bike fitting is a holistic approach garnering knowledge from his Exercise Science and Health Science degrees as well as his consultancy work in elite sport.

The Velodrome

Aero testing is a necessary tool when searching for performance gains in any cycling discipline. You’ll often hear cycling performance referred to in terms of “watts per kilogram”, which effectively results in how fast you climb, but what is often equally relevant to a rider like Chris is “Watts per CdA”, the measure of aerodynamic performance.

Putting this into context for the average joe, if you’re sending it in the big dog, you should be caring more about your aero performance than your power-to-weight. This is the vast majority of time trials and it’s also a fair proportion of the time that a support rider spends supporting the protected GC rider.

Both amateur and professional athletes often get carried away with individual pieces of equipment and lose sight of the most important factor in aero performance - the form of the body on the bike. At relevant race speeds, more than 90% of resistance to forward motion is aerodynamic drag, and the cyclist makes up a good 70% of this drag force.

“Your position on the bike is the most important consideration and the equipment that facilitates the achievement of the most sustainable, aerodynamic, and comfortable position you can achieve. Bike fitting is often one-third the health of the athlete, one-third the equipment on the bike and one-third the capabilities of the service provider.”
— Ken Ballhause

For Chris, the process started with a visit to the velodrome, to get baseline values for his road and TT aero performance. After all, when your success as an athlete depends on performance, you have to know that you are always moving forward as the result of an intervention. 

In the lab, fitting revolved around everything from the ground up. Shoes were a hot topic for Chris, in the never-ending quest for the most comfortable shoe option. Reestablishing his preferred cleat position and setup of his Footwork orthotics in a fresh set of Giro Empire SLX shoes. The off-season is a valuable time for Chis to put some base kilometers into testing a new shoe before the 2024 race season.

“Shoes and cleat setup to me are the most stressful part of a bike fit. It is the least objective and in some ways, the most high-risk part of a bike fit for a highly-tuned athlete. Thankfully, at AHP we have a pretty refined process after performing the exercise quite literally thousands of times and when you have such quality partners to work with as Giro, Shimano, and Footwork, you really have the best chances of nailing the process.”
— Ken Ballhause

In the quest for sustainable aero? The new CADEX AMP saddle, a heavily revised saddle position, and a substantial change to cockpit setup. Saddle height was about the only positional characteristic that remains of Chris’s 2023 road setup.

“There is actually nothing remarkable about Chris’s new road setup, it’s fairly standard by our terms. By that, I mean the kinematics that we work to are simply the normative values that we have refined over the years and apply to most athletes we work with. The real value is in the fact that we have strict standards on what equipment we will work with and the positional characteristics we accept.”
— Ken Ballhause

The TT bike was all about a “refresh” for the 2024 season and a chance to answer some simple questions around cockpit setup. Over the 2023 season, Sync has refined the EVO PRO arm cups, grips, and spacer options, allowing for more granular changes in setup. Not always targeted at outright improvements in aero performance, but at additional improvements in comfort and position stability.

Once fitted in the lab, Ken and Chris headed down to the Velodrome to put the final pieces together. Ken uses track aero testing as AHP’s tool of choice for quantifying the real-world outcomes of position optimisation. The track provides a controlled environment while requiring the athlete to truly ride their bike while collecting the run data. This process allows for an element of qualitative feedback that is invaluable when working with elite athletes.

For Chris, quite substantial gains were made in his aero performance on his road bike. Thanks to improved posture, seating position, and ability to get into his best aero position. On the TT bike, we were able to achieve some small but meaningful improvements in aero performance, but the bigger picture? For Chis to be nailing his power targets and spending maximum time in his best aero position.

“Everyone’s getting faster, stronger and more aero in the pro peloton. You’ve really got to keep on top of it and keep evolving.”
— Chris Harper


Position and equipment optimisation are just single pieces of the performance puzzle. You can have the best position in the world, the fastest equipment on the cycling market yet if you don’t ride the thing the performance benefits won’t come.

Aero posture, aero techniques, and basic skill acquisition are massively underappreciated in aero performance. These are the key differences that you can immediately spot in how proficient someone is on the bike, especially the TT bike, and it is absolutely measurable in aero performance during track aero testing.

I asked Ken what is his biggest gripe with modern training ideas?

“Athletes need to get that TT bike off the trainer and learn how to ride it in the real world, at a pace that approximates racing. Back this up with skills sessions, especially in the lead-in to competition.”
— Ken Ballhause

For pro riders, TT training can depend on their point in the calendar. If they are targeting a Grand Tour heavy on TT kilometers, or if there are important TTTs coming up, then more time will inevitably get spent on the TT bike.

Andorra is a mountainous country, when you’re riding there the roads are quite literally up or down. To get speed work in, pros will often descend into France and train on the flat road in the mountain valley, or sometimes complete the famous “ Three Nations Loop”.

“I didn’t put too much focus on riding the TT bike at the end of the season as there weren’t any TTs coming up. But, through the winter build up I’ll try to get out a couple of times per week on the bike.”
— Chris Harper

Next up for Chris? The Aussie summer of racing - be sure to keep an eye out for Chis and his Jayco-AlUla teammates at the AUS National Champs the first week of Jan.

You may also be interested in

“The Dark Arts” of Position Optimisation - The importance of being comfortable in position, while maintaining peak human performance.


Images by: @stefhansonproductions & @brett_focusphotography

About Adaptive HP

Ken Ballhause - Sports Scientist
B. Exercise & Sports Science
B. Health Science (Clinical Myotherapy)

Inspired by the application of exercise physiology and biomechanics, Ken’s keen interest in Sports Science lies in understanding the demands that competitive cyclists face and where improvements in performance can be made.

Ken’s background in cycling began with mountain bikes, racing downhill at both a State and National level. His interest in cycling is now focused on road and endurance track racing, coinciding with the diversity of options available locally in Melbourne.

AHP is the recognition of the role that a scientific approach has in improving the outcome of cycling, be it for health or performance. For Ken, AHP is the application of knowledge gained in both Exercise Science and Health Science degrees, mixed with a passion for the sport of cycling.

About the author

Joe Laverick’s cycling introduction was via the British time-trial scene, since starting the sport, he has been all about speed. He’s a freelance writer and privateer racer who mixes road, time trial and gravel racing. To this day, he remains one of the only riders on the planet to have beat Remco Evenepoel in a time trial.