Tunnel-Vision: the Making of Virtual Nairo
02 December 2015

Special Feature (+ video)

The Movistar Team’s clothing sponsor Endura are going the extra mile to ensure that the team have the best fitting and most aerodynamic uniforms and skinsuits that science will allow.

The Movistar Team’s clothing sponsor Endura are going the extra mile to ensure that the team have the best fitting and most aerodynamic uniforms and skinsuits that science will allow. Director Jim McFarlane takes us behind the scenes at November's pre-season training camp in Pamplona, and tells us how a life-size 3D copy of Nairo Quintana, complete with moving limbs, is going to help the real Nairo try to win the 2016 Tour de France.


Most of the year, the great cycling teams divide into small details that travel together and rarely have mutual contact. The big, pre-season team meeting in mid-November is the only occasion of the year that brings the entire company – riders, old and new, team staff, even sponsors – together in one place to meet, work and make plans. 

For the Movistar Team, it was also the first and last opportunity to celebrate winning the team rankings in the UCI WorldTour for the third time in succession. 

Staff and sponsors converged on Pamplona from all over Europe, and riders flew in from all over the world, but few had as gruelling a journey as the Director of the team's clothing sponsor Endura, Jim McFarlane. Based in the company's headquarters just outside Edinburgh, Jim flew not to Spain but to northern Germany where he hired a white van, picked up a mobile 3D laser scanner and then drove the 1500 kms to Pamplona overnight.

On the morning of Tuesday 10 November, he met his colleagues and erected the scanner, which resembles the sort of temporary changing room they used to put on beaches in Victorian times. Once in working order, the Endura crew proceeded to scan all the riders, one by one – all twenty-seven of them.

Jim explained, "It's the first time we've used laser scanning with the team. It gives us a virtual form of each of the riders that we can work with and access throughout the season, because you have to remember that, once the season starts, it can be quite hard to get time with the riders.

"Our software maps the 2D patterns that we cut from the fabric, and it virtually stitches it over a 3D avatar. It shows us tension maps across the body, using specific fabrics with known stretch characteristics. It looks like a heat map, but it shows the amount of stretch across the body, and it means that we can essentially refine each of the rider's garments to fit them more accurately."

The last rider to be scanned was the Movistar Team's great Tour de France contender, Nairo Quintana, for whom Jim and colleagues had a surprise in store. 

"This is the first time Nairo's been scanned. The first part of the process gave us his key measurements, just like with the other riders, so that was in a standing position. But then, we put him on a bike. It was his road bike, OK, but we wanted to introduce Nairo to the idea of him being scanned on a bike, because at some point in the future, and hopefully substantially before the 2016 Tour, we will take him to Germany and scan him on his time trial bike."

Endura developed their scanning protocol with time-trial ace Alex Dowsett, several weeks before the big team gathering. 

"Scanning is the solution to two problems. The first is that you can't necessarily get access to take riders physically to a wind tunnel. The second is that they fatigue when they are there, and aero testing is all about consistency and repeatability, so the idea was, we scan Alex, we then take his 3D avatar or 'scanatar,' as we call it, and use that to 3D-print a mannequin of Alex that we can then build into it a physical working model with adjustable limbs and so on, so that we can do much more extended periods of wind tunnel aero testing, knowing that that is the form of Alex's shape."

"We get to repeat the process that we did with Alex, but on Nairo, so that we can refine his clothing. So that's the plan: to have both a virtual Nairo, and a physical carbon-fibre Nairo, and work with those two together, and hopefully make him faster on time-trial day at the Tour de France. 

"It's all about us being able to take an accurate 3D body shape of him, in a riding position, for aero purposes, and we do an awful lot of work, specifically with Simon Smart at the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 wind tunnel at Silverstone, for aerodynamic development for the team. It's been one of the major processes that we've been involved in,  and of course that the team's very encouraging. It's one of the few places that we can make a really noticeable er performance difference to the team that's measured in seconds. 

"But, you know, it's November now. The Tour will be here before you know it, so we know we'll have to work to a fairly tight timeline."

With a total of 54km of individual time trials in the 2016 Tour de France, the tiniest detail could make all the difference, which is why Endura's input doesn't stop with the design and manufacture of the skinsuits.

"I'm usually out at the Grand Tours in the day before the major time trials, making sure not just that everything fits correctly, but they know how to put the stuff on correctly, because we have things with that sort of, you know, progressive texturing and so on. You have to make sure that all the sleeves are lined up the right way, and all that sort of stuff, so it's that sort of detail, And then, yeah, I'll be watching the race with great interest and great excitement… On time trial day, we'll play an important part.