Jonas Vingegaard time trials on stage 16 of the 2023 Tour de France. Ronan Mc Laughlin's head shot is crudely photoshopped in place of Jonas' face, with Ronan's head facing sideways.

Our favourite stories: let’s optimise with Ronan Mc Laughlin

No one goes deeper on racing and aero tech.

Caley Fretz
by Caley Fretz 24.12.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Welcome to our year-end Favourite Stories series. To pick the best of our over 1,000 stories published this year, we assigned each of our staff and core contributors to write about someone else. Today, Escape Collective Editor-in-Chief Caley Fretz brings you inside Ronan Mc Laughlin’s very own performance process.

The best tech writers make complicated subjects simple. The very best tech writers make complicated subjects, stuff you didn’t even know you cared about, into stories you can’t put down. Ronan does both. His beat is simultaneously quite wide (how does racing work, exactly?) and exceptionally narrow (ok, but what really makes Remco Evenepoel’s skin weirdly fast?) and his ability to bounce back and forth between those two remits is why I always look forward to his work. 

I’ve selected four of his pieces here, each for a different reason. We have one that fit his passions like a glove; one that stretched his feature-writing and narrative skillset; one that pitted his own beliefs against themselves; and one that showcased Ronan’s other great talent, which is pedalling a bike very quickly. Let’s dive in. 

A forensic deep dive on that Tour de France time trial

Recall, if you will, the hours after Jonas Vingegaard’s astonishing Tour de France time trial. We picked away at his cornering, ran the math on his climbing speeds, and wondered aloud how on earth that happened. Ronan, of course, was already finding out. 

The complicated optimization analysis that underpinned that TT is stuff straight out of a physics textbook, but this piece is as approachable as it is considered and intelligent. It provided much-needed context for Vingegaard’s Tour victory, I think. It was also Ronan’s most-read piece of the year, perhaps unsurprisingly. 

Read “The debrief: Analysing that Tour time trial” here.

Performance and personality in profile

The image shows huge crowds cheering on Ed Laverack as he climbs "The Struggle" road in the 2023 British National Hillclimb championships.

I opened this piece thinking it would be similar to the Vingegaard TT story – a thorough breakdown of an interesting event, with lots of numbers and analysis. What I got instead, quite pleasingly, was a through-written personality feature on a fascinating athlete. This is normally Matt de Neef or Dane Cash or Iain Treloar territory. 

Watching our editors expand their repertoire as as fulfilling for me as when they hit a homerun within their beat. 

Read “Ed Laverack, the 7.1 W/kg amateur, on training for the British hill climb champs” here. 

What do we do about dangerous TT positions?

Ronan likes time trials. He likes optimizing his position in time trials. He therefore, like many other time trial aficionados, can rarely see where he is going. 

I picked this piece for its introspection. It was written off the back of Stefan Küng’s horrifying crash into a fence, caused ostensibly by the fencing tightening the roadway but REALLY caused by a position that made it all but impossible to look where he was going. Ronan, as a frequent proponent of such positions, took the opportunity to both explain why the position is so darn fast and to wonder aloud what might be done about it, or if anything should be done. It’s a great piece. 

Read “TT positions: to see or not to see?” here. 

How attention to every detail was essential to a new record

Escape’s editorial is built on a few premises that would have made no sense in the scale-driven media landscape of even a year or two ago. One of those is that speaking to a small, hyper-engaged audience is better than speaking to a huge group of passersby. This piece is a reflection of that belief. 

It’s thousands of words long and the feature image is of Ronan wearing what appears to be a full-body painter’s suit (for heat acclimation, we learn) with VR goggles on. We go on to find out that those VR goggles were used to recon a 15-hour time trial effort that ran the length of Ireland. When an event is that long, every little optimization can have a huge effect. 

It might just be the perfect Ronan story. 

Read “Optimising for a 15-hour time trial & a new end-to-end record” here. 

Honorable mention: 

What I haven’t included are any of his superb podcasts. Performance Process, which we launched this fall, dives into all things performance and optimization and is a hugely enjoyable listen. But if I had to pick one episode, it would be an episode of Placeholders discussing Wout van Aert’s plans to ride the Giro. Ronan is also a bike racer, and his smart analysis extends beyond watts and CdA and into tactics and real-world racing. This was a great episode and a good example of his. 

Listen to this episode of the Placeholders here.

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