Today, Mary and I were down in Tenino, Washington to race the Washington State TT Championship. This is a great event hosted by South Sound Velo. This is the fourth(?) time that I’ve done this race. For Mary, it was her first time trial. My goal was to come under an hour (I rode it in 58:59) and Mary’s goal was to break 20mph (and she rode 20.6 mph), so all in all, it was a great day. Here is a quick pdf of the overall results. My time was good for 8th position out of 19 in my M40-49, Category 4-5 age group. Middle of the pack– exactly where I expected to be.
So what is it about time trials, especially THIS time trial that makes it such a pointy field? After all, not everyone can hop on a bike and hold 25.23 mph for an hour– and my category is exactly where a novice off the street in my age group would be placed. First, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of strong cyclists on other teams who just don’t seem interested in upgrading. Obviously, they have a (very sensible) aversion to (the mayhem and traumatic injuries of) group start road racing. Second, it seems that there are a few serious triathletes and duathletes who sign up events like this. Third, most everyone riding this TT had some serious aerodynamic equipment– one-piece long-sleeve speedsuits, TT helmets, disk wheels, etc. All this adds up to some serious money, which means that the guys riding time trials tend to be pretty serious about riding time trials.
Getting ready for races– particularly time trials– takes me FOREVER. We arrived at the race site around 8:15, but it took me a FULL HOUR to set up my bike on the trainer, eat my breakfast, go to the bathroom, change my clothes, and pin my number on. My old Coach Tom used to be the model of efficiency. He could show up for a race, do all the same preliminaries, and be warming up five minutes later. I can’t give you too many clues about how to get ready apart from making sure that you have at least a good 30 minutes on your trainer ramping up from zone one through three. I’ve noticed, as an old guy, that warming up thoroughly is much more effective than for our younger counterparts (plus, it helps keep injuries at bay). All of my best races have included a LONG warmup (preferably an hour), even if most of that warmup was spent soft-pedaling in low zone two or even high zone one most of the time.
I can offer a trick, however, that makes the preparation for a time trial a lot simpler and may take some time off your race results. First take your number and flip it over. In this case, they gave me a Tyvek number (the kind you get at your local 5-K race) but the trick works just as well with fabric numbers. Second, spray the back of the number with a light spray mount adhesive. Third, get into your most aggressive aero position on the bike and slap the number right onto your speed suit. Rub it in well. Fourth, get someone to pin the corners down (in case it starts to peel during the race) or sit up and do it yourself. I find that it’s much safer to use a lighter duty adhesive like Scotch Super 77 spray mount (shown here) and NOT the more aggressive adhesive like 3M Heavy Duty 20 or 3M Hi-Stregth 90, as these spray mounts both make a mess and may trash your expensive kit. After the race, if you used the lighter duty adhesive, you’ll still have to pick off little bits of adhesive or use a little Goo-Gone to take any remaining glue off your kit before throwing it in the wash.
So back to the actual race. I showed up late to the line. As I pedaled up to the start line, they were already calling out my name. When I got to the line, I had 13 seconds on the clock before my start (riders go off every 30 seconds). I was in the wrong gear. I was six inches over the line and had to pull my bike back. All in all, just enough confusion with time ticking down that I declined having my saddle held and just said I’d do a standing start instead (perfectly fine under USCF rules– just cost me a few seconds). Then they gave me the standard rules briefing (stay on the right, don’t draft, don’t cross the yellow line, etc), counted me down by holding a hand in front of me, flipping sides with each second. Three…. two… one…. GO!
I pedaled up to speed and, right off the bat, settled my pace down to my race power. My goal was to ride to the halfway point at about 220 watts and then try to hit 230 watts on the second half. While I am NOT a very powerful rider, I am a pretty darn aerodynamic one (Mary calls me “super flea” because I have the aerodynamic drag of a minuscule insect). I also live and die by my power meter, so I can make sure that my tiny wattage output is very efficiently managed. In a race, I’m not a Ferrari. Instead, I’m like a Prius (which also has very little aerodynamic drag and is actually the car I own and drove to the race). The start of the race wasn’t too much fun– about 5 miles of chipseal, but I’ve ridden on far worse.
About nine minutes into the race and still on chipseal, I caught a glimpse out of my left eye of the guy who started thirty seconds behind me. Before I knew it, he blew right by me. Instead of keeping up that insanely fast pace, he slowed slightly but just kept creeping forward little by little. As he rode into the distance, I noticed something odd about his pedaling style– his knees seemed a little wide at the top of pedal stroke as he didn’t have quite enough internal range of motion in his hips to be really comfortable on a TT bike. A few turns later and he was out of sight. We’ll have more to say about him later. I thought to myself that this was going to be a really long day. I was feeling pretty strong and peppy, but not excessively so. My watts were running a bit high– about 226– but something told me to reassess and hold at 226 watts instead of 220 watts. That little difference of six watts might not sound like much, but stretched out over a long race, it could make a huge difference.
This time trial was pancake flat with wide open turns. Nearing the turnaround point, the course turns into a rolling course. None of the hills are that steep, but they are annoying. They are just barely steep enough to make me think about shifting down to my small chainring. After a few miles of rolling hills, I caught a glimpse of the first guy that I would catch for the day– and another rider right in front of him. Here’s how it all went down.
I felt a little bad that the second guy I passed in this short segment was from the CycleU Apex Racing team– the sister team to my team (CycleU Multisport). At least I gave him a big shout of encouragement as I went past! Something about that turnaround really took it out of me as I had a bunch of trouble holding watts immediately afterwards. My goal of 230 watts turned south and I was holding an average of about 210 watts. This wasn’t helped by the fact that much of my time seemed to be spent “chasing watts” on the downhill sections (it’s quite hard to keep watts high on a downhill and much easier on an uphill). After awhile, the road leveled out and I was able to put down a lot more power. But right before it completely leveled out, I could see a yellow and black jersey in the distance– and a very familiar pedaling style.
It was gratifying passing this guy who passed me so quickly at the beginning of the race– and I was determined to drop him like a hot rock. From looking at our relative speeds, I knew that he was dying from that enthusiastic burst at the beginning of the race. That most have really cost him– he ultimately finished almost two minutes in back of me. I actually felt sorry for him because I knew that he was now having an awful time. But I couldn’t really focus on that as there was too much ground to cover to the finish line. A few minutes later and the road seemed to become pancake flat again. Now, I was riding quite a bit faster and harder– my power was now up around 240 to 250 watts and my average was steadily climbing. 220 watts, 224 watts, 226 watts. Then my power started to wane a little bit, but my average watts stayed the same. Nevertheless, it seemed like I was passing everyone at this point. By now, I was nearing the finish line and this fine gentleman from Hagens Berman comes out of nowhere and passes me. He would stay within sight for the rest of the race. I later found out that he finished in 57:45 (3rd place) but, in chatting with him on the way back, getting that extra minute cost him north of 270 watts for the race– almost 50 watts more than my average. His aerodynamics are clean but he’s apparently a lot bigger to the wind than I am. If I were holding 270 watts, I can assure you that I would get a lot more out of it than he did. He later told me that he saw me at the turnaround but just couldn’t manage to catch me until the end of the race. That’s pretty cool– this little Prius with a tiny engine could hold off a Ferrari like that for such a long time.
In looking over the race results, it seems that a lot of us in my age group were bunched together. My Hagens Berman friend was narrowly beaten out of second place by 0.3 seconds. Between second place and ninth place (me) was only a spread of all of 1:20. A little bit of improvement can yield a ton of rewards! And I think I know just what I have to do about overcoming this tiny deficit for some big power gains next year– but I’ll leave that for another post.