I thought I wouldn’t have much to say about this one, as it is only a TT race report. Once I got going I found quite a few tidbits so I hope you find it interesting or helpful. Today, as is customary, the start order was in reverse of the GC (overall standings), which is to say that the last placed rider starts first. All riders start at 30 second intervals except the top 10, which are at one minute. I was in 10th place, so I was the first to start one minute behind someone.
I have been using every technique in the book this week to aid recovery and today was no exception. I slept in until 9am and spent an hour lying in bed. I ate a light breakfast, setup my TT rig, and then set out for a 45 minute easy spin. When I say easy, I mean so easy that grampas with helmet mirrors pass me when I go for an easy spin. I didn’t break a sweat but made sure to drink more than a bottle of water. Then I ate my typical pre-race meal: a double espresso and cereal with soymilk and lots of it. I have a strong stomach, and have been eating about an hour before the road races start, but for the TT I pushed it out to three hours. The TT is a hard event, and the horizontal position is especially unfriendly to stomach contents.
After lunch I spent some more time lying in bed, and put the finishing touches on my bike and pinned my number. I reviewed the course and my pacing strategy and we left for the race an hour before my start time. The forecast today was looking tough with 30 mph steady winds and up to 50 mph gusts forecast. The wind had been increasing all day and gusts were blowing dust around and rattling windows at the hotel. After a short 15 minute drive we arrived and I was rolling around slowly about 30 minutes prior to my start.
I opted for a long sleeved skinsuit and shoecovers for attire. The temperature was near 80, but with strong winds I wasn’t as worried about overheating. I’m not sure if the long sleeves are actually faster, but I think this is why they make them and most importantly, they look absolutely PRO.
Watching the other racers approach the start chute, I started to panic a little about my equipment. I was on my front and rear (I don’t own a disc), and many riders, including those with rear disc wheels, had lower profile wheels on the front. Most Cat 2s don’t have many wheels choices, and many had what appeared to be their training wheels on the front. 20 minutes before the start, I briefly considered finding my Race SLRs (30mm depth and 24 bladed spokes) in the support car and installing my race tires. This was a last second panic based on other’s choices, and I’m glad I used the 20 minutes to warm up and stuck to my gut on my equipment choice.
Warmup was nothing special. Although I had my trainer, I opted to take the risk on the road to stay cooler and cruised easily up the nearby rolling hills. Most of the effort was easy with about a minute at race pace. My legs were honestly sore this morning and I didn’t want to overdo it.
I got to the start chute five minutes early. I had an ice cold water bottle tucked in the back of my skinsuit, which I occasionally took tiny sips from and poured down my back. I chose to start in the small ring (shocker!), since the start was uphill into a headwind and I knew this would keep me from overdoing it at the start.
For most of the steady climb I would estimate I was pushing a 39-16 at about 19 mph. The headwind was strong so I kept low in the aerobars throughout almost the entire TT. If the apparent headwind is more than about 15 mph you’ll almost certainly be better off staying low.
My plan was to go nearly all out to the top of the climb, which I estimated would take about 12 minutes. I hadn’t seen the course before but took careful notes of the grades, distance, and expected time for each section. For various reasons (mostly related to available equipment) I rode ‘old school’: No telemetry. No heart rate, no power, no speed, time, or distance. I used my pacing plan and approximate times for each section as my guide.
As I neared the crest of the climb I made my first two passes. Neither were my ‘minute man’, but they had started at least 1:30 in front of me, so I knew I had started quickly. The descent is the steepest section of the course. The course heads south, but slightly west from the start to the crest of the hill, and then slightly east afterward. This made the strong westerly crosswinds blow primarily down the hill from both sides. I rocketed down the hill and quickly maxed out my 56×11 at around 50 mph.
When I neared the bottom, I knew I was in for trouble. There was a flagger in the road waving wildly, and the wind was obviously whipping around a corner on the mountain strongly, as all the traffic cones had been blown over! I refused to hit the brakes, tucked low, and held on for dear life. I was blown around a bit but was able to keep my cool and my speed.
The next ten minutes were flatter with big-ring rollers. I made another pass near the turnaround. The rider who had started a minute behind was nowhere in sight. I made two quick passes down one of the rollers, as the other riders had become spooked by the strong crosswinds enough to stop pedaling and get out of their aerobars.
A few thoughts: There is risk in bike racing! If you don’t think it is dangerous, you aren’t paying attention. We get used to the risk in criteriums and road races, but a TT is no different. Anyone remember Cancellara bunny hopping traffic circles in Mendrisio at 45 mph on his TT bike? If the time is taken to get comfortable on your TT bike in adverse conditions it will likely pay dividends later. This includes crosswinds, difficult handling, adverse weather, and bad road surfaces. I have been blown off the road this year (at the Mead-Roubaix, but I was in an echelon near the shoulder), but I have never been blown over/off my bike, and I assumed today would not be the day so I went as fast as I could.
Also, always keep in mind, your bike will be more stable if you are pedaling. Try riding around a parking lot really slowly. Put out some rocks or traffic cones and see how tightly you can turn around them. You’ll find that pedaling a very easy gear while slightly feathering the brakes will keep your speed low and your bike much more stable. This is true at high speed, with strong crosswinds and was also critical on the sandy descents at the Mead-Roubaix.
One more tip: This course had a lot of variations in terrain. Some was exposed, there was a bridge, a graded crossing, a climb to a pass with a dropoff and guardrail, and much of the course was graded across small drainages. I made sure to pay close attention to estimate how the upwind terrain (and passing vehicles as the roads were open) would effect the wind. The wind was gusting, but mostly it was related to the terrain nearby. This helped my predict when to prepare for heavy crosswinds on the course.
Next I began the ascent of the backside of the climb to little burro pass, which is much steeper, 7% grade at the bottom. I was riding at a furious pace and made several more passes at this point. I sort of lost count overall, but I think I passed nearly a dozen people on the course. At the top I was completely at my limit. I rocketed down the backside and was relieved to see the wind seemed more steady and was coming mostly from behind. I spent the descent alternating between pedaling as fast and hard as I could until I spun out, and then coasting, tucking and recovering. The finish was a little anti-climactic as I wasn’t very tired after the long descent. I was happy I had been racing at max effort to the top of the hill earlier.
I was very excited with how I did and I thought I must have won. I’ve had this feeling a few times over the years and usually I’ve been very close to the top. A few hours later by chance we were looking for a spot for dinner when I saw people congregating around Gila Hike & Bike where results are posted. I watched the moment they were taped in the window and I WON! It was a great feeling and I was glad to have a few racers around to congratulate me. I moved up to fourth place in the overall and am now just over three minutes back from the lead.