Tuesday, 18 July
The first lap of our tandem road race on Monday afternoon was so fast and so hard, I was sure my legs would explode somewhere in lap 2 (of 7 laps) and we would get dropped and pulled from the race (which is what they did to anyone more than about 5 minutes down—including eventual medalists). All the tandems (25 of ‘em) started together. We were seeded by category, and one of the 90+ mixed bikes behind us attacked before they even got to the start line. They shot up the hill that begins this circuit and strung out the field. But I guess they had some trouble getting onto their big chain ring because they were off the bike fiddling with the chain when we went by after the road flattened out.
As a concession to either the high temps (90) or the difficulty of the course (same as my individual road race on Sunday) or both, our race had been shortened from 8 laps to 7. I had tried my best to recover from Sunday’s race, but I was still tired and my legs felt really heavy. Our warm-up consisted of riding up and down the rows of the empty parking lot by the lodge. At least riding slow and flat wasn’t painful. We were lucky to have new national champion Franz in the feed zone throughout our race to pass up lots of water. And after a few laps of the best electrolyte rehydration drink, water is all you really want.
The ballistic first lap shelled more than half the field. We did the 5.5-mile circuit with 800 feet of climbing in just 15 minutes. Things settled a little on the second lap as the faster male-male bikes rode away. Our second lap was 17 minutes, which felt a lot better. Unfortunately, one bike in our age group rode away on the climb on the main road and we just could not bring them back (the gap went over 2 minutes during the race but was just over 40 seconds by the finish). Eventually we settled into a group with 2 other bikes in our category plus a male-male tandem that yo-yoed on and off the back of the group.
It was a good race. I was better about trying to look around Martin on the climbs to make sure we were on the wheel in front of us and didn’t need a micro acceleration. At a couple of points, he had to ask for (and, I think, got) a little more as we crested a hill. The descents were fun, although I was a little disappointed to find out after the race that our max speed was only 52 mph. One of the descents was a head-down, pedals-level straight shot; as I looked down, it seemed that the bike was perfectly still while the road was just a blur underneath. And I think I even did okay with the technical bit of descending—Martin never once had to chant his “lean lean lean,” and whenever we were on the front through this section, we managed to get a small gap…just in time to fly at 30+ mph over some really rough pavement that bounced me off the saddle sometimes (this is challenging when someone else is forcing your feet to continue to go around with the pedals).
The tactician on a tandem is pretty much the captain because there aren’t many opportunities for a private meeting to discuss the options. But at the start of the last lap, on the section of the course where Martin usually got his gel packet delivered (opened) into the palm of his hand, he asked if I agreed that it would be best to wait for the last climb to “go.” The only other possibility was to make the most of the technical descent, but he thought the half-mile drag after it was too hard to stay away. So we got to the front before the last climb, set a comfortable tempo, then went hard up the last, steeper section. We had a gap for a while, but another bike was able to accelerate past us. So we were second in our “sprint” and third overall in our category.
I guess that ballistic first lap was just the warm-up I needed because after that I was never in danger of blowing up. My legs even felt pretty good. On one climb, I thought Martin was done because it felt like he was pedaling in squares. It turned out that he was pedaling easy because the group wasn’t going hard, but I was just in my “it’s a hill, it must be hard” mode and was trying to force things without realizing it. I was not as “done” at the end of the tandem race as I had been after my individual race—steadier pace and cooling temps may have helped. Maybe getting on the podium the second time helped too.
It was also a fun race because of the people we were riding with. They were all friendly before and after and even during the race. The captain of the bike that outsprinted us thanked me for tiring myself out by racing the day before—they had seen me race, I didn’t tell them. The stoker who won our category was so excited about their win that she was in tears on the podium, with her little good luck teddy bears sticking out of her pockets. She told us after the race that I look scary fast and tough/aggressive on a bike. Huh? About Martin, she just pointed at him and said “and he looks…well, just look at him.”
So, for all the complaints about the courses at Seven Springs, they treated me well: 3 trips to the podium and a stars-and-stripes jersey. The courses were fun. I remember the roller-coaster thrills more than the pain of the cumulative climbing. I really was stoked about all of my rides. Tandems were the first time trial and the last road race, which meant we spent too much time sitting around. I think one other tandem rider may have done as many events as I did, but I have to do some research to find out if anyone did more.
Martin's race report is here.