Thursday, July 13, 2006

Momentum is your friend

Wednesday, 12 July

This was my double stage day at masters nationals: first the tandem time trial (30K at 9:25), then my individual event (21K at 16:57).

Just as we set out on our warm-up ride on the tandem, it started to rain. Hard. We only had about 15 minutes to warm up before we had to report to the queue at the start line, so we rode up and down the road (getting soaked through), then went back to get checked in. Then we stood around, chatted with a couple of other tandem pairs, stretched, and it was time for one of our biggest races of the year.

Martin had not seen the course, and I think Clint and I made his eyes (ears?) glaze over as we tried to talk him through the whole 30K last night. He did remember the hairpin and the sharp corner/fast descent down to the one-lane bridge, but everything else was just chatter. Kenny’s advice as we were about 5 minutes from starting was to carry all the momentum we could through each descent/ascent transition.

Without much warm-up, we hurt going up the first climb. You think it’s a signifcant climb—until you get to the next one. But first you have to go around a hairpin bend where the winner of the elite men’s TT went off the road in a preride. We passed the bike ahead of us on that second climb, which made us feel pretty good. Martin said he was breathing really hard there, but so were they! (Oh yeah, so was I.)

The rest of the ride in the park and out into farm country was uneventful. In a bit of wishful thinking, Martin saw a corner marshall at the first intersection on the straight road and hoped it was the turnaround. But no, we had about another 3K to go before it was time to turn back.

Coming back hurt some more. We had to really dig deep in the granny gear to get up a couple of the rollers. There’s a big long descent going back as you head for the one-lane bridge, but it was over in very short order on the tandem. We kind of bogged down coming back to the county road that leads back to the park entrance, and it was raining fiercely at that point.

There’s a nice descent as you come into the park, a climb that seemed shorter on the tandem up to a park office, then a long, long descent that eventually transitions into the hairpin. I was surprised to feel Martin engage the brakes on this section—it’s where most folks hit 50 on their single bikes, so we were surely traveling faster than that (Martin is shaking his head no). And we carried our momentum so far into the hairpin that it was almost as technical going uphill as down!

About 1K from the finish, there’s a sharper/faster-than-you-expect bend where Martin couldn’t see for about 100 meters (which he told me after we finished). There was a sudden pull on the brakes there! We just powered up the last little hill before the gradual drop to the finish, straight through the chutes and under the banner. We had passed two bikes but had no idea how we did. (I’ll tell you later.)

Then it was back to our condo and every single recovery technique I’ve ever heard of. Martin and Clint went back to the TT course for Clint’s race, and I was supposed to sleep. But that didn’t happen. Ten minutes on the trainer and, when Martin sent me a text message to say the roads were drying out, 2.75 miles spinning around the adjoining parking lots on my road bike to try to remember how to handle a single bike.

For my single TT, I got to go down the start ramp. Of course the holder never holds you perfectly straight and I VERY nearly collided with the start clock at the bottom of the ramp. But with one expletive, I averted disaster and was on my way. It had stopped pouring just before my start, but there was still thunder in the area. The male companion of one woman in my age group summed up how to ride the course: carefully, but not too carefully.

I was too careful. The bike would’ve done more than I asked/let it. All I really wanted was a nap and it took me a while to get going well. I chose tuck (which kept my hands on the brakes) over aero bars a bit too often, and brakes instead of not braking way too often. I was surprised how often I had to get out of the saddle (we didn’t on the tandem). I had to go up two of the three hills we did in the granny gear on the tandem, but my lowest gear wasn’t nearly that low and my legs HURT. Every time I felt mostly miserable I reminded myself that this was national championships and would chant “PO-DI-UM” in my brain to try to make myself go that little bit faster—or at least not go slower.

I think I passed three or four riders, but they were all men in an older age group and thus not who I really wanted to pass. My 30-second woman took off like a shot from the start and I never saw her again. I didn’t see my 60-second woman, either, so I was getting worried that I was riding at a snail’s pace—but nobody caught me (except a moto, which gave me a brief scare when I thought it was a rider!).

So. Results. Martin and I won the masters mixed 70+ tandem race by 16 seconds. Not bad considering that our combined ages are 88 (the next higher category is 90+), which meant we were racing against folks a lot younger than us. We had no idea what to expect, and certainly didn’t expect to win. The main reason I did my individual time trial was because I thought I stood a reasonably good chance of making the podium. And I only JUST barely did: I was 1.4 seconds ahead of the woman in sixth place.

I learned/reaffirmed something today: it is really important to go as hard as you can every second in a time trial because sometimes things come down to a very small margin. And I surprised a whole bunch of people today by riding (and winning!) on the back of a tandem, in the rain, on a very hilly, technical course, with someone who had not ridden or driven the course and not having a single moment of fear or panic.

After winning elite nationals on this course last week, Kristin Armstrong said it was the hardest time trial she had ever done. That’s because TTs have become nearly by definition flat, straight, and boring. This was a really, really hard course, but it was so much more fun than powering along at a constant heart rate on some straight road. This is a thinker’s course: you have to pay attention the whole time. All those mantras I usually need never came into play (except “PO-DI-UM”). To get to race it twice was almost as good as the bling.

Martin's race report is here.

1 comment:

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