Monday, August 06, 2007

TT Zen

Monday, 6 August, 62 years after Hiroshima

Lots of riders talk about getting into a rhythm or zone during a flat time trial. You want a steady effort and a smooth ride, none of that losing focus or endlessly shifting gears in search of a cadence that feels easy but delivers whopping power. Well, I can tell you faster than any coach how to find that elusive Zen-like trance: stoke a tandem for a time trial.

Yesterday was the 40.75K OBRA time trial championship on the beautiful Peoria course. Tandems got their TT championship at the beginning of July, so Sal and I were just racing for...well, for fun. Sal's tandem is a lot shorter than the one O.A.D. and I have, so my hands were either in the drops (99% of the time) or on the hoods (to stand at the start and turnaround). I can't put my head down and watch the ground go by because there's not enough room, so I stare at a blue blur that's the back of Sal's skinsuit. There's no quest for the most aero position because there aren't a lot of options. But Sal is considerably taller than O.A.D., so I don't stick out in the wind too much.

The Peoria course has few landmarks on it: two bends, two bridges over culverts, and a few stands of trees. The pavement is perfectly smooth except for one bridge transition. Even on a single bike, there is not a lot of distraction here. On the back of a tandem, there is nothing to think about but pedaling as hard as you can with whatever gear you've been dealt. There's no point in looking up because there's nothing to see. To keep my focus, I tried a few mantras from my personal collection and found that the tried-and-truest one worked best. I also tried closing my eyes, but that must have made me lose concentration because Sal would always come out with "we've got to keep up our speed" (this was into the raging headwind on the return) or "let's go harder over this little riser" (riser? on this course?). So I kept my eyes wide open, repeated my mantra over and over in my head, and tried not to think that it was taking forever. Sometimes, everything came together and it was really smooth and I was pedaling without thinking about it.

It's kind of cool that when you push your body that hard, and take away almost all distractions, you really can think about absolutely nothing. Until your captain interrupts and says "OK, 5K to go. Really push it." What had I been doing for the last 35K?

Wind and lack of sleep turn out not to be the best things for a fast tandem TT time; we were 27th out of 202 bikes in the race (but faster than the other tandems). We were 28 seconds slower than last year and well off the course record I stoked in July. But we had fun!

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