I entered the bike racing arena again* today and took part in my first individual time trial.**
"What is a time trial?" one may ask. Well, put simply, it is a type of road race where it is each cyclist for and by himself in a race against the clock. Riders leave one at time at equal intervals (i.e. there is no mass start) and one can not draft off of (get in the slipstream of) other cyclists, even if they are on your team. (In more traditional road races, drafting is both commonplace and vital.) If you want to read more about individuals time trials (or ITTs) and to see some of the specialized equipment some use for TTs, click here. (FYI: I'm not a cyclist with such equipment.)
The race I entered was the Frostbite Time Trial, and it took place north of Ft. Collins, CO (about 1 hour away.) In the days leading up to it, it appeared as if this race was going to live up to its name: even on the morning of, the forecast was for a high of 41 degrees, mostly cloudy, and a 50% chance of rain and/or snow. While those conditions are good for some of my other pursuits (e.g. staying in where it's warm and dry, skiing, etc.) they're less than ideal for cycling. Thankfully, the weather ended up being pretty nice, all things considered... no rain/snow, mostly sunny, only a slight crosswind, and temps in the upper 40s.
The course was an out-and-back... 5.5+ miles out the road, go around some orange cones, and head on back. I hadn't ridden the course before, but after seeing both the elevation profile online and driving along side of it on the way to it, I had a pretty good idea of what it was going to be like. Generally speaking, it looked like it was basically a slight downhill on the way out, and thus, a slight uphill on the way back. But like many things, sometimes, just sometimes, looks can be deceiving.
I learned yesterday that my start time was 11:22:30a (riders start in 30 second intervals) so my plan was to get up there around 10:00a so I could dress appropriately, register, and warm up. While my arrival time plans worked out, things afterward didn't go as plan and I had to cut short my warm up time. I did what I could in the time I had, kept myself hydrated, downed a carbohydrate gel, put electrical tape over the "speed" portion of my bike computer (I didn't want that as a distraction) locked up the car and headed over to the start.
It was then I noticed that there are a lot of racers in my race category who kinda do look like the guy in the photo on the wikipedia page I referenced above... aero bars, sleek helmets, disc wheels (i.e. gear to help improve aerodynamics.) Thankfully for me, I wasn't planning on winning today; rather, my aims going into today's race were 1) to get a gauge on how I felt at this stage of my training, 2) see if I could keep a pretty hard pace for over 11.5 miles, and 3) not finish last. Of course I wanted to do well but I let go of my podium dreams even before I registered.
As I'm waiting in line to start, I look out on the course ahead of me and was surprised to see what looked like a slight uphill right from the start. It didn't look steep or anything, but it wasn't what I expected. Nonetheless, 11:22:30a comes around and off I go. I get out of the saddle for the first several pedal strokes to come up to speed and then sit back down to try and settle in for what I expect to be about a 30-35 minute ride. I read some several sources that the biggest mistake most people make in a TT is to go out too hard, too soon, and end up "exploding" before reaching the finish line. So, for the first 3 miles, I focused on cadence, perceived exertion and heart rate. And with the last half of the course being a slight uphill, I definitely wanted to same some energy.
It was right about then that the guy who started 30 seconds after me came wheeling on by. Not much I could do except stay in the best tuck I could and keep my legs pumping. And wonder if I was on false flat or what, because I'm still looking for that slight downhill. A couple of minutes later, the guy who started a minute after me goes on by. So, my objective at this point is to keep him in my sights as best I can, for as long as I can, and not let another racer go by.
After about 5.8 miles, I approach the turnaround point, jam on the brakes, make the "U-ey", get out of the saddle again for a couple pedal strokes, and start to make my way back. I quickly noticed that despite what my eyes were telling me, I was indeed going slightly downhill for the first half of the race, for out in front of me was a stretch of slightly inclined rollers. By this point, guy #2 who passed me was pretty far ahead. I wasn't too discouraged, because now I could see the guy who started 1.5 minutes before me was approximately 250 meters in front of me. And I thought: "There's my rabbit."
On I pushed and with each little roller, I noticed I was getting closer to him. With about 1 mile left, I swung out a little bit and passed him (Yay! Not last place!) and began to focus on 1) not letting him re-pass me and 2) finishing strong. It was then I realized that I probably took a slightly conservative approach to the race thus far for I had some energy to spare. (Live and learn, eh?) Also, it probably should have been the furthest thing from my mind at this point in the race, but as I approached the finish, I thought what looked like a slight uphill. "The Start/Finish area can't be uphill both ways!" (I spoke to several other racers afterwards and they, too, thought the course was full of optical illusions.)
Thirty three minutes and six seconds after I started, I finished. The only relatively concrete numbers I knew at that point where that I averaged about 21.5 mph and 169 beats per minute. As for place, that information wouldn't be available for several hours, so I returned home knowing that it would be somewhere between 3rd place and 2nd to last. It was tonight, then, that I learned that I came in 27th place (out of 38 racers.) A "good enough" result given it was my first TT and that I wasn't equipped like some of my competitors... plus there's the whole conditioning thing, too, but it's early and I hope to improve that over the next several weeks.
So... what's next? This Saturday I plan on doing my first "crit" (short for criterium), and who knows, I may have to revisit the poll I placed on this blog several weeks ago.
* I actually did my first bike race ever while living in PA. It was a road race in upstate New York.
** There is also a racing discipline called Team Time Trial (TTT). The concept is similar (i.e. no mass start) but in this discipline, a number of riders (usually ranging from 3 to 9, all from the same team) work together and can draft off of one another (but not off another team if it would happen to catch up to it.)