Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Idée fixe

So I slew (or at least mildly inconvenienced) the demons that were the Riverport Du on Sunday. This was my first multisport race for two years, my last being R'port '07. Running is easy; one foot in front of the other, repeat. The bike adds a whole new layer of complexity and concern (well for me, and I've been at this a while). It was also officially my first race in the 40-49 age-group but as I was so wound up about racing, this momentous (to me) milestone went totally unnoticed! It was a grey, blustery day that rapidly became a grey, blustery wet day, and then just plain wet in epic proportions. It was a perfect day for riding fixed, so I did. I stuck my shorty tribars onto the racing fixie (who still needs a name) and put a slightly nicer front wheel on (a Mavic Open Sport instead of the venerable MA2 it usually rubs/rocks) and I was good to go.

The Lemond in racing shape (and yes she's in the kitchen; where-else
do apartment-dwelling roadies keep their bikes?)

There were many surprised faces in TZ when I racked; "oh, so you're racing then" with a bemused smile was the usual refrain. Then again, if you were new to the sport, you probably had never seen me without a vest and a whistle. Nevertheless, it made me feel appreciated and also that no-one begrudged me having a bit of fun for once.

I put the tried-and-tested duathlon game-plan into effect from the gun; hit R1 hard and run like there's no bike to get a gap, keep the gap as long as possible on the bike (where I suck now) and then give R2 everything you've got left. The way I see it I'm giving up three or four minutes on the bike. If I can take 60" to 90" on each run then at least I can remain competitive.

If 666 is double 333 does this mean I'm only half as bad?

R1 was hard, in a loose group with Jeremy Law, Chris Milburn, Shawn Aimirault and Kenny Fraser (the latter of whom I don't know). with althetes the calibre of Denis Choquette , Shawn Muise and Alan Miner not far behind. Kenny came though a couple of times on the run, leading a couple of guys in the following pack to ask "does this guy know who he's taking on?". All credit to him, he rocked R1 and then posted the fastest R2. He may have been an unknown quantity this time but we'll all be looking for him next time: the dude can run, and here's to hoping he doesn't improve on the bike.

I kept a slim lead going through T1 and was very quickly up to cadence on the short downhill out of TZ. I was worried that a high cadence after killing R1 would be a bad combination but it wasn't; different muscle groups, slow-twitch/fast-twitch perhaps? Who knows. Jeremy came through quickly on the bike followed, or so it seemed, by many, many others. Unlike previous years, where there had been headwinds all the way around the loop, this year there were clearly defined tail and crosswind sections. The first 12km were a tailwind and I was spinning out in places, doing about 35 kph on 70" fixed had me spinning at 100 rpm, rising to over 120 for the downhills . Needless to say I was passed a lot on this flattish 12km stretch before the hills and rollers by guys in 53 x 16 (ca. 90"). They were pedalling at a much more sedate 85 to 90 rpm and and freewheeling on the little downhills.

I didn't pass a single person. Of course if one does the math; if starting first and as the slowest cyclist, then one wouldn't expect to do much passing! As much as I'd told myself that performance wasn't important (to the extent of bringing the "wrong" bike) this hurt a little but I tried to take some small comfort in being a true time-trialist in the pre-war British mould; black outfit, bare-bones bike, small gear and high cadence. Unfortunately, there was no prize for "class".

Some measure of revenge came on the hills and rollers. The climb of Grimm Road wasn't as bad as I'd anticipated, and I was able to climb it all sitting down and even passed a couple of guys. The fixed really came into its own on the rollers where the gear gave a nice sense of rhythm which helped me to keep the pace better on the grades. I was still being passed, but at least now I was able to pass some back. I even got locked into a few "you're faster than me on the downhills, I'm faster than you on the uphills" battles, and I like to think I eventually won a few of them.

T2 was going to be a unknown quantity given I'd never raced on fixed before. There was no "spinning easy" into T2 given the choice (well, total absence) of gears, but at least the ratio was pretty small to start with. In fact, my legs didn't feel that heavy at all going into R2. I had a couple of precautionary twinges, the ones that tell you that cramp may be coming, but that's kinda par for the course. I started R2 in the mid-teens and managed to pull myself up a few psychologically important places in four kilometres, finishing 8th overall and 3rd in my age-group.

Would gears have made a difference? Perhaps, perhaps not. Two years ago on this course my bike-split was faster by a 1 kph or so but it was a nicer day then (calm, dry, sunny). Would having access to a 53 have made a difference in the finale? Perhaps crunching >100" gears is good in the short-term but in the end there are the heavier legs and more fatigue. Would the ability to coast have been rhythm breaking on the rolling second portion of the ride? I rather suspect that being forced to take it relatively easy in the first 12 kms helped in the latter part of the event, and I know that gears would have disrupted my rhythm. Maybe gears would have helped to erase the minute or so between 7th and 8th or even 6th, but in my age-group I was roundly beaten by Chris Milburn and Denis Choquette, two excellent athletes who regularly show me who's boss on the bike, gears or no. Nevertheless, I'm bringing a 14 next year!

Definitely coming back with a bigger one next
year; it's funny the difference 5 inches can make!

The discussion in the car on the way back was dominated by racing on fixed. I know it harkens back so some of the UCI's weirder ideas (and the one that stuck, the "athletes record" for the hour), but racing on fixed would be a great leveller. At any race, TZ runs the gamut from $100 CCMs from Crappy Tire to custom crabon rigs with wheels that cost more an entry-level racer. Put everyone on fixed and then we'll see who can ride and who's relying on technology. By all means allow the racers to choose their ratios; a big-gear cruncher won't appreciate a 75" whilst a waif-like climber won't even be able to turn 100" over. Within reason athletes in the race should be allowed to choose their frame too; this isn't the 1901 TdF where the RD specified the very bike the riders were allowed to use! Nevertheless, people shouldn't be scared; as the saying goes "class will out" or "cream rises to the top". Pantani would have conquered the Galibier on a ladies'-framed shopper with a Sturmley-Archer 3-speed and a basket on the front!

Big kudos to la belle, who slayed the course on fixed and, in a strange reversal of gender roles was rocking 75" (42 x 15 to those of you who can't do the conversion) to my 70" (39 x 15 ditto). All jokes about her having 5 inches more than me aside, I think think this deserves some serious recognition. She attacked the course for 4th lady overall, finishing on equal terms with many, whilst on a $600 bike with three brakes (if one counts the fixed), one gear and no coasting. If I was behind her on a tricked out Cervelo, I'd start re-thinking my bike strategy. From a confidence point of view she hit the course sight-unseen head on, including the hills. For those who have never ridden fixed, riding a downhill sight-unseen takes a little confidence as you have no idea how fast you will be going at the end, remembering that you have an absolute upper speed limit of ca. 50 kph on 75" fixed and anything above this you will crash! Also, there's no such thing as a flying dismount! La belle even claims to have had a little skid-stop at the dismount line; she's been watching too many Chris Hoy videos on Youtube (I've been watching too many Victoria Pendleton videos, but that's a different story). In fact this result has even made her think about the velodrome.....


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