Today was the first time since late fall that there has been enough daylight for me to ride after work. The weather was gorgeous. Very little wind and the temperature was hovering around the 60F mark. I did wear some leg warmers and my GoLite base layer under my team jersey — but no wind jacket and no shoe covers! SPRING is here!!!!
Donna Hamilton is my team mate for the upcoming Haystack TTT. Donna competed in this event with three other local women in 2011 and placed. That team placed 6th in the SW4 category with a time of 47:51 (the first place team came in at 43:08). Pretty impressive to say the least! This will be my first team time trial.
Although teams can start with between 2-4 riders, having four well matched riders is certainly an advantage since it means each rider spends less time working at the front of the line and more time recovering between hard efforts. Donna and I wanted to form a 4-woman team, but we also want to ride for Blue Sky Velo and apparently the rules don’t allow time trial teams to mix and match from riders of different clubs/teams. So, at the moment, it looks like it will be just the two of us. That puts a little pressure on us in that we both must finish the race — we have not spare riders to drop along the way. Larger teams can start with four but are only required to finish with two. The team’s time is determined by when the second rider crosses the finish line.
Donna and I attended both of Alison Power’s Time Trial clinics held over the last couple of weekends. The first clinic was for BSV women only and we had a good turnout. Don’t know whether any of the other gals will actually sign up for Haystack – either as individual riders or as teams — but the seed has been planted. Everyone learned a lot and seemed excited at the prospect of trying a time trial race at some point. Donna and I are the only two to come out of those clinics committed to competing at Haystack on April 13th. To that end, we met this evening (at 5pm) at the Left Hand trail head that is just east of Hwy 36 on Neva Road. Donna rode to the meeting spot so was warmed up and ready to go. I drove there from work so started off with little warm-up….well, actually, no warm-up. We headed west and took the little dirt spur up to the official start area on highway 36. There was a fair amount of evening commuting traffic as well as other cyclists streaming out from Boulder for a quick after-work ride. Before we started out on our training loop, Donna and I talked a bit about our riding rotation strategy and some possible communication techniques we might put in place. At the second clinic, we rode together and had a heck of a time staying together. I was on my TT bike, wearing my fancy TT helmet but I couldn’t hear Donna when she yelled at me to “Ease Off” or “Slow Down!” so a couple times I just rode away thinking she was still on my wheel. That sort of move is NOT the way to win a team time trial. This evening, I rode my road bike with my regular helmet (and my hearing aids!) and I did not experience the same hearing issues. But, we also explored language and timing that helped us avoid getting separated.
During the ride, we hollered several different phrases back and forth. Some were easier to understand than others. In the end, we kinda settled ‘Call and Response’ approach. When I was in the lead, I generally had two calls — ‘Pace?’ and ‘Faster?’. The response to ‘Pace’ was generally ‘Good’ or ‘Too Fast’. The response to ‘Faster?’ was either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. I chuckled to myself numerous times during our ride. When I’d ask ‘Faster?’, there would be this pause and I just knew that Donna was processing all the variables and taking who knows what into consideration, and then came a lengthy reply that generally started with ‘No’…. but went on to elaborate on why that was the answer right now and how Donna felt bad that the answer wasn’t ‘Yes’. In my mind, the whole idea of this ‘Call and Response’ was to keep the dialog to a minimum – for two reasons. The first is that during the race, neither of us should have the breath to spit out more than a word or two and secondly, neither of us hear all that well so the more words we exchange, the more chance there is to misunderstand them or waste energy trying to figure out what the other person might have said. But, today, it provided much needed levity and my guess is that on race day, we’ll be lucky to get actually words out. On race day we may be down to grunting and groaning!
I noticed that I developed a pattern with my ‘calls’. Generally, I would do a ‘Pace?’ shortly after moving into the front position to make sure I hadn’t upped the speed unintentionally (or dropped it, for that matter). Then, in addition to slight glances backward, I would test whether we were pushing as hard as we could by repeatedly asking ‘Faster?’ until I got a back a ‘No!’ That way, I knew we were going just about what we wanted to be going. Doing this also had the effect of sonar. When I got the reply back, I could tell where Donna was riding, whether it was on my left or right side, directly behind me and sometimes even how far back she was off my wheel. Pretty cool!
Today was also about getting more comfortable riding in close proximity to each other and developing a rotation style that worked for us. After one downhill stretch, it was clear to me that I should probably lead on the steeper downhills. Coming down Nelson Road by the old Four-Fives Equestrian Center, I got into my tuck and without a single pedal stroke passed right by Donna who was putting in a good pedaling effort. Going downhill — my weight is a definite advantage and as a team we need to leverage that. I thought we did a nice job of alternating and even more important, when we changed leads, in general, our speed did not surge or drop. It was remarkably steady. A couple of times I intentionally surged to put a gap between me and Donna. I wanted to practice this in case it happens on race day. Donna got better over the course of the ride in telling me to “Ease Off” as soon as that gap started to form. It will be even better when she can sense the first pedal stroke or two of my surge and nip it in the bud. Similarly, I am trying to recognize situations where I am likely to pull away and nip it in the bud myself.
The stretch after Nelson Rd is tough. There is an uphill trend and between Nelson and Neva there are several rolling hills and a couple of those steeper climbs that I was just talking about. I think this is where the race is won or lost. When we turned west on Neva Road we were greeted by a slight headwind. I hope this is all we have to deal with on race day, but I have my doubts. I think the team races are in the afternoon when the winds are generally stronger and generally out of the west. What we dealt with today may be mild compared to what we might expect to see in a couple of weeks. As we rode west today, we also picked up John Cotton. John is a very talented BSV member who has helped Donna and me learn important aspects of time trialing. John rode behind us and provided pointers to us that will make us even better!
There are a couple of short, steeper climbs on the order of a couple hundred yards. I tend to power up this sort of hill, but I need to avoid doing that or Donna will get dropped for sure. We were successful on the climbs today because of our new communication approach. No one got dropped, no one sprinted away and we finished as a team and still friends! What more can you ask for? Maybe two more riders, just like us so we can have twice as much fun and be even more competitive 😉