Well 2014 started in a slightly different way as I headed to the Australian National Road Championships. I was entered in the Time Trial and I was pretty excited to give it a crack.
My main concern or excitement (the line was blurred) was remembering that I didn’t’ have to run off the bike and so needed to cross the line in a complete and utter state of exhaustion. In hindsight maybe I should have shipped in a pool to warm up in prior and put my trainers at the finish line.
The event was in Ballarat, approx. 1.5hrs North West of Melbourne. First learning for the week, inland from Melbourne is not like inland from Sydney. In my Australian naivety I was expecting it to be roasting hot and dry inland, so took very few warmer clothes. It was flippin’ freezing! The wind didn’t help but the temperature was definitely not Australian summer, and so I ended up for most of the few days wearing pretty much every layer of clothing I’d packed.
Getting to Ballarat a few days early meant I would have time to recce the course and get a couple of good training sessions done on the 28km out and back track. It was a pretty straightforward course. A slight up hill for the first 3km with then just one 90deg left hand turn, a dead turn at 14km and then the right hand turn with 3km to go on the way back. It was pretty flat too, well a few false flats and little pinches but nothing too big, a think slight down hill on the way out and so uphill on the way back. It was however exposed and so open to the 30+km/hr winds that seemed to be resident for the week. It certainly made the cycling interesting as I set off on my first training session running a Zipp disc on the back and a 1080 at the front. The disc not an issue at all, as you’d expect, but the 1080…well that made it interesting in the cross winds and we soon swapped that for my Zipp Firecrest 404 instead. This meant I was able to just focus on pedaling and moving the bike forward and not worrying about getting swept across the road or blown off the bike.
I think Spot enjoyed it too, being in the car behind me. Yep, just like the Tour de France. I think he particularly enjoyed the bit of motopacing we did. This was another learning. I have not yet the confidence to sit within inches of the back of the car like some of the riders were, whether this was my lack of trust in my own ability or Spot’s I’m not sure!
Race day and I went for an early leg spin as the race wasn’t till 1228hrs (non of this Triathlon early sparrows fart start times). Arriving at the race start it was exciting and suddenly real (pretty much been living in denial till then) to see the start ramp and the finish arches. Immediate thoughts went to… “I am going to fall off at the start and look like a real idiot”
Spot and I parked up in the field surrounded by Team cars, team buses, team tents with all the riders sitting on rollers or turbo trainers warming up. All of them also plugged into headphones and music. We knew we didn’t have any of this equipment with us, hence the warm up earlier in the day. The U23 men were off before, so I was able to watch a few of them start and finish before getting all kitted up ready to go for my start. Now when I say kitted up, I was just wearing my new Jaggad cycling bib shorts and a top, surrounded by all these girls in full all in one long sleeve suits, with aero shoe/sock covers on (I don’t even know what they are called). I did have my Kask Bambino aero helmet and was fully kitted out with the visor for this race. As novices in this game, Henk Vogels (Drapac Directeur Sportif) had offered to drive the car behind me and was going to let me use his radio, but unfortunately and completely understandable he was tied up with the Drapac team. However it was great to meet Henk again having met him in Noosa on a camp in August 2013. It’s so exciting to see the Drapac team kick off this year and I can’t wait to watch them. They started well with Jordan Kirby winning the U23 men’s TT title.
In hindsight, writing this, I realize just quite how little preparation and planning we did for this race. I’m normally meticulous about routine and warm up before my Triathlon races, that I’m actually more and more shocked the more I think back to this TT.
So it was just me against the clock, which was what we’d been expecting anyway. I mean that’s how we race in Triathlon. I had a 2min gap from the rider in front of me, as the competitor who was meant to be immediately before me hadn’t turned up. With 1min to go you are called onto the start mat. A gentleman holds the bike in position from the back, whilst you clip in and get the pedals in the right position. There’s also an official standing towards the front of your bike (not holding it though). There’s a small screen on the left hand side that’s counting down the seconds. Ahead of you the ramp down onto the course, the road opening up in front.
Let’s hope I don’t fall off here…
The official at the front starts counting down with his voice and hand…
Now, how do I not fall off here…
Three…two…one…go go go…ah a little wobble but I didn’t fall off and we were down the ramp and going.
Whether I got white line fever or not, but within seconds my legs felt like they were on fire already and I felt like I needed to down a litre of fluid. This was probably because we’d also just taken all water bottles and cages off my bike…every second counts right!! Uh oh…this could be a long 28km! ha ha! Knowing it was predominantly a tail wind for the first half I knew I had to use this, whilst also saving a little in the tank for the way back, which would be head wind and up hill. This is where I was hoping I could put some real time down. The wind didn’t bother me at all. Through out Christmas every session on my bike seemed to be into a head wind, so I was pretty accustomed to it now. Whilst I could just about see the rider in front of me, I didn’t seem to be making much ground up. I didn’t dare look behind me the whole race. All I knew is that there were a whole heap of cyclists chasing me down. Whether I rode scared, maybe too scared or didn’t go hard enough in the first half I’m not sure. At the turn around, I think I took this a bit too steady (it was a dead turn 180deg) it was the first chance to see who was coming behind me and heck they were coming. I kept pretty calm though convincing myself that heading back into the wind was my advantage. I found I was making huge progress on catching the rider in front all of a sudden (she was obviously struggling in the wind, as I hoped the others behind me would (naïve??)) and I found I passed her not long after the turnaround. I couldn’t see any other rider in front after that though, so I just set about putting my head down, holding my position on the bike, powering the pedals and trying to chase the motorbike that was further up the road.
Seeing all the riders behind you, can be almost quite an intimidating sight to be honest. Riders all decked out in speed suits and aero helmets, but it’s the fact that all had cars or vans following them, makes the whole rider more imposing.
I tried to keep pushing and upping the pace on the way back, knowing it was do or die and I had no run off the bike. As I made the one corner turn on the way back, I had 3km to go and upped my pace again. It really was all or nothing now as I tried to power away to the finish (in hindsight, maybe I’d left it too late).
My first thought as I crossed the line and under the finish arch was…’it’s not good enough’. I heard them announce I was second fastest at that time, but I knew there were a whole stack of cyclists coming behind me I needed to be fastest to stand a chance. By the time I got back to the finish line another few riders had finished and I knew they were all too close to me for me to still be up the rankings. It’s funny, when I crossed the line I was apparently frothing (attractive right) which would show I’d been working pretty hard (or maybe just dehydrated), and I had to cycle/roll off about 200m before I could even think about stopping the bike. Yet only a few minutes later I felt fine. Good recovery from a triathlon background or did I not go hard enough? The other thing that pure Time Trialing does, is give you the dry, blood like throat and coughing for a day or two after. I haven’t had that feeling since running on the indoor athletics track in competitions. It’s a kind of horrible yet feel good thing at the same time.
At the finish line, next to the podium are three chairs where the fastest three riders to date sit until they get knocked off. Whilst I was pretty sure I wasn’t in the top three when I got back to the finish line, I did sneak a seat on one of the chairs, so Spot could take a photo! We can but dream right?
In the end I finished 13th. 3mins 12sec off the winner. (I don’t have any data to share as I’m yet to get a power meter on my bike, but something I’m going to try to sort even more after the race. I’m interested to see the comparison from the power sessions I do at Turbostudio, and also learning and starting to use power as I race.) To be open about it, I was a little gutted. I’d hoped for top 10 or top 5 at best on a good day. Maybe in hindsight that was unrealistic but still that was the goal. However as the days pass I’m accepting it and processing it (gosh I’m making it sound much bigger than it actually was). It was an incredible experience and I learnt so much from it. It was brilliant to see inside another sport, and watch how they girls and guys act and prepare for their race. It was great to just be a pure cyclist for the day. Heck, there is so much that goes into just one sport, that it makes me realize even more how new I am to triathlon still as well.
A huge thanks always to Spot, who I dragged down to Ballarat and who spent the time following me in the car or me motor pacing (or trying) off him. I think he actually enjoyed all the photo opportunities! It was great having him with me for the few days down there and it was fun driving over the course for the Road Race (which was taking place a few days later). That looked a lot of fun, but no I wasn’t that tempted!
Spot is actually more of a groupie than I was. When he spotted Phil Leggitt, Spot’s inner 8 year old personality (the one that appears when the surf is massive at Bondi and Spot can be seen just beaming and laughing like a child, as he gets smashed by the waves and keeps going back for more), appeared again. Although I protested at first out of my English embarrassment, I’m glad we did ask Phil for a photo. I’m sure it was more for Spot to engage Phil in brief conversation, but it was great to speak to an absolute gentlemen and legend of the sport. Thank you Phil Leggitt MBE.