Thursday, April 2, 2015

Recap: CMS Bike Time Trial (or, I really have no clue what I'm doing)

As a part of my recovery from injury, since I was already cross-training with cycling and swimming, I figured might as well do a triathlon. I've done much of my riding with other riders, though, and in a tri you are not allowed to draft behind others. So when I heard of the opportunity to do a time trial on my bike at the Charlotte Motor Speedway(!), I thought it might be a good way to learn what I'm capable of doing when I'm riding alone.

Fast forward to 5 pm last night. I'm in the infield at Charlotte Motor Speedway looking woefully underprepared. Nearly all of 200 or so cyclists here have carbon fiber time trial bikes worth thousands of dollars. They have aero helmets, aero shoes, and aero handlebars. My bike is a 1998-ish aluminum Cannondale with old-school road-biking handlebars. I certainly don't have an aero helmet and I forgot my gloves. Let's do this!

Lining up in Pit Row for the start
The riders are released one at a time, and each rider has a volunteer to hold them while they clip in and then push them off. When I arrived at the start line, I wasn't able to clip my left foot in. They actually held up the start for 15 seconds or so while I tried to get my foot in the pedal but eventually I just told them to start me and I'd figure it out when I was on the road. (Un)fortunately, Lori Ackerman was there to capture the moment on camera:

Wha? Which way does this go?
After about 5 seconds of riding I figured out that I had the pedal upside-down. Huge rookie mistake which wouldn't be my last. I looked down and saw my giant non-aero water bottle was still in its cage. So much for decreasing the wind resistance of my already clunky bike!

Oh well, all I could do now was ride. At least I had remembered to start my Garmin! I was getting good feedback on my pace, which easily climbed to 22 mph as I rounded the first corner.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is 1.5 miles per lap, which would mean 7 laps equal 10.5 miles, but somehow according to all the literature about this event, the time trial of 7 laps is exactly 10 miles. Maybe each lap is just a touch short? The other advice riders get is not to start out too fast. I had taken a couple of practice laps where 20 mph seemed easy, so I decided to shoot for 22 mph on my first lap.

That wasn't a problem for the first half-lap, but after I rounded the final turn suddenly it got much more difficult. The wind didn't seem any stronger but I had to downshift and slow down. I passed through the start/finish and kept on going around the first turn. As I came onto the back straight it suddenly got easier so I shifted up and went with it. Now I was up over 25 mph.

The next lap proved this wasn't a fluke: The front straightaway was much tougher than the back straight. A look at the elevation profile for the event shows why:

Holy oscillation, Batman!
It's fairly subtle, but there is a consistent downhill on the back stretch and a consistent uphill on the front stretch -- about 20 feet of climbing and 20 feet of descending on each lap. The difference between the two is about 4 miles per hour!

A rider with a loudly flapping bib passed me at about this point, but I kept him in my sights. For the most part Flappy Guy and I were passing people. These were mainly kids, women, and folks on handcycles, but it still does wonders for your confidence to be constantly passing people (it also helped that I started with the "slow group" — most of the fast riders started later). Here's a shot Lori got of me passing someone near the start / finish.

Cmon, dude, at least put your hands on the drops! It doesn't look like you're trying!
BTW I just noticed that Flappy Guy is in this photo as well (far right). That means it must have been taken around lap 4 or 5, which is when I remember passing Flappy Guy again.

With a few laps to go I started trying to increase my effort a bit. My average speed was now around 22.6 and I was hoping to increase it. I tried to upshift early for the downhill section and downshift later for the front straight. Looking back at my official splits, this worked to a certain extent: Lap 5 was my fastest. But I slowed a bit for laps 6 and 7, so perhaps I picked up the pace too soon. Overall my first half took 13:20 and my second half was 13:05, so I was a little faster on the second half. I may have hit things just about perfectly. Here I am making my final push to the finish:

Notice that Flappy Guy is nowhere to be seen. He must have faded quite a bit in the final lap. I took a look at the results to see if I could find him and I think he is Jonas Cherry, whose time was just 0.4 slower than mine. Remember, it's a staggered start, so he must have started a fair bit behind me.

After the finish, I made one last idiot newbie move. The roadway seemed to be blocked off, so I made my way back towards the start. Soon race officials were shouting at me to get off the road. It turned out, we were supposed to go to the point where the road was blocked, slow down, and ride around the barrier. Who knew? Fortunately this dumb move on my part was not caught on film.

A couple of friends also rode this event: DARTer Jack Haddock, who was a newbie like me, AB Lerner, another newbie but an experienced triathlete, and Ashley Ackerman, who is an awesome triathlete and a veteran of these time trials. Jack and I were far slower than the veterans, who came equipped both with better engines and nicer bikes.

Overall I was 143rd out of 204 participants, finishing in 26:22, an average speed of 22.8 mph. That includes the handbike riders as well, so you can see that I am a long way from being seriously competitive among cyclists. If newer, more aero gear gave me, say, an additional 2 mph, that would still have left me in 83rd place. So mainly I'm just not as strong as these other cyclists — which makes sense, since it's not my main sport. I feel like I've logged a lot of cycling since I was injured, but all of my rides in March totaled 261 miles, which is probably less than a lot of my competitors ride in a good week!

One thing I noticed during the race is that I was never especially winded. The difficulty in going faster seemed to be mainly due to leg strength and cycling efficiency. Hopefully as I continue to ride more I will improve my strength and efficiency and become at least a bit more competitive as my triathlon approaches. Below is my Garmin record of the race.

1 comment:

  1. "I'm injured, so I think I'll try a triathlon," said no one ever. Except Dave Munger. Awesome post, thanks for sharing the experience, and kudos to you!