Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tour week: Time Trials (Individual and Team)

Cycling, at least on the professional level, is a team sport.  To the uninitiated (and again, you could make an argument that I am one of you), that is a strange and difficult concept to wrap your head around.  Unless we're talking about a tandem bike, there is one bike, one rider: One Man Force.  When you cross the finish line first you stand alone on the podium.  Like Tennis.  Sure there are coaches and trainers, and sparring partners but one athlete wins Wimbledon and raises the salad bowl above his/her head and nobody thinks about what (and who) it took to get them to the pinnacle.

I am not qualified, nor is a blog the place to do justice to the subject of team cycling.  Suffice it to say that no rider dons the maillot jaune in Paris without lots and lots of help from his teammates.  There are moments in any tour event however, when a rider is called on to make an individual statement, no riders to draft behind, no wheel to carry him up a hill, no support vehicle shouting encouragement and handing him treats.  In the tour de France there are two such days.  The prologue: the initial stage of the tour, generally a short (around 10km) all out individual sprint. And the individual Time Trial, generally the last stage before the riders enter Paris* which is a longer (around 50 km) individual ride.  Somewhere in the middle of the Tour there is the Team Time Trial in which the individual teams (nine riders) race together in a concerted effort to make the fastest time.  Again the distance is about 50 km.  The team must finish together, that is the clock does not stop rolling until the fifth cyclist crosses the finish line.

*which is not a stage at all but more like a virtual bike tour of Paris, complete with complimentary champagne and curbside photo opsWhomever is wearing the maillot jaune as they enter Paris takes the jersey home with him.

I've already discussed how the Tour inspires individual cyclists, but for Canadians, this Tour is special.  Native son, Ryder Hesjedal,  is fresh off a Giro d'Italia win and has the chance to be the first rider in more than a decade to win the General Classification title in both the Giro d' Italia and the Tour de France.

Pink power: Ryder Hesjedal with the Giro d'Italia trophy.

I can't speak of riders in the homeland, but our local Canadienne has taken notice and the Maple leaf (hung in front of our home every Canada Day [that would be July 1st, in case you were wondering]) was flown with particular pride this year.

 I can't say that Ryder's exploits had anything to do with it but La Canadienne logs her fastest ever 5k time to start the week:

Call it her individual Time Trial.  She will have to drop her pace a full minute in the 5k to be fast enough in the marathon distance to qualify for Boston.  Clearly she has her work cut out for her, but it's a start.

Inspired by general Tour euphoria, I set a personal record for my individual TT early in the week as well:

The route is fluid (at least as you leave and enter the Park Village area) but it always involves 30 miles (about 50 km) and includes at least 1200 feet of climb, either up Rose Canyon and back, or more recently, out Herriman Main Street to Bacchus highway past Kennecott mine.

It seemed to me that the logical conclusion to the first full week of the Tour was a Team Time Trial, that is myself and La Canadienne.  Call us  Team Larsen Internacionale*

* in team cycling national identity is trumped by Esprit de Corps, at least during the Tour.  Let's hope the same is true for us

Which brings us to Saturday July 7th: Team Time Trial


6:30 in the morning and I've still forgotten how to smile and ride at the same time.  I was recently reading a book by a New York columnist known as the bike snob who in describing 'roadies'* mentioned (among other things) that they have figured out how to completely suck the fun out of the sport.  To look at my self portrait photos of late you might think he was right.  I'm having fun, I promise I am.  But this is going to hurt.  If you do it right it always does.  La Canadienne looks surprisingly chipper considering the early start.

*Road Cyclists

La Canadienne:   lean, hungry, already proven fleet of foot, it's now time to be fast on a bike.

Some last minute equipment checks, specifically is there some brake rub.  Only a strong headwind is more damaging when you're riding for a time.  You can't do anything about the elements, but you can make sure your wheels are working with you and not against you.

We make a loop of the neighbourhood to get the blood flowing to muscles that only twenty minutes ago were curled up in bed.

And then we are off.  Thirty miles (and 1200 feet of climb) is just enough distance and hill to push you (me) right into the red and keep you (me) there for a full ninety minutes.  The first time I attempted it (last season) I managed to barely squeeze in under 1:30:00 at a 20.1 mph average.  this year I've been slowly chipping the seconds away down to under 1:25:00 but it has been a fight every time.  I'm hoping that by working together the two of us can average 20 mph, but even though I know La Canadienne's tenacity and conditioning I secretly suspect that this may prove to be the one time I've asked/expected too much of her.  If you've never tried to average 20 mph on a bike for 30 miles give it a try sometime.  Even on flat ground it's no mean feat, and we will be climbing, quite a bit.

One of the biggest challenges is keeping La Canadienne on my wheel.  I've left the walkman* at home so as to hear when she yells at me to 'back off 'or 'slow down'.  But I'm pleasantly surprised to find that she's not dropping off at all.  In fact she is more often than not telling me to push it harder/faster.  Easier said than done.  My legs are still semi-cooked from yesterday's self-imposed Big Cottonwood Canyon pride challenge but I do my best to keep her pace at the limit.


We're about ninety seconds ahead of our 10 mile split but then we start our 3 mile climb through Herriman (about a 3-4% constant grade) and ending at the turn north onto Bacchus highway past Kennecott mine. This last hill is only about 300 meters long but is a constant 8% grade. If your legs and lungs were screaming already, this is where they will give out completely.  

The physical strain begins to beat La Canadienne mentally and she stops even pretending to be enjoying this and my efforts at coaching and encouraging are met with a cold shoulder.  She'll be herself in an hour or so but right now it's best to tread lightly


There's no 'shutupandleavemealone' in Team

We reach the summit of our climb at about 54:30.  We're 16 miles in and we've averaged just under 18 mph to this point.  We have to cover the last 14 miles in about 35 minutes or about a 25 mph average or we won't make it.

On Thursday of this week, while our climb of Big Mtn was being rained out, La Canadienne's fellow countryman, Ryder Hesjedal, was involved in a nasty crash on the Tour.  On Friday he withdrew officially due to injury.  I can't say for certain but it may have been for him that our Canadian cyclist pushes extra hard over the top and begins her determined charge for the finish line.

We charge down 118th south and back into Daybreak never dropping below 30 mph on the downhill grade.  The effort puts La Canadienne on the Strava podium for the 7 mile climb and descent loop through Herriman.  As we enter Daybreak we hit running race traffic (lots of barricades and police vehicles) and casual weekend cyclists.  The most difficult task is maintaining speed while avoiding them.  Near as I can tell there is never more than a meter between my back wheel and La Canadienne's front.  We hit the Daybreak roundabouts and the easterly headwind (what wind) without breaking cadence at all.  To say it felt like we were flying is trite, but you know how clichés come about?  Because they are true.  We are flying through Daybreak.  It's at this point that I'm sure that, barring some mechanical failure or (heaven forbid) a crash, we are going to beat our projected time.

One last climb left, the 1.1 mile Skye drive climb.  We averaged 25 mph down it, we need to average 15 up it.  I tell La Canadienne as much and she responds by burning whatever fuel she has remaining in the tank and wins herself a Queen of the Mountain time (and a personal record by 15 seconds) with the effort.  It's only an unfortunate red light on the final 1.5 miles as we hit Grizzly way that keeps her from yet another QOM (on a stretch of road that currently has me as it's Benevolent Overlord, we could have ruled as King and Queen ... next time).

We roll into the subdivision and I confirm that the time on my GPS matches La Canadienne's

It's official:

30 miles in 1:29:07 at an average speed of 20.2 mph.  She says she hated it

But she says that about all these activities I talk her into until she's showered and eaten.  Then she realizes what she's accomplished and she's convinced she can do it better, faster, stronger.  She doesn't need Strava or me to push her she's already competing, she's racing herself, testing her limits, pushing for the next level.  And today?  She won.


For Ryder

1 comment:

  1. Zilla Here, Loved the Post !
    Incredible work Jen, you are awesome. Keep pushing and collecting those QOM.

    Deebs, what can I say? You are a machine. Seems like you have progressed leaps and bounds this year.

    I was so disappointed to see Ryder go down, I thought he had a 1 in 5 chance to win the whole thing and was certainly a fan favorite. For now I am cheering for Cadel Evans and Peter Sagan