It's been a while since I had a race report to post, and now I've got two in one!
This year I've decided to focus solely on becoming a better time trialist. Unfortunately, in Tennessee time trialling is really not a thing... so starting my "season" has been a long time coming.
My original focus was the TN State Time Trial Championships, however as the race date drew closer without a confirmation I feared the worst, that it would be re-scheduled or worse, simply cancelled. Georgia's State TT had been on my radar for a while, but we had originally figured it as a tune up / train through race, however, as TN's race became less certain and with my fitness coming towards a peak for the season, I decided to re-schedule and make sure I had at least a single good race to focus on lest I just miss out on everything. Shuffling your training plan to shoe horn in a peak/taper last minute a few weeks before planned certainly isn't the ideal way to do it, but it is what it is and what we had to work with.
The couple of weeks leading into the GA TT had/have been rough, I was pushing longer weeks and higher intensities and missing a fair number of those targets. It erodes the confidence we have built up and we start thinking somehow we've backslid into de-training, even though that is not logical. Nonetheless, I was getting a little nervous about the race. Tapering went like my tapers always have historically, I feel pretty "meh" as volume drops and recovery increases. I'm used to this by now, so I wasn't too freaked out by it. On Thursday we sat down and discussed my strategy for the GA course, keeping in mind that I'd have to go back out within an hour and try to hold it together for the 2 Man Team Time Trial. Although that was an afterthought, I still wanted to at least be able to not be totally embarrassed by my pulls. I would limit myself to low 300's for the punchy climbs and not let my heart rate climb too far above 180 until the last 3k or so, as at that point I'd start digging a hole I couldn't recover from. I've blown up in a longish TT before in epic fashion, it's not an experience I ever look to repeat.
I took a half day off work Friday and met my friend's Jimmy and Sharon at their house. We'd decided to split a hotel room since the upcharge staying in a college town on Memorial Day weekend was ridiculous. We strapped the bikes (three Speed Concepts) to the Subaru and made our way down to Gainesville.
By the time we drove the course, got unloaded and found a place to get some dinner it was close to 8p.m. I'd planned to do a 30 minute spin with a couple of pickups that evening (sitting in a car for a couple of hours isn't great for keeping the legs fresh) but decided it was late enough it was best to cut it short and not risk getting too worked up right before bed. Sleeping in a hotel is already enough of a challenge without a sky high heartrate. 15' spinning would have to do. We turned in a little after 9 and set the alarm for 6.
Race day rolled around fairly uneventfully. One last check of the bike, we packed the car and met the rest of the crew at a local Panera Bread for coffee and breakfast. Then it was off to the races, as Sharon and the rest of the girls started about an hour before us.
The course itself was a little short of a 40k (measuring about 35k) and an easy enough out and back setup with only the turnaround in a 3 lane road as the "technical" section. Going out was vastly downhill, and the back half, as you might imagine, was mirrored uphill. It would certainly punish someone who didn't hold a little back for the return trip.
I've been using Team GB/Sky's TT warmup for a couple of years now (ever since I saw and stole it) and I've always felt it was a great warmup that didn't run on too long. I was surprised that my parents had made a side trip on their own mini-vacation to see me off... that's always great for morale! I ran down to the start to see some of my friends off, gave Jimmy some well wishes (and a stick of gum... our tt secret weapon) gave the bike a final check over and fully kitted up... then rode to the start ramp myself. Finally, at 10:07 on the dot, it was go time.
I went off the ramp and took a hard right out of the parking lot into another right onto the main road the rest of the race would play out on. As I've mentioned, the first portion is very fast due to the gradual decline. I've been running a single front chainring for a while now with a 50t ring which has treated me well up to this point. Unfortunately I found a 50x12 big gear simply wasn't allowing me to push my target watts. I was running in the low 200's for some long stretches... a rookie mistake not to match the necessary gear to the course. It wasn't a disaster, but with the length of time spent in 50x12 it was certainly not optimal. Stay aero, stay tucked, stay focused. I say stay focused because here I made a real error. As I was coming onto the time check I saw a volunteer standing up in a truck bed as a side road entered onto the race course. There was a cone in the middle of the lanes. For a moment my adrenaline addled mind thought "am I at the turnaround??" (actually, it was the turnaround for the juniors) I move to my pods/brakes (USE Tula's have some funky brakes) and start to slow... I'm a bit confused. The volunteer notices that I'm a moron and starts yelling "go go go!" Even after driving the course and knowing the distance I'm still not smart enough to trust I know where to go... Ferdinand Magellan I am not. I curse under my breath at the seconds wasted but there is nothing to do but get tucked in and drive on. I was checking my computer fairly regularly to keep me reigned in on the uphill sections and to remind me I wasn't going hard enough on the downhills. I stayed tucked into my aero position and just continued my rhythm. It had been a while now and I hadn't caught my minute man... that was slightly worrisome but I didn't panic. I also hadn't been caught. Finally, as the (real) turnaround neared I saw riders in the distance. Then it was like a gate had opened, I passed a duo, then another, and finally another before the turnaround. As I made my U-turn I took the opportunity to grab a swig of water. It wasn't a necessity, but I figured I'd be thankful for it soon as the course was only going to get harder on the trip home.
At this point I was able to get some bearings of where the rest of the field stood. Everyone that started behind me was still a fairly even to farther distance away from me on the road. I saw Jimmy blazing through and considering how far he started behind me I figured he was having a good ride. I was still feeling pretty good, but my heartrate had been staying pretty steadily in the high 170's low 180's for a good chunk of time. It was sustainable, but I was feeling it. I decided that I'd cut back the power I was averaging on any section of uphill I thought would last over a minute to high 200's instead of low 300's, then I'd use anything I had left at the last climb before the finish. I made another pass at the 10k sign, and got a glimpse, finally, of my minute man. Now I had a target... something that makes the pain just a little more bearable. At this point the course really makes you pay for all that downhill you enjoyed on the way out. Nonetheless, I stuck to my plan and eventually caught my minute man just after the 5k sign. On the next climb he passed me again on the uphill section, and put in a good enough effort that I was unwilling to respond but kept him well within sight as a pacer. Finally after what seemed like forever, we crested the final hill and made a mad dash for the finish tent. (and more importantly, the finish line) I stopped the clock in 51:21, a bit slower than we had predicted (with the help of Bestbikesplit) but still in the "good day" category. Back to the caravan I fueled up as best I could, knowing I'd have to go back out there within the hour to do it all over again. Jimmy finished not long after (51:07) and we went to see how we had placed.
I managed to secure second place in the 4's... missing the top step by under 10 seconds. I knew I had left that 10 seconds out there, maybe by just not slowing down at that one point, definitely by having a better gear ratio. Live and learn... It was fitting a native Georgian stood on the top step in my mind anyways. Jimmy had an even tighter squeeze... He finished in third, under a half second behind second place. Still, a good showing for the Tennessee boys. The ladies of course absolutely dominated... sweeping the top step all around.
After my best attempt at re-fueling/hydrating it was time to return to the start line for the team time trial. Showing up fortunately had already nailed us the top spot on the podium, and at least I was more than a little happy that I wasn't going to have to chase or be chased again. We knew going in that Jimmy would be the stronger of us, so it would have to be up to him to do the larger share of the work. On the one hand you feel a little embarrassed that you can't do more while your buddy is suffering pulling and you're just tagging along, but since time is taken on the second man over the line it's not doing either of us any favors if I kill myself and have to totally limp home while he rides away. I do the work I can for the first half of the race, we are on a 2 minute rotation and with a little help from the extra rest and the gracious downhill I'm able to help out at least a bit. As we close in on the halfway point I tell Jimmy I'm not going to be able to go much higher than 300 on the climbs, as I'm starting to feel the earlier efforts. At the turnaround Jimmy tells me he's feeling good... As he takes his pull on the first gradual incline I almost lose contact... "DOWN" I feebly yell, our call signal for distress. Jimmy takes the lead the majority of the return trip, and although it's certainly helpful to have a wheel in front of you to keep you motivated, it doesn't help nearly as much when you are climbing, as the drafting benefit isn't really there. I take some short pulls on the quick downhills and a couple of flats, but for the most part I'm just trying to keep my legs moving and not cramp up. A little past 5k Jimmy tells me to pull to the 3k sign and he'll get us home. It's hard to believe just how far 2k is on a bike until you're counting off mailboxes, trees, ruts in the road, whatever just to try to pass that time. The road finally straightens out into a false flat and at the end of it is a bright neon "3k" sign. Agonizingly slowly we creep past it and Jimmy takes over. Here the road pitches again pretty much all the way up to the finishing straight, and again I'm close to losing contact although it's clear by my computer that I'm not pushing all that hard. A little under 1k, the final uphill section and I stand up out of aero... a big mistake. My right leg immediately starts cramping. I sit back down and will myself to make a circle with both legs... it works well enough that I don't literally just stop and topple over. Finally we crest and can see the finish tent. It's a fairly long drag and again a slight false flat running up onto it... I give it everything I've got left and we stop the clock at 54:36.
As we (well I at least) limp back to the car Jimmy suggests we return to the finish line to see the girls 4-person team finish. I agree and make it to the turn in the road downhill before rational thought strikes me "I'm not going up this hill again." I turn around and head back to the car... sorry girls. (They crushed everyone else without me seeing it anyways!)
So our two man TT was slower than either of our individual efforts. Not unexpected given our fatigue, at least my own. Still, I felt like considering the increase in temperature and wind we put down a pretty solid time for our first venture into team time trialling. A special thanks to my teammate for pulling me along the course, especially while I was hurting.
Overall, It was a good day, very important for ironing out the details for TN States, where hopefully I can improve my podium positioning by a step.
Thanks to the Sponsors: Podium Sports Medicine, Visit Knoxville, The Feed, Harper Auto Square, Stoke Signal Socks, Yee-Haw Brewing Co.