My Rookie Season: Time trials and tribulations

As my alarm buzzed at 6 a.m., I was fully prepared to hit snooze. Now at Day 3 of Tour of the Gila, I wrestled my aching body out of bed. Yesterday’s hard effort to chase the group had left almost every muscle in my body tight and achy.

Over breakfast, I prepared for today’s challenge. Day 3 is a 26k individual time trial, where riders start 30 seconds apart and race solo against the clock over the rolling 16.15 miles. The course begins with a long steady climb, before plunging into two large rollers before the turn around. The course is also notoriously windy.

In preparation for the race, I had spent a day replacing the aerobars and measuring the bike to comply to the position and equipment rules enforced by the UCI at sanctioned pro events. The UCI has a measuring device, known as the jig, where riders must have their bike checked before the start to ensure that it comply to the rules. This had caused me to dramatically change my position on the bike, and I was a bit nervous as I hadn’t had much time to ride it since.

Game plan

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From the house we rolled out to the TT course start in Tyrone. For the first time, I felt completely calm. TTs are something that has traditionally been a strength of mine and the short time and riding alone left little to be nervous about. Tired from yesterday and far back in the results, my main plan for the day was to just ride a steady 80 percent tempo over the TT. I needed to insure that I rode hard enough to not be time cut, but allow my body to rest and recover a bit from the hard effort yesterday.

The staging area at Tyrone was a sight to behold. Team cars and vans filled the parking lot with mechanics tinkering endlessly on the spaceship-like aero machines that their riders would pilot. In front of their respective cars teams huddle in chairs, resting and adjusting equipment while others found their groove warming up on trainers.

Out of the west a strong wind began to blow. This would make the course have a head/crosswind on the outbound leg, and help to push us home after the turn around.

Doing a jig

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When I arrived, I beeline for the UCI jig. Waiting in line, I saw mechanics from other teams with handfuls of bikes ready to be checked. When it was my turn, I awaited nervously like a student checking his grades, to see how I had done. Once in the jig, the official noted I had a problem. I had measured my aerobars from the wrong point. Because of this mistake, I was required to move the saddle back by 4 cm from the position I am accustomed to riding.

Back at our team tent I began to rush to fix this. With less than 30 minutes before
My start, I hoped to finish this and get a bit of a warmup in. But due to some technical difficulties with my bike, I was unable to move my seat back. As we all hammered away on my bike, I quickly began to lose my cool. Was I going to be able to start? After surviving yesterday, I may be cut out of the race due to something so simple as my seat position.

With 10 minutes until go-time, the situation looked dire. Team director Marty Ryerson did his best to calm me and ran to get a “neutral” road bike from Shimano to ride. In the meantime I ran from team bus to team bus begging for help. Finally my
savior came from Lupus Racing Team. One of their mechanics dropped his current work and grabbed my bike. He quickly hammered and wrenched at my bike and finally got the seat properly positioned. With three minutes until my start, I darted to the start house.

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I have never felt more unprepared for a TT in my life. I had no warmup. My bike position was entirely unfamiliar and now my head was spinning. But I was starting, and I rolled down the start ramp, I calmed myself and told myself: Just ride steady, just get through to tomorrow.

I powered up the hills, sliding around the saddle on a foreign-feeling position. This was not the TT feeling I was used to, but I tried not to let it bother me. I focused on what I could control: my breathing, my pedal stroke, my position. Cresting the climb, I hit the fast descents, constantly having to steady the bike as I was rocked by the crosswinds. I knew I wasn’t breaking any records, but I started to finally enjoy the ride.

Crash help

On the return trip, I started flying down the long downhill back into town, careful to keep my head up and stay clear of the the large orange traffic barrels that cordoned off our race area. Suddenly I caught a glimpse of something ahead of me. It was my teammate Quinn Keogh who was off his bike standing over something in the road. As I approached he waved me by and I realized what had happened. A rider from EGO presented by Sammy’s Bikes had crashed and his injuries looked serious and significant. Quinn had stopped his own time trial and stood above the rider helping him and blocking to make sure no riders ran him over.

The pit of my stomach dropped. You expect to see crashes on a road stage, but seeing a bad crash in the TT was heartbreaking. I was very proud to see that Quinn had abandoned the the thoughts of his own race and had stopped in pure humanity to help the rider on the ground. As I rolled through the finish, I started to appreciate that all the stress I had earlier did not matter. I was lucky to have my health and to be able to be out here, but the rest of the stress is all trivial things that we build for ourselves.

A short while after I finished, Quinn rolled in. He said an ambulance had finally come to take the rider away, and it appeared he may have had a concussion and broken bones, but I have not heard since.

Smoking fast

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As for my ride, I definitely rode one of the slower time trials I have ridden, but I left feeling good and ready to start tomorrow’s stage. Jim Peterman had a smoking fast ride, as our best placed rider of the day. Even more impressive was the incredible winning time ridden by Rally Cycling’s Tom Zirbel, a former U.S. TT national champion who rides almost inhumanly fast against the clock.

With the time trial ending early, we all looked forward to heading back and taking advantage of the rest of the day to relax. The cumulative mental and physical fatigue of a stage race has become more apparent to me and gives me a much larger appreciation for what riders have to deal with racing for 28 days in the Tour de France.

With three stages down, I am more than halfway to my goal of finishing my first Tour of the Gila. And with the helpful guidance of my team, I hope to successfully navigate my biggest weakness tomorrow – the Stage 4 Downtown Silver City Criterium.