Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Winter Challenge: sometimes pain hurts.

They say the time trial is the race of truth. That's true too: a big fat truthy truism of truth. Normally I'm a big fan of the truth. But sometimes it's also ugly.

Since I knew three months ago I'd be riding the 37km time trial in the Winter Challenge I immediately launched myself into a gruelling routine of gym training and weekend cycling. It was showing some results too; my weight dropped several kilograms and I felt fitter and stronger than I had in years. I'd ridden the course and had a target time which would put me just into the top 50% of riders. Everything was going swimmingly. Then I got a cold.

This season's cold is a beauty. It's not at all severe but it did have superb endurance. (Maybe it had been training.) I'm in my fourth fun week of random dry coughing, which did tend to slow my own training down a tad- well stop it really - and help the weight pile back on. So I didn't have high hopes when I fronted up to the start line on Sunday.

As it turned out, for someone who doesn't race at all, I really enjoyed the ride - apart from an exciting flat front tyre which a kindly bystanding bike mechanic fixed for me in the five minutes before the start. Once Bicycle Tim tagged me out after his extremely fast mountain bike leg and I did the cleated hop through the transition area, the open road beckoned.

I made a terrific start. The Winter Challenge course is flat and fast to start off and I was turning a big gear over quickly enough to be a little worried I was going too hard early. My heart rate monitor was showing I was working hard too - in the high 170 beats per minute range, which is about as high as I go but I was feeling good and pushed onward.

The first big test of the ride is the hill up Scotts Road. There was a rider approaching from behind and I got out of the saddle and made a good start up the hill, though gravity bit me hard in the end. The second hill up to the highway was more of a grind. I think this section is where I could show the most improvement.

The first hint of a big looming calf cramp started around the 20km mark, so I eased off a smidge for a few minutes and the threat seemed to pass. Through the downhills and past the Kermandie Pub at the 28km mark with 58 minutes on the clock - about two minutes ahead of the trial run. The wind was my biggest foe in the last ten kilometres, alternating between headwind and tailwind as the road snaked around the riverfront. Although I was getting tired I was really enjoying the sensation of speeding along between 30km/h and 40km/h - once briefly glacing at the computer to note I was surging at 44km/h along the flat.

Fortunately another rider passed me just after the pub and gave me a target to keep in sight. I dug deep and made sure kept her about 20 - 30 metres ahead for the rest of the ride, passing her briefly atop the last small rise out of Franklin before the lactic acid took the edge off my speed. Into the finish in an acceptable 1h23m, which I'm happy with given my lack of training and overall poor fitness.

But in terms of fun, the day was a blast. An average speed of 27km an hour isn't that fast by most racer's standards and my time probably put me three-quarters of the way through the field, I've never ridden so fast for so long. And, as these things usually do, I'm more motivated to get a bit fitter and do even better next time.

The other plus is that my team did really well, particularly for our first attempt. Of the 22 teams in the mixed teams division, we came 13th. Hooray for the Huonville Sauntering Club.

Other highlights included the astoundingly good organisation and the friendly atmosphere of the whole day, winning a cracking pair of expensive-looking sunglasses as a spot prize and finding $5 on the ground just as the Mr Whippy van pulled up. If you're in Tasmania and thinking of having a crack at a multisport event, I highly recommend the Winter Challenge.

3,186km so far this year.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Just in Time

I don't have ads on this blog, which is probably the only reason I'm not a millionaire, but I do like to endorse the odd handy piece of kit that I've found useful. Today's plug is for the StemCAPtain, an accessory you probably never knew you needed.

Since I mainly ride my Surly CrossCheck as as commuter and transport bike, it's been unsurprisingly handy having a dedicated clock to know whether I'm running late for work or whatever vital appointment I'm heading to. They come in a couple of other varieties: compass and photo mount and take about two minutes to fit and make a stylish addition to any bike.

3,149km so far this year.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Bags of fun

I'm getting ready for a week's touring in Victoria in September. It caused some minor angst over which bike to take because the Bianchi, which though it is good and fast for audax riding, has no rack mounts and would be no good for carrying the stuff I'll need for a week on the road. So I'm getting the Crosscheck ready for another road trip.

The tour is a ride from the end of the Spring into Seymour audax ride to the start of the Mallee Routes audax - around 400km over six days, so it's not going to be a big rush. Even so, I'm keen not to be too weighted down by gear.

Enter these rather natty Gilles Berthoud panniers and rack bag. I'd had my eye on them for a while, but the upcoming tour and a rather nice tax return brought them forward a little on the wishlist. They're canvas trimmed with leather and have a capacity of just 9 litres for the panniers and 5 for the rack bag - perfect alone or in combination for audax rides. So I'm going to have to pack light, which suits me just fine.

After using them for the last couple of weeks I'm really impressed by these panniers. They're big enough to carry everything you're likely to need on a commute and nothing more. Being so tiny, I don't even notice them at all - they have no effect on the bike's handling at all. With top hooks and a strap and buckle arrangement, they sit solidly on my tiny Velo Orange rack.

They're handmade - which makes them a tad on the pricey side - but are clearly built to last. I'm delighted with them, but I do have a couple of criticisms. The panniers have no handles for carrying them off the bike; which is a minor daily irritation. And the rack bag didn't have a tab to hold a light, although some unstitching and some needlework on the leather patch on the back today put that right. These minor niggles aside, I reckon these bags and I will do a few miles together over the coming months and years.

3085km so far this year.