Wake up for Sunday’s time trial comes early. Where Friday night had had been the best pre-race sleep I had gotten since…well, since I started racing again, Saturday night had been a toss and turn affair. The sting of road rash and the incessant pounding of pulse in ears (as the body’s healing mechanism works double time to push blood to both tired legs and abraded skin) has me hovering on the brink of consciousness most of the night.
This would only be my second time trial this year and I had learned a few things from the Superior Morgul time trial the week before. The first was the beautiful concept of the “variable pacing” strategy.
In last year’s KSR TT I had followed the conventional “start easy, finish hard” pacing strategy. It’s a nice idea when you’re doing, say, a 40K (25-mile) TT on a flat course. Problem is, the Killington TT is less than half that distance at 11.1-miles. Also the first half of the course is more difficult, basically a 1-2% false flat culminating in a series of 3-4% rollers. The second half is flat and fast. This meant that last year I was going “easy” on the difficult part of the course and by the time I cranked it up it was too little, too late.
The variable pacing strategy dictates that you basically go hard when the course is hard (e.g. hills and headwinds) as these are the parts of the race where the most time can be gained or lost. On the easier sections, like descents, you back off slightly so as to allow for a little recovery. The trick here is to keep the speed up by getting as aerodynamic as possible while keeping the pedals turning over quickly, or what I’ve come to refer to as “efficiency mode.”
So the plan for this year’s TT is to start quickly, use the first mile to settle in and then crank it up over the first half of the course. Once over the Val Roc climb, the biggest roller of the course that we named after the adjacent Val Roc Motel, ease off slightly for a mile then drop it into a heavy gear and suffer to the finish. The goal: do better than last year’s embarrassing performance of 47th, nearly four minutes off the winner. Being a realist, I would love to finish inside the Top 30, less than a minute or so outside the Top 20.
The second thing I learned at Superior is that it’s no good to have a plan if you don’t execute it in its entirety. I executed the first half of that TT brilliantly, going hard on the uphills and efficiently on the descents. But I inexplicably lost focus in the second half, held back where I had planned on going all out and ended up crossing the line with way too much left in the tank. I got 15th there, a maddening 11 seconds out of the omnium points, setting off an evening of Woulda Coulda Shoulda rehash. I would not make that same mistake today.
Perhaps the silver lining to the Stage 1 crash was that we the victims were all given “same time” at the back of the main field. This means that Jere is starting 30 seconds in front of me and as a better TT’er, will serve as a great rabbit. 30 seconds behind me is the Wild Child himself, the instigator of the crash. Pride can only take you so far in racing if you don’t have the legs but to put it simply, there is absolutely no way in hell that I am going to let this guy beat me.
Jere and I exchange a few words of encouragement and I start my clock as he jumps off the line. I pull into the start house, clear my head and after five beeps, I’m off.
I usually feel like hell the first few minutes of any race that starts quickly as a combination of nerves and caffeine conspire to turn my legs to rubber until I can warm up and find a rhythm. But today I feel good off the line and I quickly ramp it up to race speed.
I am pacing only by “Rate of Perceived Exertion”, AKA “how bad it hurts” and have committed myself to not ever look at my computer or care one way or the other if I pass or am passed by another rider (that is, any rider other than the one immediately behind!). I have found both to be distracting and potentially demoralizing.
The false flat bites but I keep the cadence up and over the first few miles and seem to be slowly gaining ground on Jere up ahead. This is either a bad sign for him or a very good one for me. Soon enough we are swinging right and onto the rollers. I get out of the saddle and pound away up and over the first.
I come upon the gang of supporters (my Mom, Courtney, my nieces and Scott’s family) at the base of the Val Roc, flash them a quick sign and then drop into the small chainring and power as fast gear as possible. Over the top, Jere seems to be pulling slowly away as, true to plan, I back off slightly on the short descent.
Once on the flat straight away there is a light breeze and the going seems a little harder than last year. I press low into to the aero bars and start to ramp it back up. A rider ahead is in the process of pulling a Bjarne Riis, having come to a full stop with an apparent mechanical. I have to shout a warning to him when he starts to pull a U-Turn right into my line, apparently heading back to the neutral support mechanic’s tent that we passed a mile back.
Along this stretch I have to come out of position a couple of times in order to check for car traffic as I move out into the lane to pass slower riders. I am suffering now and bog down a bit as my attention span begins to wander.
I read a good article on the TT in which Hunter Allen explains “This is just a trick of your mind to get you out of your limit, away from that edge: ‘Hey, this stuff is tough, it hurts, I don’t know if I can do this…‘ and then you ease off of the edge and start to lose your focus–and that’s when you let go of your possibility of a peak performance.”
I’ve become quite familiar with that voice this season. It is persistent and clever and, at a critical moment of weakness, will hit me with a persuasive argument to relent. Though I do not believe in Satan, this is certainly the devil inside.
Expecting to hear the devil is half the battle of defeating it. The other half is to counter it with the meaningful things I’ve told myself when I wasn’t suffering. In this moment I remind myself that my family have all sacrificed a lot so I could be here doing a Cat 4 race that contributes nothing productive to anyone but myself. I also remember what I yelled to my brother in this very time trial last year: “later you’re going to wish you had gone harder so do it now!”
It’s a long-winded and melodramatic thing to yell during a race. It’s also true and a variation of something I heard a long time ago. In 1994 I was ringside in Vegas, running film at the IBF heavyweight championship boxing match between Michael Moorer and Evander Holyfield . There I personally witnessed Moorer’s trainer, Teddy Atlas, lay into Moorer when he felt his fighter was succumbing to the pain of the moment (I conveniently found the quote transcribed on the internet!):
“There comes a time in a man’s life when he makes a decision – to just live. Survive. Or, he wants to win. You’re doing just enough to keep him off you. And hope he leaves you alone. You’re lying to yourself. You’re gonna cry tomorrow because of this. Do you want to cry tomorrow? Huh? Don’t lie to yourself. Back this guy up and fight a full round…”
I don’t want to cry tomorrow. I push harder to get back up onto the wince-inducing edge. I pass a few more riders, small ring it up a short but sharp roller and turn right onto the twisting road that is the final mile of the course.
The asphalt is brand new—much of Vermont having been repaved after the devastation of last summer’s Hurricane Irene—and I am cruising now. I see Jere weaving through the corners just ahead and I bear down so hard that I keep coming off the front of my saddle. In fact the sharp pain of the nose of the saddle continually jabbing “sensitive areas” only serves to whip me along.
I thread the needle between two riders through a shallow S-bend, sprint over the final short roller and heave across the finish.
Never has a rider been so happy to get 23rd place. I know I’m generally good for a much better result back in Colorado but to execute a plan perfectly in a discipline that I didn’t train for and doesn’t really suit me, competing against the strongest Cat 4’s on the east coast, the day after the most spectacular crash I’ve ever been involved in, at a race that has historically had my number…I have to rate this as my best performance since I returned to racing.
I’m 2:11 back from the leader (the same guy who won Stage 1!) and only 11 seconds out of the Top 20. Interesting to note that the rider in 24th finished only 0.03 seconds behind me. It’s a razor thin edge of suffering and execution today. Jere finishes a few seconds back in 28th and Scott in 36th. Despite wind being more of a factor this year, all of us have improve our places from last year’s race.
Jere has suffered more bad luck by hitting a pothole inside 200 meters to the finish and cracking his rear Zipp 808. Having cracked his front in the crash, he’s now out a full, expensive wheelset and vows in turn to sell his TT bike at the first possible opportunity (look for a sweet Cervelo rig on eBay any day now).
Though the cruel Stage 3 road race—the one that basically ended my season last year–looms tomorrow, I will not be crying!
Oh, almost forgot: I put 3+ minutes into the King of Crash.