Friday, March 16, 2007

A Long Twisted Affair with Time Trials

I first started really riding a bike during the summer after seventh grade in Stockton CA, and when I say "riding", I mean like all-day, 100-mile outings with my friends Doug Stuart and Greg Traverso. Typically, we'd head off to some river crossing, splash around for an hour or two, then go eat pie at some remote truck stop, and return home by dinner time. Average speed during riding, not much more than 12-13 mph I'm sure. Good times.

Eventually we stumbled across the Stockton Bicycle Club (SBC), whose members seemed to be the absolute coolest folks we'd ever seen. They all had nice bikes and actual cycling clothes. I, on the other hand, rode in cut-off jeans and tennis shoes. Picture the character Moocher from Breaking Away, only much dorkier.

Most of the SBC members raced, which really intrigued us, but the thing they mostly all focused on were the weekly 10-mile time trials that went on for the duration of daylight-savings time. That is where I first dabbled into bike racing. I can't even begin to tell you how nervous I got before the first few time trials I did. I'd daydream about them in class. My entire riding life began to revolve around those time trials.

The course was a laser-straight, certified stretch of Comstock Rd. out east of town where the difference between the starting and ending elevation was about 10 ft. This road was so straight and flat that if you had good enough eyesight (or zoom power), you could see the turn around 5 miles out.

My Dad said he'd buy me a pair of sew-up wheels once I broke the 30:00 barrier twice. It took an entire summer of trying, but I did eventually do it. I even won the Novice category with a best time of 28:38 and received a nice little trophy that I still have today.

The picture at the left is me in the summer of 1974 finishing one of those Tuesday night 10-mile TTs. That summer would be the end of the cut-off jeans and tennis shoes, as the next year I started real racing.

I continued to do most of the Tuesday night time trials, but my focus had shifted toward mass-start USCF races. Like many juniors, I thought I was just too cool for school, and tt's were not cool. Instead, they hurt, and they were nowhere near as fun as crits and road races. I did TT's less and less often. I still did improve substantially, but leveled off in the low-to-mid 23:00 minute range. Keep in mind that this was well before aero equipment and skinsuits, so not too shabby for a 16-year-old kid. But there were other juniors I raced with that could go a minute faster or more. One was Greg LeMond, but that's another story.

Thus began my multi-decade approach to Time Trials that is pictured on the right. I convinced myself that they were not real bike races and that anybody who was good at them, or god-forbid actually liked tts, must be some kind of freak. Besides, everyone knows it's all about obsessing over equipment and such, right?!?

Well, in retrospect, that attitude cost me some decent results over the years. I once did a stage race that was attended by the Russian National team, along with a gaggle of good US guys. Evgeniy Berzin did ~30 mph, whereas I did a very-good-for-me 27 mph. Had I been able to go even 1.5 mph faster--half the difference--I could have been top-10 instead of 24th. I had good road-race results, but my tt'ing buried me. Last year in the 45+ Valencia Stage Race, KK started two minutes behind me in the 8-mile tt, and almost caught me!!! Sheesh!

So this year, in the twilight of my racing experiences, I have vowed to pull my head out of the sand and actually focus on improving this freakish aspect of bike racing. There, I said it... time trialing actually is a legitimate part of bike racing!

Recent results hold promise. Last week at the CVC race, I finished smack dab in the middle of the 2's field, which for me is pretty remarkable. Then two days later, at our local Monday night 10-mile TT, I miraculously posted the fastest time with a 22:39!

Today was yet another TT ...stage 1 of the San Dimas Stage Race. Unoffically, I pulled down an 11th out of 100 Cat 2s. Now this was not a typical TT because 3/4 of the race was at ~5% grade, but I found that a key TT skill still came into play, namely, pacing the effort in a manner to not blow up. I didn't do a very good job of that, but hey, that means there's still room to improve!

Page 1 of the 2's results fro the SDSR stage 1 TT...

Note that MarkZen and Cookie are up there too, and with the generous time bonuses and the opportunity for aggressive riding and breaks, we're all in striking distance.

Other results of note to locals and others perhaps...

Jason did a ~15:20 something which was 4th or 5th in the Cat 4 race. That's a bit scary!

Lindsay, as per usual, blew away the 45+ field with a 14:56. Next closest guy is ~:30 back. Watch out for those time bonuses!

Eric Forte rode a 15:01 and is top-10 in the 3's.

Walker rode a 14:2? and who knows where that puts him. Considering there were some Pros in the 13's, he may be buried.

Also, Greg Liebert rode a low 14 in the 35+!!! Dang, make that guy ride with the Pros.

I'll post another update tomorrow after the road race.

[Add edit: Here are the in-progress SDSR 2007 results.]


funai said...

Nice ride, man. I took the head in the sand route you described and blew up waaaay to early en route to a finish in the middle of the pack. We'll be watching you on those time bonus sprints now!

Marco Fanelli said...

funai, Say Hi tomorrow to #289... Who knows, maybe it'll be in our mutual interest to get away together and not deal with 100-man bonus sprints!

Aram Dellalian said...

well done with the TT time! That would have won the 2s 2 years ago! Good seeing you (briefly) today. Let us know how that finish line madness with 3 fields (2 finishing) rolling through at once worked out. What a mess! The race winner clearly jumped from group to group, but what can you do if you're up the road?

Gianni said...

Great writing, I'm a Stockton kid myself, though no road bikes back then, just BMX stuff.
Hope SD goes well-

Marco Fanelli said...

funai: It was nice meeting you this weekend. You looked really smooth and comfortable in the crit. See you in the weeks ahead.

Aram: Yeah, the fields coming together was a mess. Good for some; bad for others. Have fun in France!

gianni: You can take the kid out of Stockton, but you can't take the Stockton out of the kid ...or something like that! I miss some aspects of the SJ valley. Lots of roads, the heat, the delta... It was a good place to be a naive kid.