**note: this has been described as a bit of a book. I was asked but Scott McGrory to write something for his Oz Cycling News site. Well once I started the download process I obviously got a head of steam up. Hope it all makes sense and forgive me for probably taking up way to much space to get to the point…
That unmistakable sound of a rear disc wheel is something I am not used to. Actually I am like a little kid with a bunch of new toys. This time trial thing is pretty cool but what I have noticed is how much learning I have ahead of me. This is a great thing but one that doesn’t afford me much time or many opportunities. Hence the reason why I will require all the experience I have gained over some 16 years of elite competition.
This is one person’s journey from one sport to another. One person’s journey who without some great people supporting him would still be just rolling up and down Beach Rd staying fit and enjoying cycling along with all the other riders out there. Learning and improving now are the orders of the day and changing dramatically this body of mine to approximate a cyclist is clearly underway. The end game is less clear but a few days ago this little project took at least a small step towards a future which I hope is bright. Not to say there won’t be many rough roads, ups and downs along the way and a heap of physical strain and mental anguish to prepare for the future ahead, but in the end if we can create a cyclist out of me it will be an amazing experience and hugely fulfilling.
Let me bring this back to where I am right now sitting in our back yard in Port Melbourne enjoying a relaxing Sunday afternoon. Having experienced many highs and lows in rowing it seems important to put this new cycling project into perspective. I am mere babe in the woods, an infant in a new World all be it a big one in this new sport. I say big and it’s only because every time I am along side a real rider it becomes very clear I am like a great Dan pup with paws and features I need to grow into. Unlike many of the cyclist I have ridden with they appear compact, graceful and efficient. All of which I am working on, but I can’t change my size.
It’s a simple equation: increase power + lower drag + lower body weight = go fast
The sights and sounds are somewhat different from rowing but the feelings and effort have created many cool de-ja-vu moments. I mean at times I slip into the wonderful World of effort, ease, harmony, fatigue and rhythm which feels familiar. Other times I am looking around and feel like a stunned mullet. Or a bit of road kill right as the lights of some large double B trailer/truck coming bearing down on it before. It’s that look in the eyes of an animal when it is stunned, frozen and fixed. It doesn’t move, it doesn’t know what to do and as a results, THUMP. The lights go out and all because it was unable to see the impending problems bearing down on it. It’s as if the lights are on but no ones home. So I have been rolling backwards and forward a bit and it’s a see saw battle to make sure the decisions and actions are going to produce the best outcomes. At times I am just stunned waiting for that inevitable thud of reality that might be around the corner or over the next hill. So it is a weird thing I feel, moments where I am in the groove and others where I feel like a fish out of water waiting to be filleted. Don’t get me wrong I am working to makes sure I hit the right marks and land on my feet, well if you’ve seen my feet I would have to be hopeless to not be able to land on the size 16 platforms I have below me.
Last week leading into the Oceania Championship saw me pushing through a number of intense sessions with Jonathan Hall, VIS coach to bring me up to speed for this TT thing. I make light of it because from where I sit laid over, stretched out yet restricted, and forced to hold an aerodynamic position makes me feel a bit like a cartoon character with unreal elastic qualities. At 196 cm and now 10 kg lighter at 80 kg I feel contorted when I hope on the bike initially for each session. In fact when I assume the position it takes me some minutes before I relax and not to many more before I start to get uncomfortable. This I am told by Jono and Raoul Luescher, Luescher Teknik will improve over time as I adapt to the position. This I look forward to and I must admit even in three weeks the position we agreed to try from the tunnel testing has become something which I can see will be comfortable, well as comfortable as you can be anyway.
Landing in New Zealand and getting off the plane in Invercargill was not a complete surprise to see the weather but still has another VIS athlete meet me to hand over the car keys I was greeted by the driving rain and gale force winds. I was to take the car and go via the hotel then on to the track to meet up with Scott McGrory and some of his chargers.
It was about the time I step out of the car at the Comfort Inn hotel that I had the thought of, ‘what the heck am I doing here?’
Simply put I was there because Jono had suggested the Oceania Champs as a great stepping stone. Being open to his guidance and the guidance of people like Raoul who have the experience and expertise which I trust. There I was and my connection to this event was stimulated by others but once suggested I began to get excited about this step and others which have been planned.
Going to the track was again another newish experience and as I arrived at the track I found a seat in the stands and watched intently. The morning session was on and Scott McGrory had give simple instruction. Come to the track when you arrive and use your athlete accreditation to enter the middle where the athletes and coaches will be during the event.
How does it all compare to rowing? Well I can tell you that in the middle of the track is the same feeling to being in the boat shed’s amongst the athletes and coaches. The routine’s, rituals and interactions look slightly different but it feels the same. Warms ups and warm downs in cycling happen with close proximity between the athletes. In rowing we would be out on the water and so the feeling of spaciousness is something different. At the track and even the morning of the TT I experienced the feeling of being close to all the action, to the point of over almost being over crowded. It could be very distracting and yet it was strangely energising. I have always enjoyed the moment when we finally step into the boat and away from everyone except my crew mates and our competitors. It’s like 30-35min of building towards the moment of truth. From this initial experience the build up is different and for a new comer like me trying to think of the many new things I need to get ready it was almost overwhelming for cycling. Almost overwhelming but it was also a needed step with heaps of learning about what others do. Being a clean slate I was like a sponge, absorbing all that was going on while at the same time going about preparing and warming up. Long term it wouldn’t be ideal but for now I need to see what others do to get themselves ready not only from the TT perspective but also how the track riders go about it. If nothing else I will come away from all this with a greater understanding of how other athletes in another sport build up to their moment of truth.
Between watching the track events and riding in the time trial I certain have plenty of new insights.
Now for the actual ride. Well I have to admit to a big novice error. I left my race number back at the hotel so the final few minutes involved a moment of chaos. Scott took off back to the room were we had warmed up and I was rolling around on the bike with thick thermal jacket on. When he cam back moments before the start and indicated that after turning my bags inside out there was no number to be found. Good thing really as I am hopeless at pinning those things on. In the short time I have been racing I haven’t got it right yet.
There I was standing in this skin suit from Champion Systems, aero helmet on, starting to get pretty cold up on this wooden ramp with two guys, one about to start me and the other hold me up so as to get my shoes in the peddles. I must admit with no one around I certainly felt pretty relaxed, but as a thought popped into my head I almost laughed out loud. The thought was simple that with the wind and some rain the wooden ramp looked, well slippery. I mean I could see the rough surface but still thought whatever I do don’t slip, fall over or make some monumental mistake. Great final thoughts, but then the count down began and I was strangely ready to get the bike moving and see what I could do.
Rowing races are usually over in 5 and a half to 6 and a half minutes. As you could imagine that period past pretty quickly and while the intensity was less I was well aware of how the slow building fatigue was going to join me for much of the journey. At this stage I was traveling pretty well at least it felt pretty good. Around 420w up to the 10 min mark as the sever cross winds had me leaning and laying over the bike to the right side. Every now and again the wind gusts would throw me off balance a bit and the power would drop but I seemed to be holding speed. The strange thing is having no real reference for how you compare to the other competitors. I could see the guy ahead up the road as he had a minute start but with my failing eye sight it was a blur of colour of his jersey and with the head position I was trying to hold or at least remind myself to hold, he was merely a shape up ahead blending in with the road.
The first sign of how I was comparing came when Scott drove up beside me and yelled out I had 20 sec on the guy behind. By this time I had caught the first guy in front of me and I have to say it made me feel pretty good. Also at this stage I was starting to see the yo yo on the power screen. Seems I can produce power easily enough but it comes and goes. I felt like I was at some side show at the carnival. Roll up roll up have a crack at hitting this number. Every time I did I felt like right I am back on it now settle in and maintain the effort. But no not me I was having a crack, a swing and a miss then a hit. Bingo then I was off the mark again. Obviously I couldn’t see the screen the SRM between my narrow elbow position all that well but I could sense the fluctuations. And while reminding myself head down chin forward as Raoul had done in the tunnel and out on the road, I was lowering my eyes to check the power on the screen. No surprise there I was seeing numbers some 50-60w below target. My focus was not to wrestle it back up or at least to not wrestle with it until I became serious fatigued. The focus was to work peddling efficiency, to maximise the power through more of the peddle stroke. Trying to keep the power on the peddles for longer seemed to have great effects on the feeling of ease and the numbers agreed. It would rise to 420-430w and I would feel like right now I am on it.
The fluctuations continued and the great sense of ease was becoming more difficult to feel. In fact the ability to trust my movement to produce the output consistently was not only tested it was lost for much of the second half of the time trial. This was surpassed by my decision to just wrestle with it and fight to keep power by changing gears and grinding away. Short term gain had become my focus as the frustration of the power yo yo was playing out. All the while this was happening I had gone past two more guys I think. This might seems strange but I am sure there were three up ahead and one behind when started, but the results say that three others and myself were on the time sheet. Anyway maybe I was in a trance like state and just kept imaging I was passing someone every 15 min just to keep me motivated.
Enough of the silly stuff but it is strange how over this duration the mind does some weird things. In a rowing race I would find two key sections of most races where the mind would or could have a fade or melt down. Not long after the 250m mark or 45 sec when the transition for max effort into race pace rhythm was required. It was always a make or break time and easy to become derailed. The other point in rowing I believe is just before half way. I believe this is a defining moment in a rowing race. To believe and find away to mentally and physically surge enough to create momentum and to shatter any one’s spirit who is not in it for the right reasons. Obvious when it’s close what you do in the back end plays a significant part but only when the other two key area’s have not reaped rewards. It’s tough putting it on the line, and trick with over reaching, but I believe that it is always better to go earlier than to come home with your tail up.
How does this compare to the time trial from my one experience? I sort of sense it is similar, yet the chances of loosing your way are many. I still think from this initial experience that the transition is critical and being able to get the effort and rhythm right is strangely familiar. Holding this for a much longer duration is obvious when we talk 6 min to 60 min effectively. The period before the half way point appears less so based on this experience but I imagine that begin able to mentally surge before this point to really continue and maintain power and speed could play a big role in maximising ones effort.
What helped this in NZ was once we turned the wind was cross tail. Well thats what we call it on the water. Still feeling like I was leaning against the blustery southern gail on a yacht. It was like catching the wind ever now and then with the bike drifting a couple of meters across the road. The sailing thing is pretty appropriate really because at times I felt completely at sea. By this stage my shoulders and neck were become increasingly agitated. My body really needs to adjust to the position but as the wind increased the speed I found myself pushing bigger and bigger gears. Happy to let the cadence drop to low 90’s I was starting to think this is what I had been warned about. The slow grinding action was telling as Scott observed from the car that I was rocking from side to side. This was in stark contrast to the U23 Australian Cyclist Michael Matthews who by the way smashed me on time by over 2 min. Scott compared us and shared it with me after. The ability to stay on top of the speed of movement is not natural for where I am at. So I was very happy to push it along and then the stomping began. Each peddle stroke was like doing weights which I was Ok with but long term there is a good chance it will stop me from going to the next level.
The final 10 km was pretty cool fun. Physically draining, but I was loving it. A few toots from the car and I was making sure I kept pushing. Even slight surges in power become noticeably more difficult. My heart rate had been pretty much around 170 for most of the final 40 min and yet I was feeling reasonable relaxed, a part from my legs feeling becoming solid like concrete blocks, my head feeling like I need to just put it down. It was getting heavy and I have never really thought I had a big head but towards the end I was letting it drop as low as I could just so I could still see up the road by 10m. Did I say I was feeling reasonably relaxed. I lie, it’s amazing how after the event I have even told myself it wasn’t that bad. My left hand was number not sure if it was the cold or the position. Getting air into my chest was restrictive and the aches in area’s like hips and shoulders was vivid now I recall it.
Transferring the training into performance was pretty good and actually better than I expected. To average just under 45 km/h and do just over 400w with heart rate around 170 was a great way to kick this project off. All up the learning has been huge and to be around and watch the track events and meet many great people was an added bonus. The takeaway for me from the TT relates to maintaining consistency. This will take some time and with it will come the feeling of it being more natural. It is similar to rowing and yet strangely different if that makes sense. Many of the experiences I have been involved in over many years of competition in rowing have enabled me to make some great steps and progress quickly and I will be drawing on everything I have learned to maximise my effort and time with this project. I am open to new learning’s and keen to continue to specifically work with some amazing people like, Jono, Raoul, Scott and Dan to ensure each step counts. That everyday has significance and that any opportunities I get will be made the most of. I am not doing all this to waste my time or the time of those around guiding, supporting and challenging me on this journey.