While I’m no stranger to donning the strange helmet and getting low on the aerobars for triathlons, the Grey County Time Trial was my first ever TT race where a podium was involved. I’ve seen my share of TTs on TV, they’re a regular and important part of the big grand tours of cycling. Often they’re the deciding factor in the Tour de France. There isn’t much to a time trial in the way of tactics or at least not at all like a road race or a criterium. It’s a race against the clock and nothing else. Be the fastest rider out on the course and you’ll land on the top spot on the podium. In a TT, form and pacing are the two most important factors that determine success or failure. The rider with the most usefully aerodynamic position and the best pace will win the race. But pace isn’t just about who is the strongest or who can push out the most power. It’s about who makes most effective use of their power. If you start out as hard as possible, you’ll be cracking by the end of the course and your pace will drop off. If you go out to easy, you’ll be losing precious seconds–or even minutes–that you could have gained by pushing a little harder. The trick is to start off a little under and finish a little over. It’s much easier to spend the last 5 minute of a TT in zone 4 than it is to start the first 5 minutes in zone 4. While I’m no expert in pacing strategies in a TT, triathlon had prepared me and so I understand how pacing works. The problem I faced going into this race was reminding myself that I didn’t have to run after the bike leg was over. I could leave it all out on the course.
The course of the GC TT started in a little town, which was more of an intersection really, known as Ravenna near the Blue Mountains in Collingwood. The TT doubled as both the UWCT qualifier and an O-Cup. I was racing simultaneously as an E3 and in the 19-34 category. I knew that I would have no chance of landing in the top 25% of the 19-34 category and qualifying for the Amateur World Championships in Denmark but I did have a very good shot at landing on the podium in the E4 category. TTs don’t seem to attract many riders in the O-Cup circuit, which is probably why there are so few of them on the calendar. I expected more to show up since this was the UWCT qualifier but there were only four riders registered in the E4 category. Even if I pedalled my sister’s tricycle I was still guaranteed four upgrade points. But with two DNFs at O-Cup races already, I needed every point I can get in order to upgrade to E2 for next summer.
The rollout ramp, which I had never experienced before, was situated at the intersection in Ravenna at the top of a large hill. The course rolled down this hill into a valley and flattened out for the long middle section of the 29km course. This was an out and back course so the final few kilometers of the course required us to climb back out of the valley into Ravenna. I started out down the ramp and accelerated up to speed. It was getting to be late in the evening–my start time was 7:51pm–and the temperature was dipping into the single digits. Rolling down hill meant that warming up was difficult for the first few kilometres. I pedalled down the hill bringing my cadence into the 120rpm range in order to gain extra speed as well as warm up my muscles for the flat sections. I had done a warm up before the race but the 5-10 minutes of waiting in the queue at the rollout ramp in the cold had essentially undone my warmup.
When I finally made it to the valley floor and started along the long flat stretch of road I ramped up my power to a comfortable but solid pace. I caught the rider who had started 30 seconds ahead of me just before the turn around but was in turn passed by the two riders who started after me. Since I was the first my category to roll out, I knew that I had lost the first two spots on the podium when they went by.
When I hit the climbs leading back to Ravenna I started to push out more power knowing that the end was near and I didn’t need to continue to conserve energy. The rider I passed, an experienced Ironman, had a better pacing strategy than me and was slowly starting to creep back up on my wheel as we went up the climbs. He passed me just as we were coming down the final stretch of road but because of the 30 second difference in start time, I still finished with a better time. It wasn’t my best TT but it was enough to land me on the lowest podium spot and earn 7 upgrade points. That alone made the ride worth it. Overall it was a fun experience. This winter I plan to invest in a real TT bike and develop my time trial ability further so I can pick up more points next year in these events.