Thursday, July 05, 2007

Time Trial @ LMS

I hope no one dies from shock, but I’m making my second post in as many weeks!

The reason for this one is that on Wednesday June 26, I, along with several hundred of my closest friends, raced the Time Trial at Lowes Motor Speedway. For background on the TT Series, check out http://www.carolinatt.org

As you may know, I’m not a racer. I only go fast when attacking downhill. I’m more about Smiles-per-Hour than Miles-per-Hour. A soul rider, some have said.

Still, when Bill Wiseman, President of the Carolina Time Trial Association, in appreciation for the work we did on their application for tax-exempt status, invited Amy Novinc and me to come race the time trial, we both accepted the challenge. Bill believes that the time trial is something cyclists either love or hate. He said that after riding just one, you know which it is. I have got to say that my race against the clock at LMS has made a convert of me.

The entire experience was great. It started at the entrance to the infield of the Speedway. When you drive through the tunnel and come out on the inside of the track, with 150,000 seats looking down on you, you should get goose bumps. If you don’t, there may be something wrong with you.

Even neater is the fact that for 5 hours, we (cyclists) have the run of the track. That means not only the racing surface, but the garages and pit areas. I was able to drive my car right up to the garage, get out, go inside and open the door to the bay that I’d selected. I pulled out my bike, work stand and trainer and felt (even if I didn’t look) like a pro. Others had brought folding chairs, tables, coolers, etc., and had made themselves right at home.

Let me add this: the CCTTA is a class organization. The Series attracts racers from all over the Southeast. Everyone from pro’s, collegiate cycling teams, recreational cyclists and even kids participate. The rules are simple and the process ran very smoothly. The volunteers are dedicated, patient, and very helpful.

Joe Price was in charge of the registration area. He walked me through the registration process and offered tips about what to do just before my start time and made suggestions about where and how to warm up.

After picking up my registration and confirming my start time, I went out for an inspection lap of the track. LMS is a big track, about 1.5 miles long. I don’t know if you’d call it a tri-oval, but it basically has two straightaways between turns Four and One, and one long straight going down the backstretch. It seemed as if the track is slightly uphill between turn 4 and the start/finish line. Turns 1 and 2 struck me as a bit neutral, but coming out of Turn 2, you feel as if you’re going down hill towards Turn 3. This is a place to pick up speed, some of which you give back up coming out of Turn 4.

I ‘went back to the shop,’ got set up in the trainer and warmed up for about 20 minutes before my time. I drank plenty of sports drink and water, and ate an energy bar. About 10 minutes before my start time, I went to the men’s room (I parked very near the restroom), took the bike off the trainer and wheeled over to the start.

John Price was one of the volunteers working at the starting line. John gave me some last minute pointers, and offered assistance when my rear wheel fell off just before my start. (You didn’t expect my first race to be completely without trouble, did you?)

When the last seconds ticked off the starting tower, I was off. In just a few turns of the pedals, my speed reached 19 mph. I started in my small chainring (39) and waited until I had cleared Turn 2 to shift into my big ring (53). My speed soon jumped to 22, then 24 as I breezed down the backstretch. Before long, I was passing a rider. Wow! Just like that, I’m riding faster than another racer. Pretty cool.

Going from Turn 3 to 4, I felt the headwind that someone had predicted. I downshifted and headed towards the start/finish. There were maybe 40-50 people in the grass along the finish line. Everyone appeared to be cheering someone specific, but there was enough encouragement for us all. As I approached the line, it felt as if the grandstands were blocking some of the wind and my speed picked back up to over 20 mph – my goal for the day.

I felt a bit winded after that first lap and had to remind myself to keep things under control. A time trial is a test of how hard can you go over a given distance. It’s not who starts out the fastest, but who finishes the distance with the shortest time. My second lap was slower than my first, but by the time that I crossed the line for the second time, I was feeling pretty good. I had hit my rhythm and was pretty sure that I could achieve my 30 minute goal — so long as I didn’t blow up or have a mechanical.

I passed a lot of other racers and was passed my many more. Cyclists riding special time trial bikes with disc wheels and those tri-spoked carbon wheels make a particular noise as they approach and overtake you. There were kids out there, grandmothers and big guys like me. Folks were riding tandems, hand cycles, and fixed-gear bikes.

The race rules say to ride to the left and pass on the right. I thought it would be a hard rule to follow since on the road we ride to the right and pass on the left. However, once on the track, it seemed intuitive to do it their way. Some folks passed me without giving me a heck of a lot of room, but I never felt threatened or unsafe.

So how did I do? My goal was to finish the 10-mile TT in 30 minutes or less – and not to be passed by Amy. I am pleased to report that I achieved both goals: my time was 29:02 (avg speed of 20.67) about 1:08 faster than Amy’s time. Also, despite starting before me, I managed to pass her on the final lap.

So I am hooked. I am signed up for the rest of the season. You’ve really got to come join me.

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