Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Flash Hail and a Last Minute Time Trial

It is not at all shocking to read here that I am not a race person. I have my own methods of pushing myself to achieve "better," but being more a tortoise than a hare, competitions requiring the ability to push speed are just not the best for me. Even knowing that speed is not my forte, I can appreciate those who choose to participate in such events, and I even relish the opportunity to volunteer or simply observe.

Over the weekend, Sam and a group of friends participated in a local time trial and since it was the first time I've witnessed a true TT, I asked Sam to share his thoughts on what transpired. I should also say that there is a professional segment to this TT, from my understanding. Those riders are racing for points as part of USA Cycling events, but this particular group did the TT more as a "just for fun" kind of event.

Before we get into the actual details of the day, I will set up by saying that we've been drenched in rain for the last several weeks here in Colorado. If the sun comes out for a couple of hours, we consider ourselves fortunate. The weather has been very odd for this time of year (which I think is true in a lot of places right now).

As luck would have it, the forecasters were predicting little to no rain the morning and early afternoon for the time trial. Although it would be cloudy, I thought it would be a perfect day for riding -- neither too warm nor too cool. When we last checked the forecast at late morning, the rain wasn't to start until approximately 4p local time. Ideal, I thought.

The start of the group TT wasn't until 1:30p, and the course was short, so they should be well through the event and home before the rain would begin.

[Since it's difficult to find a way to get both perspectives at the same time without getting a bit confusing, Sam's thoughts are in bold and G.E.'s are in the regular type.]

I didn't know about this event. The person putting the team together was not, at the time, a Facebook friend and didn't have my contact information. He had sent a message via Facebook but because it went into a separate folder that I don't check, the note went unanswered for about a week until another member of the time trial team informed me that he was trying to reach me. Unfortunately, the message was received too late to register for the TT, but the organizers ended up extending registration for 24 hours which allowed enough of a window to sign up with the group. All of which took place just two days before the event.

I had never participated in a TT before this one and I was, as always, ill prepared. This one is an approximately 16-mile course of mixed downhill and uphill riding on the front range. Our team was considered a "mixed" team, consisting of five men (me, Brandon, Paul, Lewis, and Joe), no team affiliation or sponsorship, and aged 29-50ish. 

We all agreed to meet at Paul's at 11:30a on race day, but at 11:30a the only two who had arrived were Paul and myself. We decided to ride to the start as a group, but since the other riders were late, Paul sent a text letting them know we would meet them at the start. About 100 yards from leaving Paul's, we spotted two more, so we turned around to gather everyone and started out again. By 11:45a, we were rolling once again. 

Knowing that we still had to grab our race packets, we picked up the pace to get to the start (which was about 15 miles away) on time.

About three miles down the road, Brandon blew a tire - dramatically. He had been musing about the "sound" that Paul's Zipp wheel was making, when in reality it was the hissing sound of his rear tire deflating. We pulled over and worked on getting a new tube in and 5-7 minutes later we were back on the road.

Then, roughly three more miles down the road, Brandon blows a tire - again! This time we tried to focus more on what was causing the issue and ended up sticking a $1 bill over the stem area to keep it from re-puncturing itself. 

At the time, all I could do was laugh because between these two tube blow-outs and the entirely ominous thunder clouds rolling in, things didn't seem to be looking up for our day.

As we got closer to the registration area, it had started to thunder and lightning, and it was starting to sprinkle a bit. It really sounded like end-of-the-world kind of stuff and it decided to make its presence known as we stood about 25 feet from the registration tent. I planted my bike under a tractor trailer, in an attempt to keep it somewhat dry, and ran under the registration tent with the rest of the guys.

It was the most insane downpour! It was just after 1p and the junior racers were nearly swimming at this point. 

The event organizers had already stated that they wouldn't cancel the TT unless there was active lightning at the start. And so, we waited.

When Sam left the house in the morning, I was busy playing with our dogs trying to wear them out. I had planned to ride to a point of the TT and take a few photos of the guys riding. Since it's such a quick event, I knew that I'd only be able to get to one location, and decided it was probably better to be somewhere on the course, rather than at the start or finish.

About 12:30p, I decided that I should probably head out on the bike as I wanted to find a good spot and didn't want to miss them coming by. Of course, I got delayed and didn't actually leave until about 12:50p. Knowing that I wouldn't be riding very far (about 6-7 miles to my photo-op point), I just threw on a t-shirt and denim overall shorts with a pair of skate-type shoes.

At the last second, I looked at the weather forecast again and saw that the rain scheduled for around 4p had suddenly advanced and should be starting at any moment. I grabbed my wool-lined rain coat and headed out.

As I rode, I could see a huge, dark cloud overtaking the fluffier lighter grey clouds. It didn't look to be a great sign. Suddenly, the wind picked up and I counted myself fortunate to be on a heavier bike that didn't blow around easily.

Then, I started to see cyclists heading in the opposite direction with great speed. Was I an absolute idiot to be riding into this mess? Maybe I should join them and just tell Sam that I couldn't make it in time to get photos? But, instead I pressed forward. It had started to rain lightly, but I wasn't overly concerned.
In just a quick second, the wind really picked up. This time, even my heavy bike wasn't helping me, but I did my best to keep it stable. Before I could even think, there was an absolute downpour of hail. With the mix of wind and hail, I had no choice but to stop and get off the bike.
About 100 feet in front of me stood a large bush, so I walked the bike quickly to this spot and tried to take refuge until the hail passed. If there's one good thing about storms in Colorado, it's that they may come down brutally, but they are generally very quickly over as well.

I was absolutely soaked. My shoes were full of water, my denim shorts were sticking to my thighs, and I could barely see. My bike was nothing short of drenched (Mental note: next time, remember the rain cover for the leather saddle).
As I stood, laughing about the ridiculousness of this situation, a large pickup truck pulled up beside me. The passenger rolled down her window and said, "Would you like a ride home?" I thanked her for stopping, told her that I was okay, but that I would wait it out. She asked again if I was sure, but then left me to stand in what had already lightened to rain.

About ten minutes before we were to start, the rain had mostly subsided. There was just a bit of sprinkling happening and a very tiny sliver of sunshine was coming through. The temperatures were cool, though not freezing, but combined with being wet, it felt much colder than the approximate 50F/10C degrees would lead someone to believe.

We rolled up the hill to the start line and waited. Two of our team had decided to go down the road to loosen up while the rest of us went to the start. Each of the teams are spaced out by about two minutes separation at the start. One of the teams had already left, so we had only a couple of minutes to wait for our start.

With about a minute left, the two who had gone to loosen up arrived, making everyone waiting more than a little nervous.

The plan was set. I would start out in front at the lead (I'm short and fast), then Paul (who is thin and super fast), then the bigger guys who are all strong/fast riders. We didn't put anyone too large behind someone small (like me) because they would have no benefit to draft. We had agreed to do roughly 20 second pulls for the duration of the TT, which seemed entirely reasonable.

At 1:32p, we start. I rolled out, slightly too fast (as usual), and Paul had to reel me back in. We began peeling and breaking and there's a slight climb to our first turn which will start the downhill portion.

On the downhill, we gain speed - riding somewhere between 35-40mph/56-64kph, which was entirely awesome as a group, but had unintended consequences. Our 5th rider had started to drop off after leading a couple of times, and after a few miles, we lost him entirely.

Unfortunately, we couldn't wait for him. The way that the TT counts time is by the third rider to finish, so even though we had started with five, we only needed three to finish; and the third finisher would be our official time.

About half way down this portion of the road, we passed one of the other TT groups pretty quickly (the one that had started two minutes before us).

Thankfully, this was our standard, quick moving kind of storm and I decided I had to get moving, even if it was still raining a bit because I wouldn't make it in time to get photos of the guys. 

As I started to hop back on the bike, I realized what a horrible idea it had been to wear denim. It was wet, heavy, and impossible to "unstick" from my body.
Looking behind my spot to where the team would turn right to head back toward the finish.
I made it to a good spot, just before the route would turn, and waited. As I pulled out my camera again (I'd tried to get some photos of the hail earlier), I could see that it was drenched. "Well, that can't be good," I announced aloud to no one. I had a towel at the bottom of my saddlebag which came in handy, but when I took a look at the lens, it was also very wet. I didn't have my proper cleaning cloth with me and decided to wipe it with the towel (which turned out to be not so great a plan because the photos to come would all have a nice, fuzzy film over them from the towel lint).

As I waited, Paul's partner arrived to watch for the guys too (You can see her walking toward me in the photo above - I just hadn't realized it was her at the time). We crossed to the other side of the road, thinking that we'd have a better shot at photos and chatted about life happenings.

It was soaking wet and muddy the entire way down this part of our path. Every time we switched out, we ended up with a face full of wet, cold, road mud. At this point, we couldn't feel our feet, but we had a great pace going and were briskly approaching our right turn at 75th Street.
Soon, we realized the guys were heading our way. We waited for our photo opportunities and cheered as they got closer.
Within seconds they were right in front of us and just as quickly gone out of sight. "Well, I guess that's it," I said, and with that, we were left to meander our way back home.

We hit the next turn which had a hard right taking us back south, toward the finish. At this point, there were only the four of us left and we were all doing well. And then, Lewis had a tire blow out, but with no tubes left from the earlier tube ruptures, Paul rode up behind me and said we had to keep going. 

Brandon had dropped a bit behind us, so we played out a two-man TT up until the finish, hoping that Brandon would be able to finish as our third to make our time official.

Paul and I finished without issue and waited for Brandon, as we knew he was still riding behind us. About three minutes later, Brandon finished, which we knew secured us a second place finish.

Later, we would find out that we actually placed first in our division with Brandon's finishing time, which was appropriate because the TT was his idea.

So, that's how it wrapped up from my perspective: Three flat tires. One lost rider. A storm of the century. 

We placed first and averaged about 24.2mph/39kph, which seemed impossible to me at the start. (G.E.'s note: You can read more about different categories and speeds here, if you have interest in such things.)

My ride home was a wet one, to say the least. I was already sopping, so the fact that it rained more on the way home was not a big deal. I decided to take the long route in an effort to avoid climbing a hill that I was not mentally prepared to deal with at that juncture and had a mild run-in with a cranky driver. It was a little surprising as, in my experience, motorists seem to be a bit more tolerant of cyclists riding in inclement weather, but there has to be a first for everything, I suppose.

Watching the TT was an interesting experience and I would recommend checking one out if you happen to be close to such an event. It was different than the long distance, more endurance type events we usually see or participate in because it was over in a flash by comparison. The distance was short enough to not feel like an all-day excursion (even though it really was as there are a variety of divisions throughout the day), but long enough that if one were utilizing a motorized vehicle, there could be a few opportunities to watch the participants.

Overall, it seemed like the guys had some hiccups along the way, but enjoyed themselves in one form or another... and how could they not when they took first? Not bad for a last minute, motley team, I'd say.


  1. Cool! This is a form of cycling I know nothing about, but it sounds really interesting. Congrats to Sam and team on the first place finish!

    1. I suppose I view it (at least for those not participating in something more related to professional cycling) as a means of testing limits or to gauge improvement, particularly for those who do these year after year. It was quite different than an endurance event, but still interesting. My question was, "So where does this lead?" I think it's common to think the only reason to do something is that it's leading to something else or something bigger, but there are things that can be done for no particular reason, and I think that's what I appreciated about this particular group - that they decided they were going to do it and just see what would happen.

  2. This was fun to read. Congratulations, Sam & Co!

    1. Glad you enjoyed, and I'll pass along the congrats. :O)

  3. I can't say that I would do this event again, but it was fun. It was very interesting to do something so short, the pressure was so low, because i'm so used to very LONG endurance events, I had no nerves, it was just a "ride". I don't think I would enjoy the violent rain again. We were certainly "motley", and I would not have it any other way.

    I think had I been prepared, and spent a lot of time thinking about the event, etc, it would not have been as fun. It was more exciting to go up against riders with all the "gear", aero helmets, special bikes, matching team kits...

    1. Oh, come on, you don't want to do it again?! :O)


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