Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sur la Plaque

Sur La Plaque: French for “Put that thing in the big ring, f@$%tard.” (Literally, to move sur la plaque means to move onto the plate, or the BIG RING.) - Velominati

Last season I heard a lot about time trials from Rob, David and Neil. When Alex joined our cabal this spring, another voice chimed in: time trials are cool, you should try. BMX Jim and I were in the same boat in early June, total neophytes, but keen to try. So off we headed to a Thursday night OBC TT, where we joined forces with Alex for a team effort. It was fun enough to draw me back for more. 

So I've continued, taking in four more Thursday night 15ks, in addition to our Hell Climb and a 40k out near Calabogie. Almost every outing has featured a different bike set up. First, I was on my Steelwool Truffle Pig, a cross bike with pretty standard road geometry. Sure, the brakes stick out, but the bike pedals really well. Going Merckx style (no aero gear) on the TP was a tough ride. I went a bit too hard on the way out, which tends to be the faster direction, then suffered on the return. I gave up hope of meeting my goal and defeated myself, only to realize I wasn't doing as bad as I thought. Then I put it 'sur la plaque' and got down to business. Sure, I was already in my 50 (I can hear TT folks snickering), but you get the point. Not so much a lesson as a reminder: don't give up, you can push harder.

After the TP ride it was time to try the ol fixed gear, also Merckx style. I rolled out my Steelwool Limited the day after the Hell Climb, still tasting the previous night's gruelfest. Geared with a 48x15, which was too tall for the Hell Climb, I was faced with a gear I knew would be too 'short' for the flat 15k course. Whatever, rather than obsess, run what you brung. I figured the gear would limit my output going out, but possibly serve me well on the return. What I didn't factor was the challenge I'd face simply controlling the bike in an 'aero' position at 48-50kph. 

With a Merckx set up, i.e., a regular road bike, you've pretty much got two 'aero' options: on top of the hoods, and phantom aerobars. Well, ok, there's also the super aero position, but its risky, and requires a front rack, which I don't personally have on my fixed gear.

For a t-rex like me, holding the hoods position for extended periods of time is hard to pull off, as I am weak in the upper body. While the lack of bulk is an asset most of the time on the bike, the triceps could use a bit more strength to support the upper body while on top of the hoods. Simply doing that more would likely help. Anyhow, it was not possible to stay on the hoods all the time, nor even desirable, as this position is more open to wind than the phantom aerobar position. However, at 47 or so kph in a 48x15, I lack the souplesse to control the bike well. Add sweat to the equation, and you've got a squirrely t-rex on a bike. So the first fixed gear TT revealed some clear areas to improve: gearing and actual aerobars. 

With Alex herding cats heading into the following Saturday's 40k TT put on by the Almonte Bicycle Club, I was motivated to take a crack at this TT thing with a bit of gear. Alex stepped in with a clip on aero bar and a Rocketeer helmet from Giro. After suiting up my Truffle Pig, I had one of the most bizarre looking TT bikes going I'd ever seen. However, its only partly about the bike, and I like to run what I brung, so away I went. Alex helped me out further by lending his deep section carbon back wheel on site at the mention of my structurally compromised rim. The gear served me well, as I was nearly able to reach my goal of coming in under 57 minutes, stopping the clock at 57:23. The aero bars took a bit of getting used to, and were certainly higher than desirable, but the ride was great. I think this distance favours me over the shorter one.

Next up was take two of the fixed gear, this time running aero bars, Rocketeer helmet, and a 52x15. Following a hard Wednesday night loop, I knew my legs would not feel terrific, but again, run what you brung. This TT was certainly sur la plaque. WIth the bigger gear and aerobars, I was able to ride a good rhythm to the turnaround, and was pleasantly surprised to see the speed stay in the mid 40s most of the way back. Heading into the last 3k I started doing the math. I was aiming for a sub 20 minute time, the benchmark for folks with aspirations. As I got into the last 2k I knew I'd have to ride 60kph to pull it off, and that certainly wasn't happening! Nevertheless, I rode au bloc in an effort to get as close to 20:00 as possible, and in so doing, surely took a year off my life. Excruciating. 20:22. Those are 22 loooooong seconds. 22 seconds I have to find a way to cut. Unfortunately, the next outing on the same rig was was 20 seconds slower, and demoralizing emough to convince me to try my geared Steelwool road bike, the Secteur 18, now that its back in fine form.

Last up in a train of TT mayhem was the Gatineau Challenge, kindly put on by the OBC folks we owe so much to. Opting to use my recently reconstituted Specialized Roubaix, I left the aero gear at home and went basic, thinking I'd want to stand a good bit, and I'd be ok in Phantom Menace mode. As Sue Schlatter rolled away on her full TT bike 30 seconds ahead of me I wondered whether I'd made the right decision. After nearly catching her wheel on Pink (and hitting the climb more worked over than ever before), I saw her pull away on the descent, and suspected I'd made the wrong call. Whereas typical loops don't require us to use 53x11s on the way out much, I was in that gear a couple times for certain, confirming my 50t would have been a bad move. As I progressed up Blacks, the sustained climb, I reeled in Sue and passed, only to have her pass me back on the descent, and hold the gap to the line. There simply wasn't anything I could do to make up ground on the descents or flats. Sue is an amazing rider. In the end, I clocked 32:03, second behind Iain Radford in the 30-39 category, a good ways behind Doug, Aaron, and the other hammers in the elite group. Never before have I hit all those climbs so bagged! If its run again, I'll be on aero bars and a speed helmet for certain. Ouch.

Ugh. Photo: Jeffrey Flurry
After an A-loop of the Gatineau Parkway on the Roubaix following the Challenge TT, I'd made up my mind: back to steel. There is nothing like chasing wheels on climbs to get a sense of whether your bike is working with you. After two years of riding steel bikes exclusively, I missed the 'planing' I get out of my steel bikes while aboard the Roubaix. Yes, the Roubaix is a great bike, but when push came to show, I missed my steel bikes while fighting on the climbs. So I pulled the new parts off the Roubaix, and my Secteur 18 is now back in fine trim, poised to take on whatever I can throw at it. This week it will be the A-Loop, followed by our group ride on Wednesday night, then the time trial with clip ons on Thursday. Soon enough it'll be time to give the Provincials time trial a shot in Rockland, then its off to the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee (D2R2) in Massachusets. Lots of riding left to do!


Andy said...

Good post, Matt!

I've been practicing my time trialling in secret (shhhh...). Just bought a set of clip-on aerobars last weekend. Seeing good improvement so far as I get my position dialled in. Closing in on a 40 km/h average speed, which is a nice mental milestone.

My practice route: I start from the last set of lights on Bronson, right by Carleton U and Brewer Park, head south, and turn around at the bridge over Uplands Dr. which is almost exactly 7.5 km away.

Matt Surch said...

Nice! Apparently its 80% body position, 20% bike aerodynamics. You know, on tip of fitness. Rob cited an article by Chris Boardman on this topic, perhaps he'll share the link.

rob.parniak said...

Bike radar has a series of time trial articles up right now. Some are good, including this bit from Chris Boardman:


I would call him a wee bit qualified to comment!

Andy: get out to the OBC series. You will push yourself much harder with a clock ticking. It is a great scene. Despite what it may look like I would say it's about the most inclusive and least pretentious local race series. Come out soon while there is still a few weeks left because I guarantee after the first one you will want to come out and try again. And maybe again. And again.

Matt Surch said...

I concur with Rob, Andy. There is no time like the present.

Andy said...

Here is an interesting article on the subject of balancing aerodynamic positioning with metabolic efficiency: http://www.bikeradar.com/fitness/article/aero-position-isnt-everything-31165

I will definitely come out to the OBC series at some point. I was under the impression that you have to pay for the whole series, though. With only a couple of weeks left I wasn't sure it was worth it.

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