Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bike Drama In The Dells

I'm writing this somewhere over the Rockies between Denver and Salt Lake on my way home from competing in the REV3 Wisconsin Dells triathlon. Overall it was a fun weekend, filled with making new friends and catching up with old ones. The goal of the race was to get a good fitness check going into REV3 Cedar Point while hopefully picking up some good points for the overall series. That mission was mostly accomplished, although it was not without its mishaps.

The drama began when I was building up my bike and heard a really bad sound while I was tightening down the seatpost. Unfortunately, what it sounded like---breaking metal---is in fact exactly what it was: my seatpost clamp had cracked! I may have said a few choice words at this point, then took a deep breath and tried to think it through. This is not the first time I've had issues with a seatpost clamp. Back in the day (2006?) when I first got my Orbea Orca Albert and I road tripped from Utah to Indiana, stopping in Iowa along the way to race. In those days we had to remove my seatpost in order to fit the bike into the car, and after a training ride somewhere in the middle of nowhere (Nebraska maybe?) I discovered that the threads in the hole where the bolt goes to tighten the clamp were stripped, rendering it impossible to fully tighten down the seatpost. Luckily a local bike shop at the Iowa race site carried Orbeas and let me borrow a clamp for the event and I was able to avoid the unpleasant gradual "sinking feeling" that inevitably goes along with a loose seatpost clamp.

This time around I was not so lucky. Nobody had a spare clamp that would fit my bike, and visions of having my seatpost crashing down mid-race and damaging my frame from the inside out was enough to convince me that heeding the advice of the bike mechanic---"I wouldn't ride on that!"---was the way to go. So we moved on to Plan B, which was to have one of the rental bikes built up and fitted as close as possible to my set-up. At this point I have to give a huge shout out and THANK YOU to Charlie for giving the go-ahead on this plan and to Alex in the REV3 merchandise tent for making it happen. He spent the better part of his Saturday afternoon building up the borrowed bike for me and I am deeply grateful to him for it. I took the bike for a test spin late in the afternoon and noticed that the shifting was a bit off, so I took it back to the mechanics at the expo and had them straighten it out. We got it working smoothly (or so it seemed) and I went back to the hotel to finish organizing all my race gear, eat dinner, and wind down for the day.

Race morning came early, although I realized quickly that despite being a bit of an el creepo place to stay the Mayflower Motel & Suites had its advantages: namely the proximity to the race site meant that I could go back to sleep for another hour after eating breakfast, and also that I could swing back to the motel during my warm-up and thus avoid the port-a-potty lines. Score! After a nice warm-up and transition set-up and I headed down to the lake to christen the water. I noticed that the swim course buoys were not quite the same as they had been during the practice swim the previous day, so I asked the swim course director if we were still supposed to keep all the buoys to our left with the exception of the very last one. The answer was yes so that's what I did, but apparently not everyone in the field got the memo because I clearly saw at least a handful of girls to my left cutting a direct line inside of the buoys to get to far turnaround. My conscience, as well as the knowledge that there had been a smattering of DQs for this very sort of thing at other races this year, kept me from following suit. It was irritating but I took the high road and dutifully swam the designated course, stopping 3 times to clear my goggles along the way (silly me for grabbing an older pair). Needless to say, I was not very pleased with my position coming out of the water, but I knew it was a long day and there would be time to make up for the sloth-like swim time.

Once I hopped onto the bike I set to work at whittling down the gap to the leader. I soon overtook second place and had worked my way to within 20 seconds of the lead when disaster struck. Apparently all was not as well as I had thought with the shifting on the borrowed bike because the chain came off and got stuck in between the frame and the chainring. In some cases you can shift back over to the big ring while continuing to pedal and the chain will right itself, but in this case it was firmly wedged and I couldn't even move the cranks. So I had to stop and fix the chain by hand. Two girls zoomed by as I was stuck on the road. Damn. Actually, I think I said some other choice words but I'll let you use your imagination to guess what they were. It didn't take long to fix the chain and get back on the bike, but I felt like I was back to square one. I kept telling myself it was still early and that there was a lot of course left to catch people on, including three good climbs.

That's me fixing the dropped chain. Photo Nils Nilsen

Those climbs ended up haunting me when all was said and done. I'm not sure if it was a stretched chain, added torque on the gears when I hit the hills, or simply bad bike karma, but darn it all if the shifting didn't start skipping in the gears that would have been most useful on those climbs! Normally I like to really tackle hills, but in this case I had to ease gingerly into them to test out the gears and see what was going to work. It was not an ideal situation and certainly made the biking leg less enjoyable than usual. However, I held my position and even moved up into second place again late in the ride and came into T2 together with my teammate Jessica Meyers.

How 'bout that new green Rudy Project helmet?! Photo Nils Nilsen

Jess and I bolted out of T2 and ran together for the first two miles which was really fun. Then I realized that I was probably going to blow up if I tried to match her speed the whole way, so I drifted back a bit. I focused on keeping a good rhythm going and moving my feet quickly in an effort to not let the gap grow too large. The course was challenging with lots of ups and downs, but the hills were the type of grade that really suits me and I was able to hold a good pace throughout the run. Around Mile 5 I was overtaken by the fourth place girl and couldn't match her speed, but I held onto that position for the rest of the day. Despite the troubles on the swim and bike, I feel like it was a solid performance and a good indication that my fitness is in the right place going into Cedar Point. I also learned yet another lesson in keeping calm and just dealing with whatever gets thrown your way. Weather, mechanical issues, you name it---I'm learning to deal with it!

As always, a big thanks goes to my family, friends, and sponsors for their support (REV3, Powerbar, Pearl Izumi, Recovery Pump, Blueseventy, Rudy Project, Maxxis, The Bike Shoppe). Thanks again to Charlie and Alex for arranging a bike for me to ride---a bike with slight mechanical malfunctions is better than no bike at all! Also, thanks to Rich for the good training weekends the past month, and to Albert for continuing to pick up the slack around the house while I'm out training. You are greatly appreciated!

And now the countdown to Cedar Point begins...