It was May 22nd in picturesque Ravenna, Ontario, just before 6 pm. Rolling green hills, dotted with barns and endless roads is a small portion of the incredible scenery in the Grey County. The skies were a flawless blue and the sunshine created artist inspiring shadows across the silvery green farm fields. Mother nature also added a bitterly cold wind which cut right to the bone on this otherwise, perfect day.
A swift moving cold front with gusting winds reddened the cheeks and noses of anyone venturing outside their car. The wintery elements with the smell of snow in the air, were unwelcome factors for the first time trial to take place in this majestic area. There would be little protection from the frigid temps wearing lycra-thin, aero-dynamic skin suits during warp speed cycling for approximately one hour.
The Grey County Time Trial (GCTT) was the first of two incredible races to happen that weekend, organized by Bruce Bird and his hardworking crew. The other was the Grey County Road Race (GCRR), also the qualifier for the Amateur World Cup Championship in Denmark in September which occurred on May 24th. If you want to know more about the GCRR check out my previous blog post called, “Grey County Road Race – hills, tears and triumphs!”
The GCTT is an individual-based cycling event against time. No drafting or being in a pack is allowed. Racers go out solo, 30 seconds apart and maintain a separate status throughout the entire race. The winner isn’t known until all times are in. The racer with the fastest time wins. It’s a great event to test the ability to suffer and generally feels safer since group chaos doesn’t exist.
This 30 km course started right in the town of Ravenna by the fabulous Ravenna Country Market (best butter tarts ever!). From the start, it descended 6 km downhill with a healthy, brisk crosswind. After the eye-watering descent, it took a left turn into rolling Rd 13 to Kimberley with a hero tailwind. All good things would have to come to an end so the course had a left turnaround spot and back the same way with the tailwind turned sandblasting headwind back to the leg busting 6 km climb to the finish.
I don’t own a time trial bike with beautiful, aero-dynamic solid-framed wheels and extending aero bars so my body could form smoothly over the bike. Nor do I own a time trial helmet (those alien looking things that make children scream when they see you) or the one-piece skin-suits that make you look…well professional and badass. But I thought, “heck, why not, how aero could aero be?”
The incredibly talented racer, Sarah Rasmussen, came up to the event with me and as most cyclists, she had a few extra pieces of equipment to lend me…a streamlined, pro-looking, pink skin-suit and a time-trial helmet. Unfortunately, the helmet would have become airborne off my head as the strap adjustments couldn’t accommodate my wee brain. The new outfit did fit and had enough room for some extra clothing beneath. This is kind of a no-no, but considering the smell of snow was in the air, I didn’t care. After all, I’ve never been good at looking fashionable and freezing my butt off overrides fashion.
A warm-up with Sarah was really a test on how fast my body would become frozen. Back at the car within a half-hour, teeth chattering and hands solidified, it took four layers of extra clothing and a down jacket to get the warmth back into veins. It didn’t help that illness plagued me beforehand so staying warm wasn’t an easy task…you need calories for that.
With the start of the race nearing, it was time to expose my lycra to the elements which was concealing a thin merino wool shirt beneath. Hardly sufficient for temps that could keep a snowman from melting, it was a brisk 100 metre ride down to do the required bike check and start line. My stomach churned with nervousness about passing the specifications but were quickly dispelled when the Certifier laughed at my innocence. All road bikes pass. Bike approved, it was time to take my spot in the singular line-up providing little shelter from the frigid crosswind whipping across the flat, green field.
My powers of observation which are generally limited, were in full effect. It was clear by quick glance that with so many pro-looking racers and their shiny, fast looking everything, I might as well have shown up with my mountain bike to a road race!
The one thing about races, there is always rockin’, energetic music at the start. Turning into a frozen block as the seconds passed, it was necessary to bust out some dance moves to warm-up. Some stared at me as if my marbles had scattered across the road and others laughed. My bones were warming up so opinions didn’t matter. After all, I’m too old to be shy!
Catching a glimpse of the riders leading out thirty seconds apart, each individual racer was held by a gentleman on an elevated platform. The racers feet were fully clipped into their pedals, their bike moving slightly side to side as they try to maintain their balance with the official holding them. A small, downward ramp descended onto the road. The time announcer did a 10 second countdown and down the ramp the cyclist went…their time trial had begun.
Quick visions of old video clips of racers that crashed off the start ramps popped into my head! My heart began pounding from the instant onset of fear of duplicating the crash videos. Trying to convince myself that my mountain biking skills were far greater than a measly little ramp wasn’t convincing enough. My breathing became laboured and my hands tightened their grasp on my bike.
It was my turn to take the 5 steps onto the stage with a mandatory three stooges toe stub. I can ride a bike but not walk up stairs. Trying to look graceful was unsuccessful. Years of mounting my bike easily and clipping into my pedals smoothly disappeared. Fumbling, I finally found my place on the bike and dreaded the unstable feeling of being held in position. Looking down, the ramp seem to shrink in size before my eyes. A thin yellow line marked the centre and I was certain they must have swapped the ramp with a skinnier version just to mess me up.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 was shouted out and then a confidence crushing wobble before going down the wooden ramp forced my eyes wide open. Staring at the road far ahead, my tires touched the wonderful pavement and my bike was still upright. Without fail a gust of crosswind hit me from the side. An instant reminder that the elements of nature were ever present, I was finally safe and literally cool! The race had begun. Standing up for a sprint to descend as fast as possible, relief filled my body. No crashing, it was now just me, the road, wind, cold and time.
Down in the drops (lower parts of the handlebars) to become as aero as possible on a road bike, pedalling furiously, gear shifting, pedalling harder with more gear changing and my hardest gear had been reached. My butt was practically bouncing off the seat trying to get extra speed while getting punched by the bitter crosswind at its every convenience. Descending as fast as was possible for my stealthy setup, my eyes watered and the chill permeated through my non-wind resistant, paper thin clothing.
It seemed like moments later and the sound of something fast whizzed past me. It was the next competitor and she was flying with her aero-everything! She came out 30 seconds after me and had already caught up before the end of the descent. In a blink of an eye, she was the size of an ant and then out of sight! It was at that moment two things were obvious: aero means stealth bomber vs. a dump truck (me) and dump trucks don’t make speed records.
Reminding myself my purpose was for the experience , this would undoubtedly be one. Eventually, the first left turn came and I instantly felt the joy of the hero tailwind. The wind was now at my back but my butt muscles were beginning to cramp. Being in the drops for longer than normal wasn’t conducive to my musculature. Small shifts in position did little to ease the discomfort. The choice was take the cramps and stay aero or sit up and feel like a wall trying to pierce through the wind…my ego said aero…perhaps I might get nice glutes from the workout too!
Heading along the rolling terrain towards the town of Kimberley, another racer passed me. She was on a Lamborgini of bicycles, sporting a time trial helmet, clear full face visor and wheels which I was sure were from the movie Tron. She was also wearing a shrink-wrapped skin suit and covered booties. I felt stationary as she whizzed past me. I put my head down and kept pedalling trying to ignore the harsh reality that I was a tortoise in this race.
The sound of carbon wheels travelled faster than the speed of sound to my ears from the riders approaching me from the other side of the road. They had already reached the turn-around point and had less than 15 km to go. All I could think was some of them had bikes that cost more than their cars…and at that moment I wanted a Tron bike too.
Coming to the turn-around was a sight for a sore butt! It was 15 km back to the finish and a pretty good amount of it uphill. The downside, the hero wind was now a harsh headwind and the cold was ripping through me like I was naked.
Uphill isn’t a comfortable angle for all those on TT bikes but it sure was delight for me. “Billy goat” is the nickname Steven gave me because of my love for climbing all things steep and painful. This would be no different.
Being passed repeatedly by other racers on the way back to the climb began to feel normal. It was an opportunity to window shop their set up, admiring all that made them stealth and what would be on the list of purchases should we win the lottery. My butt muscles were exhausted from extensive pushing in my drops. That being said, it was a cheaper workout for my glutes than a month of Jane Fonda’s butt building program. The rest of me was frozen and it was possible my lips were turning blue.
The final 6 km uphill climb came at the right time. Standing up and feeling the joy of stomping on the pedals and it was time to do what I do, climb! The crosswind still didn’t disappoint and added punches to my left side to test my sturdiness. The kilometres clicked by as the steep angles of the undulating climb felt magical. Standing then sitting, then standing again, stomping away, suffering happily, I was finally in my element.
Nearing the last kilometre there was the whirring sound of a racer’s carbon wheels behind me. We were approaching the last steep hill section and she was about to pass me with her acquired momentum from the short descent on her aero machine. All I thought was, “Nah, I don’t think so. Climbing is what I do!” Standing up, my body responded with a ferocious attack on the hill. My raging bull surfaced and she couldn’t match the attack. This momentary success was a small boost to my otherwise broken ego.
The remaining distance to the finish ended quickly with the other competitor attempting to bridge the gap without success. Crossing the white line and everything on me was frozen. Shivering but relieved that my new experience was done and had completely deflated me, it was a quick pedal back to the car. A few minutes later and my body was covered with almost five layers of clothing, a toque, scarf, gloves and a down jacket. Sometimes overpacking pays off!
The end result from the race…I came in 4th out of 5 in my age group of 45-49 in an impeccably run event. In reality, I came in last as 5th place didn’t actually show up! There was no getting to be the dark horse and crushing the field. I was the donkey trying to run with a bunch of mustangs. The important thing was that I was willing to try something new and there is now one more thing crossed off my bucket list in life. Will I do another time trial on my road bike….probably, just cuz even donkeys need to have fun.