The 2014 USA Cycling Masters National Time Trial Championships were held on Antelope Island in Ogden, Utah. The course was a 21-mile out and back route along the exposed shore of an island nearly completely surrounded by the Great Salt Lake. I knew wind would be a factor, and also had to adjust my pacing plan to account for the 4300ft elevation. I liked the overall elevation profile – a low grade 1-mile climb starting out, followed by a similar grade descent and the remainder of the course was flat/rolling before hitting the turnaround and doing it in reverse. My pre-race scouting of the registration list revealed a bunch of guys that win time trials all over the country, so all I could do was focus on my race, go as fast as I could on the day.
I ran into fellow New England bike racer David Hildebrand at my hotel, and since he wasn’t racing the time trial he joined me and became my super mechanic/coach/Director-Sportif all-in-one for the day. This was awesome as he took care of all the pre-race prep for me while all I had to do was check-in and then warmup. And race. He even was giving play-by-play photos and video updates on our Fit Werx facebook page during my race which gave followers a nice distraction from work on this Wednesday morning!
I came down the start ramp smoothly and settled into my power target on the opening climb – relieved that the wait was over and I was finally underway. The huge tailwind on the opening leg caused me to spin out my 55×11 gear a number of times and there was no question the return leg would going straight into a brutal headwind. I kept telling myself to hold back and not overcook it since my best time would be the result of holding a higher power on the return leg. The trouble with racing at altitude is you just don’t know how your body is going to react until race day. Things were looking good so far as I’d caught and passed a few riders already and my legs still felt OK as I approached the 3-mile false flat leading up to the turnaround. They placed the turnaround at the bottom of a short steep hill on a narrow road, so I had to brake to a slow speed before turning and grinding back up the hill to start the return leg. (Seriously, would it have killed you to place the turnaround 100 yards earlier at the top of the hill!? Haha)
I had noted my time and average speed at the turnaround of 32.5mph – simply ridiculous and indicative of what was in store for me heading back. Power at the turnaround was 350 avg / 360 norm watts which was right on the pacing plan I’d targeted for the race (there was no shortage of research on the impact of altitude on time trial power in the last few weeks!), but I knew the return leg would was going to be brutal.
The roaring headwind made the 3-mile gentle descent down from the turnaround point feel like a climb. I was already getting hints that I went out too hard as I was struggling to hold power. I was crawling along at 25mph on the flats yet facing the headwind of what felt like a 45mph descent. I stayed as aero as possible – tucking my chin low and reaching out and narrowing my shoulders as much as I could as the miles ticked by slowly. I was hoping the wind would shift to the southwest as forecasted which would shelter us behind the island, but we had no such luck. Fast forward to the final climb at 3 miles to the finish and I was really suffering. My power was dropping every mile and I was in a full-blown battle with my bike doing everything I could to stop the power from dropping. The final climb on paper looked like 3 minutes in the aerobars, but I found myself sitting up for an endless 4 minutes rotating between standing, sitting, yelling and whatever else I could do to keep the bike moving upward. The final mile was a fast descent so I treated this climb like it was the end of the race. I took a short break on the steep downhill, then dumped whatever was or wasn’t left into the final surge to the finish.
As I gasped/slowed and attempted to spin out my legs I at least had the inner satisfaction that I’d left everything on the course. Now it was time to roll back to the finish and wait for the rest of the finishers – most of the other favorites having started after me. David was there with a drink, took my bike, and gave me the updates – I was in 1st place so far at 44:22. The finishing clock would change to a riders actual time as an official called out the number at the top of the hill so we were able to see actual finishing times for each rider coming through. A few more times in the high 44’s came through and several in the low 45’s, and I was recognizing names from the pre-race scouting which was good news. I then heard my name announced over the intercom as national champion! The remaining riders on the course were almost done, but time checks showed they wouldn’t challenge my 1st place time.
I was thrilled to win, and also drained at the same time. This was the last big race of what’s turned out to be a dream season. A season that started out with a big win at the Marblehead Circuit Race was now concluded with Stars and Stripes jerseys on both the track and road national championships. There was plenty of fun in other races, charity rides, Sunday morning group rides, and some time trial records in between too.
Here’s the podium shot with Stars and Stripes jersey presentation!
My power was 351avg/363norm watts at 32.5mph heading out, then 341avg/348norm watts at 25.4mph coming back. Most evidence I could find suggested a 5-10% loss of sea level power at 4300 feet when unacclimated depending on the individual, so I more or less split the difference d targeted 350avg/360norm power on the day knowing that I’d adjust as necessary depending on how I felt.
In hindsight I went out a bit too hard and paid for it on the return, and final power ended up at 343 avg/354norm at 28.4mph for the day. It sounded like lots of guys in my group were suffering and blowing up on the return leg too. The winds did seem to shift to more of the forecasted cross/tailwind outbound and cross/headwind inbound according to riders in later groups, but was a huge factor on the day for everybody.
Here’s the strava link with race file as well:
Thanks for reading!