March 17, 2012

A minute to win it.

Take something, an idea, a notion, a concept, then boil it down and refine it until it is the purest essence of the original.

For cycling that essence is the track bike, seen recently beneath the heel of many a young dandy, and every four years brought fourth into the spotlight through the Olympics.

As I type this, the latest track bike to roll off the Baum line is winging it's way to NAHBS with Darren and Ryan, but that's not the bike I'm here to discuss. This last year I've spent a lot of time on my own titanium beast, all with the aim of riding it for less time.

Perhaps I should back up a bit, a mate has been in my ear for ages, about an idea (a notion if you will), that I should take my track bike and ride it for 1 solitary kilometre. It's a simple idea, one that's been refined into what many simply refer to as "the kilo". The world record for it was set over a decade ago by a Frenchman with legs big enough to house several umbrella collections, that record is 58.875 seconds. On a modern indoor (wooden Olympic) velodrome that's 8 straights, 16 turns and more pain than you previously thought possible.

Like many, I didn't expect my journey to end in national selection, but where there's a challenge, I feel compelled to excel, so through winter I spent time in the weights room, on the ergo and at an indoor track. These often left me curled foetal for some time or unable to walk for a few days, yet none of this came close to what my first competition attempt left me.

At the Victorian Masters Metropolitan Championships I launched out of the gate, 100 inches of gear (52tx14t) driven forth by my heaving muscles, I put everything into the cranks for a lap, then as my coach had planned with me, I eased slightly for the second. That lap was torturous to my mind, surely this was too slow, surely I was going backwards, I was soon to learn the definitions of both those ideas. By the end of my second lap my legs decided I'd not eased up at all, in fact they decided that there was no more to give. My mind raged, and I rode on through sheer force of will, repeatedly slamming the needle of the guage against empty , rolling home with a last lap only a second faster than my first (remember the first is from a standing start). 1 minute, 13.604 seconds, the time that had elapsed. 5 minutes 23 seconds, the time it took to walk 100m back to where my stuff was. 45 minutes, the time it took to not feel nauseous any more and to find a way to lay that was comfortable for my legs.

The next few months leading up to the Victorian Masters Championships I spent more time in the gym, more time on the ergo, and time on many different velodromes. I arrived at the champs feeling strong, I'd raced against Olympians at country carnivals, I'd scoured my knowledge of my friends equipment collections and managed to get my hands on fancy kit including ventless aerodynamic helmets. Sitting astride my cubano in the starting gate I felt calm, the clock beeping to let me know there was 10 seconds until I started prompted my hands down onto the bars. 5 seconds, 4 seconds, 3 seconds, 2 seconds, stand up, 1 seconds, rock back and say "and go". GO! Tubular tyres with 180psi forced down into the track, each pedal stroke like the many deadlifts I'd done, through the first two turns still out of the saddle. Into the back straight and sit down, putting my arms into the TT bars. Ease the acceleration and hold temp for a lap. Embrace the panic that you're not going hard enough, find a calm place, things will get ugly quicker than you can imagine. 2 laps down, 2 to go, the signal from the sidelines is to lift the pace. Push harder on the pedals, mentally check my position on the bike is low and flat. Keep pushing on the pedals, and ignore the growing pain and alarm coming from your lower extremities. Into that final lap my legs finally walked off the job, time distended as I used every neuron in my brain to keep my legs going around, squares are better than nothing. Keep your knees in, stay ahead of the cadence, anything possible to not slow the pace I'd killed myself to achieve. 1 minute 10.542 seconds. A new PB by 3 seconds.

By the time the gold medal was around my neck, I was already wondering about going to the national titles in Sydney. If I could shave off more time… ride the distance in less than 70 seconds, that'd make me happy. Yep, I could stop if I rode a sub 1:10 minute time.

Flights were booked, accommodation arranged and time taken off work. A few more efforts that left me on the bathroom floor wondering what I was doing to myself. Eventually I was on the start line, bike held by machines, my feet held by clipless pedals and leather straps. Again 100 gear inches adorned my bike and heaved out of the gate and hurtled me around the track. Everything for half a lap, tempo for one and a half, then everything for the final two. The wall came once again as I entered that last lap, and the race once again became a titanic mental struggle. Pads set on the blue duckboards, that moments before wizzed by with barely a flicker of recognition, now loomed large like icebergs, threatening to sink my dreams. Legs that were capable of squatting bar bending loads lost all power. This was the moment where you find yourself, where I found myself. Despite ever part of my body revolting against me, I pushed on, willing the line closer, willing the clock to stop. As I crossed the line I heard the announcers voice through the fog of pain and the hard carbon shell encasing my head. The voice said "1:09.762".

As the last rider of the session, I took the liberty of continuing to roll around the track, my legs flopping limply against pedals born forward by the inertia of my disc wheel. Even as the realisation of achieving my goal sunk into my brain, I was already wondering if my ability to even stay upright on a bike was an indication that 1 minute and 08 was possible.

So, you've finally got to the end of this little tale, and you're likely wondering what the point is. The point is simple.

You should try out the track, it's a heap of fun, though just because it's simple, doesn't mean it's easy to master…. oh and if you have a friend like my mate Carl, who whispers in your ear that an 1km ITT would be good to do. Tell them they're dreaming.