A spontaneous last minute decision lead me towards a whole new type of racing: bike racing. The purpose of this blog is to reflect on the 70km pure bike racing experience, with a few anecdotal snippets of the actual race thrown in.
To anyone who doesn’t ride, you may be thinking “how is that any different to the other miles you peddle?” But to those who have ever experienced it or followed cycling on t.v can appreciate, tactics play a whole new game in bike racing. The biggest difference between non-draft legal triathlon races and cycling races, is that, well, you can draft (all half IM and above tend to penalise for drafting within a certain distance of the opposition in front of you).
- You are not alone. You all start together and are not naturally staggered by a swim. You can therefore draft. If you are drafting off someone’s wheel in a smart way, it can save you up to 30% difference in power output. So you draft.
- You can draft, but so can everyone else. Different cultures and different race strategies result in different race structures. If your main opposition is an exceedingly strong sprinter, they may spend most of their time in the main peloton, having a breeze of a time and waiting for the final kilometre to tear through the pack. If someone is a strong endurance athlete, as triathletes tend to be, they may put in a more gutsy performance and breakaway 20km or more from the line, to avoid a last minute sprint off.
- You don’t have to run afterwards. So you can put everything into the bike.
Whatever the strategy is, as a first-timer racing a field of Thai athletes, including a couple of strong teams (even harder as they can work together to set their key rider up for a perfect finish), I had to have my wits about me.
Physically, the average race pace wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for me. Relative to the regular Z-Coaching Phuket Sunday ride, it was actually distinctly shorter (70km vs the normal 150+km) and relatively slower (average speed of ~33km/h – no one wanted to do the work on the front). However mentally, I have never been quite so drained. So much focus and energy was required at all times to ensure a breakaway group didn’t form, and to continually assess the form and whereabouts of the girls who I had to assume to be the main opponents.
In typical Thai fashion, the late finish of some roadworks meant that the course went through 5km of road mid-construction. TWICE. Pebbles, rocks and non-concrete surface sent alarm bells ringing after a series of punctures in January alone.
Luckily, for once the puncture luck was on my side, as that would’ve been game over. The 2nd time through this zone lead us to the base of the final 3 km section which involved a significant ascent in the last 1km. At this point, a breakaway group of 3 guys had formed and were 100m in front of the main peloton – us girls had started with the 50+and 60+ age group men.
I was near the front of the peloton, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw another guy go from behind me, attempting to bridge the gap between us and the breakaway. Feeling alright, I went with him, leaving the other girls behind for the first time. We closed the gap with 2km to go, and approached the climb as a pack of 5.
Limited recent climbing practise made me nervous about the ascent, but when the moment came, my Alpine training kicked in and my chamois instinct took over. I found me rhythm straightaway, and when a couple of Thais tore out from behind me, I went with them, taking the pace up for the final push to finish first out of my starting wave. What elation and surge of adrenaline I had crossing that line, and a deep burn in my thighs!
Not only that, but the whole of the Z-Coaching team put in outstanding performances and teamwork, with Jaray Jearanai winning the Men’s Open 120km race. Full results can be found in my brief race report in the Phuket Gazette.
So yes, cycling racing and triathlons are very different sports. Each requires distinct tactics, focus, and most importantly patience, critical to both in it’s own way, and something I’m always trying to learn to have.
I hope this has inspired all you triathletes to give bike racing a go, and vice versa.
Distinctly different sports, but both great sports demanding respect from all athletes.
Over and out, Imo xx
“Patience is the art of concealing your impatience” – Guy Kawasaki