Friday, January 31, 2014

Searching for free speed at the velodrome

I can’t believe that I was at training camp just 4 days ago. The morning after camp ended, I was flying to Florence, then a train to Lucca, and then finding and getting settled into the apartment. I got an Italian SIM card for my phone, and got some fresh produce from the store below the apartment.

The following morning, I walked a mile to the supermarket with my backpack for a more extensive grocery run, and to get the other miscellaneous things that I needed. The forecast had called for rain, but it was a beautiful day. After getting back, I set out for a ride only to see the clouds rolling in, so I spent an hour riding towards the gaps in the clouds before heading back. It was a nice spin to loosen up the legs, at least.

Wednesday morning I wanted to get in a longer easy ride of 2-3 hours, but my flight from Florence was at 2:30pm, and I chose to take the earlier train from Lucca at 10:30 to give myself a decent buffer—this was the first time I was flying out of Florence. That morning, the street in front of the apartment was closed down for a giant market. I really wished I had more time to wander around and see everything. It was another beautiful day, but too cold to ride with the clothes that I have at the moment.

I got to the Florence airport at 1, which was more than enough time before my flight. No worries, I’ll just read to pass the time. Then I learned that a labor strike had resulted in the cancellation of my flight. I was moved to the 6:30 flight, meaning I got to kill 5 hours at the airport. Since the airport is outside of town and I was travelling with carry-on luggage only, I didn’t want to pay for the bus back into town and lug around my backpack all afternoon, so I didn’t even try to venture out. So I stuck in my headphones and watched Cool Runnings on my computer (in honor of the upcoming Olympics, of course!), and listened to a bunch of podcasts. Oh, and I enjoyed my complimentary 10Euro flight-cancellation meal (just 10Euros for 5 hours of my time!).

By the time I reached my hotel in Holland, it was 1am. Up at 8am for breakfast, and then we were headed for the velodrome in Apeldoorn. The velodrome is part of a bigger athletics facility, which was really impressive. The infield had most track/field events, and the arena was huge with restaurants on the upper levels. They’ve got things figured out!

The track itself is a wooden 250m, but the bankings aren’t as steep as the Superdrome in Frisco, where I’ve done the majority of my track racing. That’s good, though, as we wouldn’t be riding track bikes. No, the happy day had finally arrived where I would get to meet my new time trial bike, the Giant Trinity! And she is a beaut.

I hurriedly (but really, quite slowly) put on my skinsuit—I think I could have filled it out when I was 100lbs at 14 years old! I was warming up on the track, getting used to the force in the turns while in my TT position. It was no problem when I was looking where I was going, but we would be testing aerodynamics, meaning I needed to be in my normal TT position. This one:

So I did lap after lap after lap, trying to stay on the black line while looking only 4 feet in front of my bike. I kept missing the start of the turn and ending up too high, or continuing to turn too long, ending up on the apron. I finally got a feel for the rhythm of the track at speed, and after about 20 minutes I was glued to the black line, knowing when to start and stop the lean into the turn. I was so focused on this that I wasn’t paying attention to how fast I was going. When I decided that I was comfortable, I looked at the speedo and saw I’d been holding 48kph during the warmup. I guess I was feeling alright!

Before I continue, I should probably explain what we were doing at the velodrome. Basically, it’s a cheap windtunnel, and growing in popularity as a means of aerodynamics testing. By using an indoor velodrome with known atmospheric conditions, measuring power output and speed during the tests, and some fancy computer work, you can calculate the aerodynamic drag and determine which position is fastest. It’s not quite as precise as a windtunnel, but is very effective at rough adjustments. We would be using the track to dial in our positions well, and making a trip to the tunnel later in the season to perfect them. Another selling point of testing on the velodrome is that the rider can really ride in the position to see if it works, as sometimes a position that you can hold while stationary in the tunnel does not work on the road.

The task at hand for me was to replicate the tunnel-tuned position I raced in last year with success. The first order of business was to put the sharper ski-bend extensions on so I could get my hands higher. Then I was right at home!

We discussed the test protocol, and I was asked if I would be alright with 50kph(31mph) as the top speed for the test. Considering my warmup, it was safe to assume 50 would be okay. 2 laps each at 40-42-44-46-48-50kph, with a lap between each to speed up. With my knowledge of statistics and experimental procedures, I knew that smoother, steadier tests would yield the best results. So while focusing on staying on the black line without looking where I was going, I had to be smooth on the power and hold the right speed. There was a lot going on!

Then the tests started flying by. Also testing were Warren Barguil, Tobias Ludvigsson, and Georg Priedler. While somebody was testing, the mechanics were working on another bike and we just kept rotating. Once we got my position replicated, the baseline calculation showed that I was marginally faster than my tunnel position of last year, which I attribute to the bike, as I was in the tunnel with Orbea’s 7-year-old frameset.
With that settled, we started moving things around just to see what would happen. I also tried out the bowl-shaped helmet, and as comfortable as it was, I lost time with it. In the end, we kept my tried-and-true position, but with the front end just a little bit lower. The result: faster than last year. Yeah, buddy!

Ludicrous speed! Any faster and I'd be plaid.
Then it was back to the airport, arriving in Florence at 10:30, just as the last train to Lucca was leaving. I could wait 6 hours for the next one, or do the smart thing. So I took a taxi to the train station (should have waited half an hour and saved 20Euros by taking the bus, but I was tired) and made the short walk to a nearby hotel I had researched and got a cheap room for the night. After a good night’s sleep, I took the train back to Lucca and got rained on during my ride.

After all that, I’ll be up early tomorrow morning, making the trip again before the sun comes up to kick off my race season in France.  Stage 5 of Etoile de Besseges is an 11K TT with an uphill finish….