Tales from the Peloton, August 26, 2005
Riding the Giant Tour, 2005
Every year, bike manufacturer Giant runs a 'semi-competitive' tour in tandem with a major race occurring at the time, where non-professional riders take in the race route. Last year Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins found himself in the enviable position of riding one of these tours and some of the world's best bikes. He's at again in 2005, at the Tour of Germany, and relishing the prospect of some more (at times painful) saddle time on desirable bikes. In Part III he rides the 'beautiful TT bike', and it's definitely not all beer and skittles - check out Part I for an introduction to this event and Part II for a report on stage 1
Stage 2 - Ludwigshafen - Weinheim, 31.1km (TT)
Today was the best and worst day of my cycling 'career' all rolled into one. The TT is the only stage of the Giant Tour that is exactly the same as the stage of the Deutschland Tour. Whatever time I post in this event, I can directly compare with the pros who are riding later on, so there's no hiding place whatsoever!
The best thing about today's race was obviously the bike I was riding. The Gold TT bike from the 2003 Vuelta I'd ridden the other day was set up on rollers next to the start ramp as we arrived in the centre of Ludwigshafen, with a healthy sized crowd waiting to see who the big stars were to be entertaining them this morning. How disappointed they must have been when I turned up; still, Olano would be along soon...
Logistically it was going to be an interesting day. There were eight of us to ride, but only four TT bikes, so Tom had made arrangements for four of us to go off first, and the others to go off as late as possible. This would give the early guys a chance to finish before Stefan rushed the bikes back to the start so William could make any necessary adjustments before the later guys were due to go. To minimise any work for William to do - and to really experience a proper pro TT - I was to ride the TT with the bars in the position that Olano had set up. This is so much lower than my TT bike at home, but should be a fantastic experience for me - to find out just what it's like to ride a bike like this in the position that a pro would ride it!
Don't forget Tom's promise though; if I can beat Abraham Olano today I get to keep the bike, let's see if I can become the envy of every time triallist in Sussex shall we...
As we were on only a few hours before the pros, we got to use their start ramp - and their countdown beeps! The guy pushing me off must have been a bit out of practice as he wobbled me around and I was forced to put my foot down with five seconds to go, I managed to get upright and snap my foot in with two to go, and then I was off!
A quick reconnaissance of the first few corners had shown me that there was a headwind on the course, and as I crossed the Rhine the buffeting the disc and tri-spoke wheels received forced me to realise that my optimistic prediction of a sub fifty minute time was woefully optimistic. If you think I'm bad at climbing, you should see me into a headwind... (this kind of disproves my claim to be a classic specialist, doesn't it!?)
The next fifty-seven minutes were a real calvary for me and have really made me appreciate just how tough it is for those pro guys. That bike was so uncomfortable! My back was aching so badly as I tried to put some power through the pedals, my arms throbbed as they took the weight of my shoulders, too low to be supported by my back, but worst of all my legs were in agony as I tried to turn the massive gears that some insane Spaniard had put on it.
The jury is still out over whether the big ring had 55 or 56 teeth, I never got around to counting them. Neither was I sure how big the 'little' ring was, although estimates were between 48 and 50, so I had to cope with a strong headwind course featuring a 5% climb with two big rings and an 11-19 cassette; a gear of 50 x 19 is not what I usually go climbing on! Xander the photographer asked me why I was turning such a big gear all the time - well, that's all there was!
After about 20 km of headwind torment the course suddenly turned and for a brief tantalising moment I could move up the gears and enjoy some real speed as the wind momentarily favoured me. The exhilaration was not to last though, as the road began to tilt and the climb started. Now I'm not exactly a mountain goat when I've got the gears to do it, but this hill (that I knew Ullrich wouldn't notice) with the massive gear I had to push was going to be interesting. Without the crowd to cheer and shout and whistle I may not have made it up. With a cadence of something like 45 rpm I inched my way through them until the road crested and I could breathe again.
After a few wiggles through a village the road dropped down towards the finish and finally the big gears came into their own. I've never turned 56 x 11 before and I don't suppose I ever will, but it was an amazing sensation knowing that I was finally doing the speeds that this bike was designed for. I could have taken the last few twists in to Weinheim a bit faster, but the bike was pretty unfamiliar and Olano had to use it after me so I couldn't afford any accidents. As I turned into the final corner and could see the finish line 600m ahead I gave it everything. The road surface flashed before me as it felt like my eyes were crossing and they refused to focus. I crossed the line looking as professional as I'd started the ride, I just hope that not too many people saw the 30km in between!
As soon as I finished I jumped in the car and set off with Stefan to deliver the bikes to the next group of riders. We followed arrows to the start off a main road to find it blocked by a huge road maintenance truck with a driver who refused to move it. We had to turn around, rejoin the main road the wrong way down a slip road and find a different way back. A tense period followed as we came across traffic jam after traffic jam of traffic diverted by the race. Now and then Stefan or Xander managed to negotiate our way through barriers that Polizei told us no one should pass, to arrive with three minutes to spare! William made the necessary changes to the bikes and the guys were off.
I don't really feel that I did this bike justice - to say the least - but riding it, experiencing the position, the power and the sheer history the bike carried with it was amazing. When you're that low on a bike simple things like looking where you're going become a serious issue, neck muscles have to be so strong to keep your head up that I could only do it for a few seconds at a time - certainly only advisable on a closed course!
By the way, I won't be taking the bike home, Olano did the course in 44 minutes something - without a proper warm up, and probably not really breaking a sweat!