Monday evening begins with a snack. I’ve had a nice rest in the A/C cooled room which is well needed. I can feel the first few days are taking their toll already and the relentless heat isn’t helping, at least not the change from a Scottish summers that are so much cooler. Already I’m getting into a routine; balanced snack at least two hours before the race so that I’m nourished and not wasting energy digesting food during the race. I then get suited up, racing bib, extra cool team jersey, neoprene boots for protection and warmth believe it or not; I can never have too much heat on my messed up leg.
I then have a wee rest with the door cracked open to let the team know I’m awake. Lying on the hotel bed I close my eyes and visualise the race. I’ve now got the first race done and I know what the process is. I know what the course looks like. I know what the run sounds like, smells like, feels like… and I recreate that in my mind. The silence after the shell lid is in place, the only voice I hear is Leandre asking if I’m ready. Then the push and the run…accelerating hitting the power profile, all the numbers are exact, faster and faster the desert scrub passes until I see the timing flags, then all my energy is focused… before repeating that over and over and over…
A gentle knock comes at my door.
“Ken, are you awake? We’re leaving in 45 minutes”
I manoeuvre to the door opening it, “Aye, all set, just prepping and visualising a world record.”
We head out to the course. The drive already feels second nature to me. As we roll down the course I glance over at the speedo on the pimp-mobile to see what 70mph should feel like, this is what my ride should feel like, give or take five mph. Chatting to my driver, I can’t remember if it was Derek or Glen as both helped with that and were brilliant chauffeurs, I ask about the critical points in the course and the key markers; given that I got lost on the morning run and that was a critical failure. I see that not only did I power up too early, but I kept the power on well after the timing gates, so now I know where to back off and recover. I’m also told that the officials swapped the timing gate flags around to make the start of the timing zone more visible, good call.
Having driven the course in reverse I’m trying to map it in my mind and trying to remember the warmup profile that coach Davie has given me. We get to the new start line. This is a bit different. Earlier I ran the short course as I call it; 2.5 miles for the qualifying run. This evening I’ll be on the 5-mile course. That was another stroke of good fortune, as part of the qualifying run was qualifying with sufficient speed to be permitted to do the 5-mile course.
Pulling into the dusty car park / mining lorry turn-around / cattle watering hole we set up. I see Karen situated across the way, on her rollers, headphones on, clearly focused on her own warm-up plan. The van is next to me as we pull in and there is a hustle and bustle all over the place as all the teams, once again, going through their prep. Engineers are tweaking and checking bikes, riders are on trainers warming up. There’s excitement and enthusiasm in the air. Getting out of the truck I see and hear Mike turn on the radio, 60’s/ 70’s rock starts to permeate the air around us. I get his attention and, reluctantly, ask him to turn it off or suggest that if he can play some Trap. “That’d be helpful,” I say, feeling like I’ve just killed his inspiration . Often I did my training with music and found that nearly every genre resulted in poor performance except Trap. It’s relaxing, but it also allows me to focus. That’s what I needed, relaxation and focus.
Helping me set up, Derek comes round, putting my rollers on the bunny ears (an amusing story I might come back to later) and positioning my bike to try to minimise my chances of getting blasted by dust that’s getting kicked up in the wind. Now here’s a key element of the warm-up. I seem to recall Derek saying he didn’t feel like he was doing much, at least not much that was truly critical, while we were in Battle Mountain. As one of the Liverpool engineering staff, he wasn’t directly involved in overseeing the bike but what he did do, though it might have seemed like nothing, was invaluable. He and I talked.
After getting set up on my bike and rollers, I began my warm-up. At around 6 pm, even in the shade of our trucks, the heat was still borderline unbearable. I felt that the chances of exhausting myself were high so I took many liberties with Coach Davies warm-up plan. It’s a fine balance, heat exhaustion and warming up the muscles while reserving needed power. Amongst us, teams were moving to and fro, calls to get to the launch area kept coming, and I was so focused on relaxing and warming up that I, ultimately, had little idea of what was going on around me, and I was getting tense worrying about it and asking what was happening. This is where Derek came in.
Sitting in my chair behind me, bracing my bike, seemingly just kicking back, Derek and I talked while I loosened up. He told me what launch sequence was happening, he kept track of the time, but mostly, we just talked about all sorts of stuff that had nothing to do with the impending race. Each race we did this, Derek, whether he knew it or not provided valuable distractions so that I didn’t over focus and get caught up worrying about the pressures of the race. Sometimes the best warm-up is just relaxing.
The call comes to get to launch zone. I hop into the truck and as I’m driven onto the road I get word that Karen has had a good run and that the bike is in good shape. This is promising. With two riders, there’s always the fear that there’s been a crash or mechanical that might not get fixed in time for the next persons launch. Not only are Karen and I trying to push to break the records but we’re trying to do it without breaking the bike so the other gets all the opportunities they can have.
Again, another pattern is repeated; I’m carried to Arion4 as the boot lid is still mysteriously stuck for some reason. I’m lowered in then strapped in, and secured with helmet and radio. Taking a last sip of water, I turn and spit it out; unfortunately finding that Stephen is right there and I’ve just spit all over his legs and feet. Such is the price of success! And it won’t be the last time.
I confirmed with Stephen the obvious:
“I just need to follow he power plan we worked out, right”
I describe some points on the plan, confirming the targets and he must be thinking I’m and idiot, it’s so obvious what I need to do. Deep down I’m hoping he knows I’m just trying to reinforce it in my own mind so I don’t forget.
The lid is lowered down and the rasping of tape securing the lid is like he screaming of a dying animal. I try to relax and stay focused. The faster I ride, the faster I can get out. I watch the last couple of bikes launch, suddenly I’m dreaming of passing one of them, “Good sign.”
“Ready Ken?” Comes Leandre’s voice
“Rider ready.” Seriously? This again? Why so formal? Focus, man, focus.
I see the countdown on the launch official’s fingers, and then feel the push. Quickly the launch comes and I sync my pedalling with it just as the last thrust sends me lurching forward. I glance at the monitor… power, cadence, distance; that’s all, and I focus. The plan is on display and I follow it, accelerating.
The desert passes by me, faster and faster, just as expected. I pick my lane position, just to the right of the centreline. I don’t want the camber to pull the bike to the edge of the road, but I don’t want to cross the centreline and risk disqualification. There’s a lot of jarring. It’s windy, very windy. Arion4 hits a gust and veers right; I hard steer to the left to get it back on track. The gust dies and Arion4 veers left. HARD RIGHT, HARD RIGHT and I keep it in the lane. In the back of my head, I know Mike Sova, race official, is watching and I’m not taking any chances being in the wrong lane. The wind is wreaking havoc on control. I feel like I’m slaloming down the course and every turn is impeding on my power input.
In the calm sections I double check the power, cadence, and distance figures, making sure I’m still on target. I can only hope that all the steering adjustments haven’t bled off too much speed. With everything on target I keep making power and steering adjustments but the wind has calmed and Arion4 is feeling more stable. Then, just as I make one of the big power steps… BANG… HISS… suddenly the steering feels less smooth and the ride has gotten very jarring. In an instant I swear, loudly and reluctantly drift over to the emergency lane easing the bike to a stop. Flat number two (at over 40 mph we later find again), and I didn’t even get to the timing gates this time.
I hear the tape being peeled off and the lid is lifted free. Panic is on the faces of the two engineers as our chase car clears the road leaving us all behind, as required. The engineers are worried that something catastrophic has happened but they seem slightly relieved that it’s only a flat. I’m frustrated. I saw a small divot in the road and thought that must’ve been the issue, and I’m already trying to remember where it was so I can avoid it. But the other culprit could be the many thorns in the area or just some dodgy rock.
As the bike is carried off the road by the engineers, I hop in the sweep car as it clears the road so traffic can flow once again until the afternoon sessions start up. I’ve managed to pick what is reportedly the best slot to race due to the generally favourable conditions that exist on the last runs of the night and I can’t help but feel it’s been wasted. The team at catch is surprised and seemingly disappointed that I’ve arrived without Arion4. This can only mean one thing for them, much work while I get to go have dinner.
Heading back we go right to the post-ride meeting for the results. I know the engineers have already cast an eagle eye on the Arion4 and already they know what the issue is and have a plan to fix it after the meeting. In some ways it’s nice that it wasn’t a fluke as it means the team have control over the situation, and it’s reported that all my full lock steering into the crosswinds has caused some excessive rubbing on the front tyre against the shell. Luckily, clearance for that is easily made. Speeds are called for all the teams with a number disqualified for excessive winds and we wrap up by picking out launch slots for Tuesday morning and head off, me for food and rest, the engineers for tweaks and adjustments to Arion4, and as we’re leaving I say to Stephen, with some disappointment,
“Well, it’s been a good week, exhausting, but a good week. Shame we didn’t break any records but well done to you and the team, I guess it’s home now then.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, we did a good job we tried, but I guess it wasn’t to be”
“It’s only Monday night, mate. We still have six days to go”
Yeah, that first day was so busy and exhaust that I thought a week had passed. But luckily then I was given good news: I get to sleep in tomorrow!