Week at Battle Mountain #6 Race day Tuesday & Wednesday: AM

Tuesday I awake at a luxuriously late 5 am for breakfast. Happily, the team recognised that there was no need to cut my sleep short and they arranged to have all the team head out early to get ready for Karen’s launch, then one of the advisors would return to collect me for arrival during one of the breaks in the launch groups. Thus began a week of luxurious limo service and a standard routine… crack the door open so the team knew I was alive; then eat, get dressed, warm up with the bands, and visualise record setting runs before getting collected.

My driver arrives and I’m set to go. The town is surprisingly active in the early morning as we head south on SR305. We talk about random things, a little about the race a little about engineering, a little about life. All in all it’s a relaxing half our drive until we’re caught at the roadblock. Luckily it’s the roadblock for the races but still there’s this panic moment where I think we’re not going to get to the start in time. Luckily the pros have worked out all the details so I don’t have to worry. It’s an odd sensation being down here. Yesterday I got to see the launches of the other bikes but today, I’m not even at catch, I’m a spectator staring at the back of cars and it’s a bit surreal.

Sitting in traffic at Battle Moutain
Late arrival, waiting in the roadblock temperatures and pressure rising. Photo: Michael Head

It’s exciting to see the bikes come into the finish, the little I get to see. Whilst the extra hour of sleep is a godsend, it does mean that, for the most part, even with a week of racing I pretty much never saw Karen race! But, I missed much of the others as well, every team is working quick turnarounds with their bikes to often accommodate two pilots so there is a lot of to and fro, prep ad recovery, and not much mingling and socialising apart from the few minutes in the recovery area before heading out.

Rolling down the course I’m watching for key points again, building up my memory of it in reverse. After the flat tyre yesterday, I’m scoping out the road surface in more detail, looking for any grooves or scrapes in the asphalt. I note a few and spot some landmarks which ultimately prove somewhat useful later on. We pull into the start areas and slip in next to the other team cars and my bike. It’s already been prepped and set up for my warmups. Tucked in the shade, rollers on the bunny ears I hop on and start my warm-up.

Derek is, once again, parked in my chair behind me, bracing my bike. Monitoring the situation; he’s giving me time updates, letting me know who’s launching, telling me how Karen’s run went, and keeping me in good company and relaxed. The call comes to get to launch and the same routine ensues; drive up, get lifted into Arion4, and this was about the time I got stunned with some news: the cranks had to be shortened. The only thing I really insisted on during the testing, the one thing the team really pushed the boundaries out on in the last week of construction was getting the longer cranks… and now we’d stepped backwards. I knew we’d need the longest cranks possible but space was limited, and now I was worried.

A view of Arion4's adjustable cranks
Adjustable cranks. Photo: Michael Head

But, Stephen informed me that Karen had requested they be adjusted as the longer length not only brought about clearance issues with the shell, but also our bodies. It transpired that the cranks were so low that they had apparently been ripping off a little bit of flesh from Karen in every revolution. Okay that’s a fair excuse. I did then feel that I should come clean as I was hiding a bit of a secret. Not only did I have to time my breathing with cranks to clear them but they were smashing into my abs, right where I have a titanium battery implanted. After all the racing on Monday I awoke to find a massive black bruise about the size of a palm on my abdomen. Figure I was pedalling at about 100 rpm, and each run took about 10 minutes overall, and multiply that by two races; that’s essentially how many times I’d been punched in the gut yesterday. So, part of me was relieved, the other part knew it’d just have to work that much harder.

Secured in the bike under the usual routine I checked the cranks and to be honest, the clearance did feel better. Focusing on how to channel extra power I take a last sip of water and promptly spit it on one of the engineers belting me in. The lid drops and I watch the last of the bikes launch before me.

“Ready, Ken?”

“Rider ready!” (That still? Focus…)

Fingers drop, 3, 2, 1 and the push. My pedalling syncs with the speed before the last lunge and I’m off. The cranks may have only been five mm shorter but it feels downright roomy now, though I still have to time my breathing with each revolution. The bike is stable, but like yesterday, it’s gusty.

I’m watching my line, trying to come as close as possible to the centreline knowing Mike Sova is still observing. It’s proving to be a challenge as it’s really gusty out, and I’m drifting. A couple of gusts push me into the emergency lane and I’m hard right on the steering to get out. Another blast sends me towards the shoulder, so badly I hear later the team in the car behind me we’re worried I was crashing. Fair play, I did let slip the nickname I earned from riding; Crashy Crasherson. (Which, to my delight, they did put on the bike!). But no crashes today, there’s too much at stake.

View of Crashy Crasherson name sticker
Crashy Crasherson. Photo Ken Talbot

I’m keeping my line as best I can, occasionally drifting out of place but still able to step through all the power increases. The speed is building and it’s a fine balance correcting for all the gusts. A steady wind would be easy to deal with but not this. I’m watching for the few questionable sections of the road that I think might be puncture hazards and avoiding them, or trying to… maybe it’s the wind that’s doing in all steering though. Power building is stable, steering is semi-controllable and I can see the timing gate flags.

At this point I pretty much stop worrying about steering. I’m near the top of the power plan and I’m putting so much force into the cranks that the need to steer is largely non-existent, or I’ve lucked out and the wind has died down. Suddenly “MAX” appears on the display and I’m at full power, pushing as hard as I can. I’m not thinking about steering, only full power and whether I’ve passed one or two sets of flags. Straining, I keep the power on until the bridge that’s not a bridge; I know that’s well outside the timing gates. It might be excessive but I’m not taking chances. And as quickly as I’ve sprinted I back off, shifting down and spinning out to keep the blood flowing and to prevent lactic acid build-up while I coast and enjoy the ride to catch.

But, here’s where my notes are a little hazy… I know I clocked an official speed but I also know I got another flat; that was a theme with me! No doubt it must’ve happened in the deceleration zone but a flat it was. Another one at about 40-some mph. Immediately, the engineers were all over it, looking for the culprit, seeing if it was a fluke off the road or if it was another adjustment. They scurry off to check things out as we all head back for another post-ride briefing.

At the briefing, it’s announced that Karen racked up a respectable 38.66 mph and I managed 45.18. So close to the record, but still so far away. Clearly all the corrective steering was taking a lot away from power generation, but this was an improvement over Monday’s maximum speed. Mind, I did begin to wonder. When I sat down with Stephen as we put together the power plan, what we found was that the predictions indicated that we had slim margins to work with, and that was only with an optimal plan and optimal conditions. Any variations that were made to the plan resulted in a speed below the record. It was going to be close. Maybe this was a sign, the wind certainly wasn’t optimum.

Tuesday afternoon was a nice change of pace. “The Show and Shine” was on at the community centre where all the teams had the chance to bring in their bikes and display them to all the visitors and especially to a local group of school kids. There was so much excitement and genuine interest from the kids it was amazing. With Arion4 being such an unusual design we had a massive queue of kids wanting to take a look, but that might have been helped by the fact that we gave the kids a chance to sit in it and try pedalling. The enthusiasm was great and many of the kids had brilliant well thought out questions. I suspect there might be some very talented engineers coming out of that group!

Kids trying out Arion4
Georgious helping at the Show and Shine. Photo: Michael Head

 

The only downside was that I was exhausted and trying my hardest to stay awake. Fairly easy to do with all the hustle and bustle, excitement, and enthusiasm from the kids. Though afterwards I was ready to crash and luckily I could. But, not only did we have the “Show and Shine” there was also the locally organised bike parade and drag race. I really wanted to be a part of those but I was in desperate need of some sleep so I sent my enthusiastic “personal representative,” Georgious, out with my bike. Actually, I think Georgious just wanted to go for a joyride and do some racing, and he did. I understand he did quite well too, despite only haven ridden my bike once or twice during out testing near Liverpool.

Given that by Monday night I was ready to go home and we’d all worked really hard through Tuesday morning, the team made an administrative decision to take Tuesday night off so that we could all have a rest as we still had a long way to go.

Given that I’d had a good chance to rest on Tuesday night, you’d think I’d be fresh for Wednesday morning. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve mentioned repeatedly how hot it was and that I had to sleep with the air conditioning on. Whilst that was good for temperature, it was horrible for noise and that didn’t help my sleep. After Monday night I’d decided to put up a barrier of pillows on chairs and anything else I could find to try to deflect and absorb the sound from the A/C unit (Whoop, putting my audio engineering training to work!)

This barrier proved to be minimally effective and despite having the chance to have an early night, that just didn’t happen. Such is the impact of CRPS contributing to sleep deprivation. So, to help me get to sleep on Tuesday I turned off the A/C and was left with a cool & quiet room. Perfect, I drifted off to a nice calm slumber… Until I awoke about two hrs later feeling as sick as I ever have.

I’ll put up with a lot of things in life but the one thing I cannot stand is nausea. Immediately, I realised how hot it was in the room and quickly stumbled over to the A/C unit to turn it on, full fan, lowest temperature, luckily with a wall of pillows to pad my fall as I did. I managed to crawl to the bathroom, just in case, so close was the feeling, if you get my drift. Clearly this was heat exhaustion kicking in. After waiting for about half an hour for the feeling to subside I decided to message the team to tell them I was too sick to ride in the morning. But, as I tried to crawl to my phone I discovered how cold the tiled bathroom floor was. I had no other choice…

Also , discovering that a pillow was closer than my phone and I was in no shape to move, I grabbed said pillow and concluded, ; I’ve got another 2 hours that I can sleep. We’ve all come too far and invested too much time and effort to bail on this now, and promptly fell asleep on the bathroom floor. As luck would have it, I was able to sleep and woke up, not quite refreshed, but at least not feeling like I was about to die. The test though, would be breakfast.

Luckily all my relatives that had come to see the races had brought me tons of food to accommodate my allergies and I had a veritable grocery store in my room. I tried a few light snacks and they went down well, and moved onto my regularly planned breakfast. So far it was working. My temperature was better, food was staying down and I was making sure I had plenty of fluids. I was back on track and ready for a win. In some respects, overheating and horrible sleep may have helped. By the time it came to Wednesday’s morning run I was ready to put all my energy into proving that I’m stronger than my weak willed body that crashes under the influence of too much heat! And so I did.

The usual routine takes place at the start line. Lifted in, secured, radio checks, confirming the power plan, spitting on the engineers (oops). The lid drops down and I’m starting to think I’m getting used to the coffin like feeling, when I realise I’m not. I think back to the previous night and tell myself I’m stronger than that. I’ve overcome worse, and I’ll prove that I’m better than me… sure that doesn’t actually make sense but, hey ho!

“Ready, Ken?”

“Rider ready!” (That still, STILL? Focus…)

5, 4, 3, 2, 1… and the push, the sync, the lunge… and I’m off. I’m thankful that the morning is cool and it’s helping me stay fresh in the quickly heating bike. Channelling my energy I start building up speed, keeping things light and casual at first, just getting loosened up and keeping everything in control. The speed is building nicely, the bike is stable, but I can feel the wind kicking up again and it’s requiring a lot of counter steering to stay on course.

As in previous runs, there’s some hard veering off to the right and some occasional drifting around the centreline. It’s already becoming standard fare though and I’m rocking to keep the power on as I adjust the steering. At this point, I’m thinking it must be nicer being one of the leg powered riders as they get to keep the power independent of steering so they’re losing less power during their corrections.

I can’t tell how the speed is coming along but the distance down the course is flying by and I’m feeling surprisingly strong given how bad I felt last night. The power steps start to increase and I’m stepping into them smoothly each and every time, then suddenly…

BANG!!!

My response is a mixture of ££*@£&#@!!, boredom, and disappointment. Yet again, another flat front tyre, and it turns out at about 40 mph again and right around the 2.5 mile mark! I was frustrated as this was another shot at the record lost and I was bored as it was becoming so routine now as this was either the third of fourth flat in as many attempts. I was disappointed too as I’d worked through all the issues around sleep and feeling sick and was getting surprisingly good power down. I could’ve just taken the morning off and had a full recovery. Oh well.

The intriguing thing about getting a flat front tyre at over 40 mph, as they always happened is this: So stable and controllable was Arion4 that the first time it happened; I was surprised, but I never felt like there was any risk or danger. Each flat thereafter it just seemed like a reason to slow down, as if you’re approaching a red light at a traffic junction. It wasn’t until I was out doing a Sportive the other day where I was approaching 40 mph where I remembered Battle Mountain and wondered, “What would it be like to get a flat front tyre now?” BLOODY TERRIFYING!!!

People gathered at the post-ride briefing
Post-ride briefing. Photo: Michael Head

As usual, the engineers jumped out and took the bike off the road while I got a ride to the finish. Just for fun, the driver showed me how fast the fastest bikes have gone on that course… nearly 90 mph. And here’s a good safety tip kids: Don’t try to wave at a grandstand full of people in a convertible doing 90 mph! In the short time it takes for the engineers to get collected with Arion4 they know what the issues is. Quick team, they are. We head to the post-ride briefing where it’s announced that I had a DNF with a flat but Karen has had a wind legal and record setting run of 41.86 mph! We head back to the hotel and I get some food and rest while the team work on Arion4. Clearly the sleep deprivation is starting to get to me as I can hear the team working and it sounds as if they’re in my room it’s so loud. It’s a small price to pay though, knowing that I don’t have to worry about any of the mechanical issues.

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