Week at Battle Mountain #7 Race day Wednesday: PM

Wednesday afternoon comes round and I’m out and about a bit early. I roll over to the team to have a wee chat. They assure me they’ve resolved the issue and explain what’s happened. It all looks good to me. Of course, they ask about me as I did eventually confess about what had a happened the night before. I’m feeling surprisingly well and maybe it was a good things we got the flat. If we hadn’t, I would’ve had to recover after a full outlay of energy in the morning run. But at least with the flat I got to conserve some of my power.

 

With Arion4 set to go and the engineers certain they’ve resolved the issues, and with me feeling a lot more fresh than I was this morning (i.e. alive), we head out to the course. I’m warming up on the bike chatting with Derek to stay focused and calm, the camera crew from London Southbank University are roaming around, filming, and asking questions, not helping me to relax to be honest. The engineers are doing their routine final checks.

 

Out on the bike, it’s feels like a good day. The wind seems alright; possibly calmer than previously which is an exceptionally good sign. Ultimately, in 2018 there were apparently an unusually high number of runs which were disqualified due to illegal winds. Perhaps we are all in luck tonight.

 

People chack wind and data at a table in the desert
Wind and speed checks. Photo: Michael Head

In front of me are two bikes and oddly I’m not the last one to launch this time. Usually the bikes are launched fastest to slowest so that there’s no overtaking. For some reason though, tonight Calvin Moes in ETA Prime is behind me. Bear in mind Calvin is shooting for the 90 mph record. Leading the group is Lieke De Cock in Velox8 trying  for the women’s record, and just in front of me is Ishtay Amminger who, just last night, broke the record in one of the Men’s youth categories. There’s a theme here.

 

Settled into Arion4 and getting strapped in, there’s suddenly talk and an advisory of what to do if I encounter a bike ahead of me. I’m reminded that the passing lane is on the left and to stay well clear of the other bike. I don’t know if everyone is just excited about all these particularly fast and potentially fast bikes and riders all together and the energy is building or if there’s some genuine hope and belief. I assume it’s everything and take it all on board. I decide I will not be the slow one, I resolve that I WILL pass Ishtay. I will (and I’m already trying to figure out if I can wave to him as I pass).

 

Lieke launches. Ishtay launches. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, push, sync, lunge and it feels like a clean launch. I can only hope that Leandre has let go in time, but I’m sure he has as he’s been spot on for every other launch. As usual I’m setting my position on the road so that I’m riding the apex of the road camber as closely as possible. I’m precariously close to the left lane and potential disqualification but I don’t want to risk any unnecessary counter steering, given the issues we’ve had. The wind feels reasonably calm out and I’m not drifting. This is a very good sign as it was all the counter steering that was causing the flats. Maybe this is it.

 

Conserving my power at the beginning, I’m easing into the acceleration. I’m trying to maximise and take advantage of the narrow cadence band that I know gives me the most power per number of revolutions. All the previous runs have given me the chance to recognise just when to change gear so I don’t bog down or over spin. The power steps start coming and I’m matching them. I know I need to be efficient here, but with the talk of passing Ishtay, my mind wants to go all out with the power, but I hold back.

 

I still have no idea of my speed without that data feed but I’m into the power increases so I know I’m doing well as is check my distance. I’m quickly approaching the 2.5 mile mark and here’s where I get a bit nervous and where I become exceptionally attentive. It’s always been at about the 2.5 mile mark where I’ve gotten my flats and I’m watching the display closely to see if I can see anything in the road to avoid. It’s not quite clear enough to tell but I’m watching the road like a hawk.

 

2.5 miles goes by with no issue. There’s a huge sense of relief then the sudden realisation that I’ve got a whole new section of the course to ride. I’m still wary though, “was it at 2.5 miles or was it further?” I wonder. A power increase comes and I step up a gear, churning through, not letting my cadence get bogged down. Stabilised, and with Arion4 staying smoothly on track I check the roadside markers and spot 2 miles.

 

Arion4 travels down the course at Battle Mountain
Arion4 on the course at Battle Mountain. Photo Michael Head

This is definitely good news. All the flats have come before this and I know I’m in new territory. No longer worried about the possibility of a flat tyre and no longer fighting the wind like on previous runs, I put all my focus on the remainder of the ride. From here on out the power increases come fast and furious, and with each new one the next hits even faster.

 

There’s no time to hesitate or think, my focus is keeping the flashing yellow centreline of the road just on the left of my screen, spotting the power changes on screen I match my output and coordinate my cadence, I know what speed it should be but I need to check that it feels right too. I can’t risk an overspeed or bogging down at that this point as any mistimed gear change could destroy everything I’ve built up.

 

Watching the countdown markers go by I see 1 mile. This is it. The last mile is where there is absolutely no flexibility, everything has to be perfect. A power step comes and I match it, quickly but smoothly, another, then another, I have no perception of anything other than power, cadence, and that flashing yellow line. The gears are topped out and my cadence is reaching it maximum for efficiency, but soon I won’t care about efficiency.

 

The countdown boards go metric (yes, oddly they countdown in miles at first, then switch to metric), and I glance into the distance on the monitor to see a flag. Simultaneously, the screens flashes MAX and nothing else in the world matters…

 

Full pelt, every ounce of energy I have goes into an all-out maximum power sprint. That’s one hell of a feat, maxed out already and trying to punch 37 kilos of bike and my um… plenty of kilos, into an instantaneous sprint. I’m no longer watching my lane; it’s too late now and if the power in my arms is equal it shouldn’t matter. I’m not longer timing my breathing; I’m in serious anaerobic territory here. Deep breath and push / pull / push / pull and more. Deep gasp, every muscle in my arms, shoulder and back is screaming, desperate for relief.

 

The first flags go by and I’m at my limit but I have no choice, I’ve got to keep this going for 200 meters. I can barely see; I can’t even see the flags at the end of timing, only the yellow flashing line. It would come to be a good friend.

 

I know I need to keep this power in longer. It’s a 5 sec max effort power that I’ve had going well before the flags and it’s just got to keep coming. I start counting, 1, 2, 3,  I know it’ll take me about 8 seconds at record speed, 4, 5, 6, almost there, just one last breath and push, I scream, 7, 8, 9, CLEAR IT, SAFETY MARGIN, 10, 11, 12 and that’s it.

 

My whole upper body is crying out, my legs are starting to spasm, I’m gasping for fresh cool air, my muscles burn but I gear down and spin to keep the blood flowing and maximise my recovery potential, all I want to do is roll over an take a nap though. The air is hot, I’m hot, dehydrated, I just want some ice and water. Fresh air, oxygen; I can breathe but it’s not fresh, no airflow means I’m breathing in the last 10 minutes of used air.

 

Recovering enough to remember what’s next I apply the brakes and this isn’t helping my recovery. I don’t know how much but I’m definitely carrying some speed, evident by the burning in coming from the brake. It’s hot and it stinks, the air is becoming more and more putrid by the second. I think about coasting to a stop but that clearly not going to happen, not coasting this fast.

 

Alternating braking and spinning I keep the blood in my muscles flowing, I keep everything loosened up, I stay relaxed, then flush that with deep breaths of burning brake pad. Thankfully my arms recover quickly and it’s not long before I can start to relax a little, and breathe a bit better, just enough not to gag. I see the orange and yellow safety vests approach quickly and ease to a hard stop and feel the brace of people grabbing Arion4’s shell.

 

Immediately, I uncouple the shell, desperate to try to push it off. There is fast jostling about and I hear the tape being peeled away as I see someone sprint around the nose. I feel like I’m going to throw up and I try to remain calm as the lid comes off. Blinded by the light, with my legs thrashing about I take the deepest breath of warm dusty air I can manage. It’s no cool ocean breeze but I’ll take anything I can get at this point. At this very moment, I hate Battle Mountain, I hate the IHPVA, I hate Liverpool, I hate cycling, I hate that I’m here.

 

I hear the ripping of tape holding down the two computers in the back of Arion4, Stephen comes running up giddy as a schoolgirl. I beg for him to turn on my implant with the remote he’s carrying for me. He kicks it in and I keep saying higher, higher, cranking it well above the maximum limits I advised him to stop at, it’s the only thing that will suppress the pain in my leg and stop it thrashing and potentially damaging the bike.

 

Between breaths I see and hear the team from the chase car talking excitedly to the team at catch. Stephen and Leandre and damn near hooting and hollering, Harry is damn near jumping into the cloudless sky. Stephen leans in, the biggest Cheshire Cat grin on his face, nearly bouncing out of his shoes, and I see he’s got the SRM in hand. Immediately turn away and say, “Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know!”

 

“That was amazing…”

 

“We were watching the speedometer in the truck and…”

 

“DON’T TELL ME”

 

Stunned looks appear above me from everyone on the team as I’m lying in the bike.

 

I quickly say, “We knew it was going to be close, and we know that our data is a bit higher than the gates, and I don’t want you to tell me we did good, then have the officials tell me it was just under”

 

They get it, but everyone on the team is acting like kids on a field trip to a candy shop at Disneyland. I take comfort in that but I have no idea what the results are. I had no sense of speed while I watched it all happen on the screen in front of me. All I know is that I hit the targets and didn’t get any flats, I’ve done what I can do. I’m rolled into the recovery area while someone grabs my chair. I’m sipping water and hiding under an umbrella held by one of the mechanics. But at this point, with all the smiles from the team… I love Battle Mountain, I love the IHPVA, I love Liverpool, I love cycling, and I ESPECIALLY love that I’m here.

 

Ken Talbot and the University of Liverpool team sit next to Arion4 in the recovery area
Recovering after a successful run. Photo: Harry Fisher

Chatting away, word has either spread or everyone is just exceptionally friendly today.

 

“Well done!”

 

“Congratulations!”

 

My teammates keep coming over congratulating me, patting me on the back, some near hugs of praise. Cheeky grins are all over the place, but thankfully no one is giving anything away, though many of the proper from other teams and the volunteers are baffled that I don’t want to know. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed, and I suddenly realise that Calvin was supposedly behind me but he didn’t pass me. Feck that must be a good sign that an 80 mph contender didn’t catch up with me!

 

The ride to the post-race briefing is tense, clearly the others want to talk about the results but I just chat about the ride. No doubt we stopped for one of the iced protein blended coffees on the way, so cool and refreshing they were; and healthy too, or so I claimed.

 

The team gathered in the community centre as the other teams, volunteers, and spectators drifted in. More congratulations come as we wait and I’m trying to be casual about it all but I’m really starting to wonder. Someone comes by and shows me a video of me going through the timing gates. It certainly looks cool, and this gent asks if I know my speed. Just as I say, “no and I don’t want to, not yet” he swipes to revel some text. He quickly pulls hit tablet away as I turn my head but I just catch a passing glimpse…

 

“Noooo, it can’t be true,” I think.

 

Now, now I’m desperate to hear the official results.

 

But it’s a long time coming; it feels like they are drawing it out as long as possible. Announcements are made about the race and policies, thanks are made, volunteers are arranged for tomorrow’s races and they finally get to the times….

 

Jennifer, in Velox8 from an earlier launch group has her speed called, but it’s not wind legal.

 

The next group had no runs. This does not bode well. It clearly been another windy day, and that can ruin everything. Now it the last launch group, my group…

 

Lieke in Velox8 is called. Wind legal. This is promising but don’t get your hopes up, anything can happen.

 

Ishtey in CO2 is called. Wind legal. Ahhh, this is looking good.

 

I glance over to the team and there’s nothing but smiles. We’re next…

 

Ken Talbot, in Arion4…

 

51.58 mph!… there’s muttering, a few quite cheers, everyone is glancing our way. We know that the next set of words is the most critical, the tension is palpable…

 

Nik Runner checks the anemometer at Battle Mountain
Wind speed check. Photo: Nik Runner

WIND LEGAL!!!

 

Immediately the room bursts into cheers, people are roaring, half the Liverpool engineers are crying. WE DID IT!! A new handcycling world speed record, 51.58 mph, and wind legal!

 

Ken Talbot celebrates breaking a workd record
51.58 MPH!! Photo: Michael Head

And the most amazing part of this is that everyone is excited when a record is broken, the competition isn’t so much about who does it, but that someone has done it. And I wasn’t the first this week. Ishtey Amminger broke a Junior record on Tuesday and Karen Darke absolutely smashed the women’s handcycle record on Wednesday morning. Each and every time the cheers and congratulations were just as powerful because that’s what we were all here for, to see the records fall. Here, I need to give a big thanks to Russell the rider from London Southbank University.  LSU had a few issues with their bike as it was damaged by the couriers. Russell had been generously been offered the chance to ride Milan SL while he waited for repairs on his bike. But on Wednesday morning, Russell had opted not to pick a launch place so that Liverpool could get a good one. Russell’s generosity and sacrifice allowed us to have the good fortune of getting on of the few low wind launches. Teamwork! The icing on the cake was the post-briefing congratulations from Mike Sova, my constant shadow in the chase car. The congratulations were honest and genuine, but I could see the disappointment as well, no one wants to have to step down, but his bike, Avis Arrow stood at number one for 7 years.

 

With today’s racing done it was time to pick launch slots for Thursday morning. As I was breaking down in tears of joy 10 minutes after my record was called, Karen has been coordinating with the team to try something with the race organisers. Once I recovered, Karen then asked I wouldn’t mind sacrificing my slot so the team could convince the officials to let her have a shot on the 5-mile course.

 

Knowing how well I did on the 5 mile course vs the 2.5 mile course and knowing the spirit of the races, I said, “Absolutely!”

 

Was I afraid that she might beat my speed? Yes I was, but that’s half the point of the WHPSC, break the records, no matter who has set them. And with that, I got to relax on Thursday.

 

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