Today was the Columbia Triathlon, a notorious and uber-brutal early season race run just north of DC. The race has a massive international following, draws a great pro field, and is a must-race for a large share of the local talent. An imperfect but telling comparison: with a middling performance last year in the Nation's Triathlon, perennially the largest one-day triathlon in the country, I was 6th in the usually competitive 35-39 age group. Today in Columbia, with what I would assess as a much stronger (if not as fast) race, I was 17th in what is normally a less competitive 40-44 age group. 141st overall.
I won't bore our hordes of readers with more about triathlon. Let's talk cycling. I'm a second- to third-rate talent in a triathlon bike leg. Last year in Columbia the just slightly more than 40K bike leg took me somewhere in the range of 1:14-1:15. (The exact split is unknowable because the reported bike split -- 1:16:54 -- includes the time I took in the first transition, due to a timing error.) This year was cooler, but also wet and slick. I got off the bike after 1:08:56, just shy of 22 mph for the course. Here is data on my bike leg.
What changed? I'm probably a little fitter, with more miles, more hills (spring break alone was 425 miles worth!), and more high pressure work indoors on the trainer, than last year. That's part of it.
I have a revamped ride. In Boulder last summer, embarrassed to be the only person in town with a metal bicycle, I bought an updated carbon P2 frameset, had it built with components from the old P2SL, and made some other tweaks. Included are shorter crank arms and cool 52-36 gearing. New off-brand carbon wheels as well.
I'm riding what Jan Heine reports are the single best production tires, the Vittoria Open Corsa CX clinchers, and running a lower pressure per the recommendations in Bicycle Quarterly.
All that taken together may make a difference. I doubt it, though. The big difference was chucking any concerns about feeling good on the run and keeping the pressure up both up and down the hills. By the last few miles I was praying for the end, whether that meant reaching transition or flatting so I could bow out honorably. The result was a very rare (for me) bike leg that was more competitive than my overall result.
I would still love to do a semi scientific experiment testing various types of equipment changes. Wheels, tires, aero bars, position, etc...
Congratulations on the result, both the bike leg and overall.
I think the technical improvements you made might be good for up to a minute, but it's also true that this course (hilly and technical, especially in the rain) rewards aerodynamics less than almost any other. I think the bottom line is that you decided to ride hard. You now have some idea of what all of my races feel like. I've sometimes wondered whether I should be holding back more to save something for the run, but I haven't noticed that, when holding back, my running is enough faster to offset the slower bike. The bottom line is that riding to the extent of one's ability in an Oly hurts an awful lot, and it's hard to think of anything more than how nice it'll be when one can stop.
Re: testing. Agreed, but I fear the differences cannot possibly outdo the noise except over a huge number of iterations. Imagine wheels: apart even from weather differences (which can be minimized by conducting the tests in a short period of time) you have differences in bearings, tires, tubes, and rider position, and I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Those could easily outdo the (hypothetical) 5% benefit from an aero wheel.
Of course, demonstrating that would be a valuable thing as well.
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