Friday, August 27, 2010

Eur-wrap up Part II: The skinsuit

If you thought time trialling was hard… try fitting into this!

Congratulations to Vicki Whitelaw for winning the time trial on stage 3 of the Trophee d’Or in France. Vicki’s win has inspired me to reflect upon time trials a bit more.

It takes a very special type of person to be a good time trialist. Apart from the power and the engine, you need a capacity to hurt yourself like nothing else. This takes a very special type of personality. Without going into specifics, it’s fair to say that if Australia were called into an Armageddon-style war, I’d want to have the time trialists in my battalion. I would put them in the front line and just when my men were floundering I’d yell, ‘Oi! HTFU* soldiers! You think this war is hard, try bleeding from your eyeballs as you push 400w for an hour!’ Then I would send in my time trialists and they would crush everyone and stop only for gels or to recharge their SRMs.

But now I have a whole new reason to respect time trialists: the skinsuits.

During the Giro we were kitted out in the latest Aussie team skinsuits. Technically, these things are at the cutting edge. They are the same as those which the track riders use and have different material for the sleeves, chest and legs depending on which bits need to be more aero. They are also TOITE. Tight is aero, you see. Very tight is very aero. By that logic, the aero factor of the Aussie skinsuits is off the frickin planet.

We were issued with our skinsuits at the beginning of the tour and I didn’t really feel the need to take mine out of its packaging before the time trial on stage 3. The night before the time trial, my roomie Kirsty Broun and I decided that a fashion parade was in order and we got kitted up, just to make sure everything was ok. Can you sense danger? I couldn’t.

The first warning I got was when I had trouble getting my suit on OVER MY CALF. That’s right, the bit that was meant to be snug around my quads was feeling pretty tight and I hadn’t even got it past my knee. Oh boy. It took a great deal of wriggling (picture a fish flapping around on the ground) to get the suit up to my waist, then over my shoulders. Getting the suit over my shoulders involved popping each of my shoulders out of its socket, rotating it outwards and jamming it into a sleeve the size of a baby’s sock. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating… but only about the popping bit. FINALLY, I got the suit on. Only problem was, the length of fabric that had been allowed for the torso was insufficient for my (apparently) Amazonian proportions by about 20cm. Instead of standing up properly, I had to hunch over like a gargoyle, my arms dangling in front of me like a T-Rex’s. Any more upright and I ran a very real risk of ripping the fabric in two.

I held out hope that I had been given Tiff Cromwell’s skinsuit by mistake, and that she was in her room floundering around in a much bigger skinsuit meant for me. But no. This is, apparently, how they’re meant to be. You’re not standing up straight on a bike, so the suit is designed to be skintight WHILE YOU ARE BENDING OVER. It gave me a startlingly accurate insight into what life will be like when I’m old and hunched over. When that happens, though, I don’t plan to wear a one-piece corset made of lycra.

Getting the skinsuit on pre-time trial the next day was a two-person job. I had to schedule in a booking with our soigneur Beth to lever me into the top half of my suit. It was also the first time I had to allocate a good 10 minutes of my time-trial warmup just to getting dressed. Did I go fast? Yes I did. Did I feel aero? Yes indeed. Will I ever, ever, fit into that suit again without the help of the indefatigable Beth? Probably not.

 *HTFU is an acronym you may already know. H is for Harden and U is for Up. I will leave the rest to you. Incidentally, you will notice that in this war I have appointed myself to the position of general or commander-in-chief. My mum says I would be good in this role because I enjoy telling people what to do and I quite like the colour green, although not so much camouflage green. If I could change our armed forces’ colours to more of a froggy green I would probably consider the role more seriously.

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