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.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Getting hard core in the off season

Your body changes a bit in the off season

I’ve been back in Australia and my office desk for a bit over a month, and after some quality time away from my bici we have patched up our differences and are back together. So apologies for the blogging drought – I’ve been off doing other things.

Some of those things include getting settled in at the VIS. In the last 3 weeks I’ve seen their doctor, physio, strength & conditioning coach, physiologist, masseur and nutritionist. It’s nice to have the luxury of having some breathing space now before the next race target, which is nationals in early January. It means I can really get back to basics and iron out all those niggles I’ve been keeping under control during race season. Despite what the ID man at Liquorland says, I am getting OLD. And with the Melbourne weather being as charming as a slap in the face from a polar bear, now is a good time to get into the gym.

One of my favourite core strength activities is pilates. I was introduced to it last year when I got injured for 6 months. I had a very frustrating year in 2009 – I had some blinding form, and then I got injured for pretty much the entire racing season. All my mates were overseas doing amazing things and I was stuck at home feeling sorry for myself. Getting injured for that long is a real headcrack and there were 2 people in particular who really helped me through it. The first was Andrew Wynd, who now heads up Balwyn Sports & Physio Centre in Balwyn. The amount of time he put into my rehab was incredible. Wyndy has spent his fair share of time as an elite athlete himself and is now keeping busy managing everyone else's injuries at his clinic. If you have a sports injury, I really recommend giving him a shout.

The second was Marcus Speed at Perfect Pilates in Brunswick. Everyone has their favourites, but I think he is the best pilates instructor in Melbourne. It helps that he's a cyclist too! Marcus used to take the pilates classes at my old work gym and, when I couldn't do anything else except rehab exercises, twice a week I'd rock up to his classes. I started off pretty crap and inflexible, but slowly got better, and my pilates classes became the highlight of my week. Marcus went out of his way to give me help and encouragement and it really helped get me through a very difficult period of injury, mentally and physically. It's also improved my core stability no end, which is a big thing for a bike rider. I now count pilates as an essential building block for my training. When I went to Europe I missed it so much that I had to put in an emergency call to Marcus, who sent me a heap of 'pilates homework' to keep me going. Now that's service! Marcus has just invited me to be part of the Perfect Pilates family and this week I've been to a couple of his classes. If you want a good hard workout, try his Thursday 5:30pm sessions - if you can do all the exercises I'll send you a free St Mel Ride Happy t-shirt!

I’d like to say all this gym and core work is for self-fulfilment, but to be honest I’m motivated by a deep-rooted fear that I won’t be able to hold Jo Hogan’s wheel at our next training session. Man, she is GOING! I’m really looking forward to racing as a team with her and the other VIS chicks, Kendelle Hodges, Steph Hansen and Bridie O’Donnell. They are a top bunch of girls. We haven’t all been in the same place at the same time yet so I can’t wait to get out and have some good hard racing together.

Till then, ride happy


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Eur-wrap Up: Part I - The Local Rider

It's been a couple of weeks since the Giro and the end of my first season of racing in Europe. There wasn't much time to unwind afterwards and within a couple of days of finishing the Giro I was back in the office in Melbourne, squirming in my powersuit and trying to remember how to put on make up. It's good to be back, and once I stop feeling like a steamroller has run over me, stalled, and then backed up for good measure, I'm sure I'll be itching to race again. But right now I'm still pinching myself that I was over there at all, and struggling to believe that it wasn't all a crazy, fun, exhausting dream.

I promised I'd write a wrap up of Europe and here it is. Or maybe we can call this Part I, because there are so many stories to tell that I can't fit them all here... and judging from my boyfriend's reaction to my 3-hour monologue, some of my stories aren't as exciting as I think they are. So maybe small installments is the way to go.

I've been meaning for a while now to share with you my story of the Local Rider. This makes me giggle just thinking about it, in the same way that you giggle when you remember the time when you walked out of that restaurant with toilet paper trailing out of your trousers.

During the Giro, there were a number of jerseys awarded - leader's jersey, mountains classification, sprinters' classification, young rider etc. Especially towards the start of the tour, I still couldn't recognise most of the famous riders, so the jerseys were quite useful in helping me know, for example, which one Marianne Vos was. But it was fair to say that I still had some trouble knowing some of the riders apart. So anyway, there we were in the middle of stage 2, and this GIANT of a rider comes near me in the peleton, wearing a hideous bright purple jersey. She's giggling, bumping into people, apologising, giggling again, and generally looking like a walrus in the pack. So I was looking at this rider, and the jersey, and trying to work out which team she was from. The jersey was pretty plain - just horrible and magenta, with 'Safi-Pasta' written on it. It reminded me of some of the jerseys I wore in my early cycling days, when I was too poor to buy a team replica jersey, and too crap to get a sponsored one. The knicks gave me no clue either, as they were just black with no team logos. They reminded me of the generic knicks they gave out in the Tour of New Zealand a couple of years ago to riders in composite teams.

Then I realised. This wasn't a team rider at all. This was a local rider, whom the organisers had allowed to ride in the Giro as a gesture of goodwill to the people of Italy. It had to be. How nice, I thought. Here is a local rider, doing her best to fit in maybe a ride a week down to the shops, whose dream it was to race in a big race but who would probably never have had the opportunity or talent to do it. And sure, she can't ride - I mean, there she was, bumping into people, knocking handlebars, laughing - but good on her for having a go. She is probably having the time of her life. I made a mental note not to go near her, and spent the rest of the stage thinking kind thoughts about the generous spirit of the race directors.

It wasn't until after the stage, when we were in the team car heading to the next hotel, when we started talking about some of the riders and the jerseys they were wearing. There was Ina Teutenberg in the leader's jersey, some chick in the mountains jersey (sorry, no disrespect intended, I just can't remember who you are), Marianne Vos in the young rider jersey, Kirsten Wild in the sprinters jersey.... Hang on, I said. Bronzini was in the Sprint Queen jersey. I saw her. It was blue.

Oh no, the girls said, Bronzini was in the blue jersey for the highest-placed Italian rider. The Sprint Queen was that awful purple jersey. Kirsten Wild was in it. You know, rides for Cervelo. One of the best sprinters in the world. Black knicks, bright purple jersey. Unbelievable rider. Coming second in the world cup standings. But boy, that's an ugly jersey.*

*PS - Congrats to Local Rider for winning the latest world cup in Sweden last week.