The French call it "the race of truth." It's the time
trial: each rider alone against the clock. No drafting, no team
tactics, no pack maneuvers.
In a race, the time to beat is the one clocked by the speediest rider. In training or just for fun, cyclists use time trials to gauge their performance against previous rides, competing only against themselves.
There are about a dozen weekly, bimonthly or monthly time trials around New England. In Central Massachusetts, Tuesdays are road TT nights (see list).
Time trials attract a variety of cyclists -- racers, triathletes, recreational riders -- for a variety of reasons.
"It's your only chance to really push yourself as hard as you can for half an hour. Even if you try doing it alone, most people don't really have the discipline to push hard the whole time," said Ed Kross of Framingham, an ultramarathon rider training for his third Race Across America.
The short effort of a weekly time trial can help a rider gain strength over time, Kross said, in the same way as interval training -- brief periods of all-out effort alternating with periods at lower intensity. With no packs or field sprints, TTs are also the safest form of racing, points out Karol Zielonko of Needham, timer for a monthly time trial in Dover.
Kross helps run the North East Bike Club's Wednesday night TT in Boxford, a 13.1-mile event that typically draws 10 riders each week. Mark Hagen (CCB) of Natick set the course record of 28:41 last year.
TT record keepers say riders who keep trying reap rewards. "Virtually everyone's going faster and faster by the end of the summer," said Kross, whose best time on the Boxford course was 29:49, last year.
Mark Dionne, 47, of Newton, said he does the Dover TT for fitness. "I don't have the time to get seriously into racing, but I want to be in good enough shape that I could race if I wanted to," he said.
"I do it for fun. I'm not fast enough to collect trophies or anything," said 37-year-old Karl Frantz of Sterling, a recreational rider with the Seven Hills Wheelmen who tried the 10.2-mile TT in West Boylston half a dozen times last year and just managed to break the 30-minute mark. Last Tuesday, he shaved 2:01 off his previous time of 33:44, recorded five weeks earlier.
Stacy Hess, 31, of Grafton, a multisport competitor with Central Mass Striders, was also at the West Boylston TT for the second time this season. Like most riders, she blamed spotty attendance mostly on this spring's choppy weather. "I'm just looking to add something to my training," she said. "It's a good intense workout. I definitely would not go as hard on my own."
The West Boylston event is the area's largest TT, with up to 45 riders a night last year, according to organizer Ric Buxton, owner of Wachusett Cycle & Multisport. The course is relatively flat, with just a few right turns: Route 12 at Wachusett Reservoir to Route 140 north, Route 62, Greenland Road and Route 12 again.
Riders line up single file at the start and get the countdown to "Go!" at 30-second intervals. "It brings out the competitiveness in you, because you don't want to get caught by the person behind you," said Hess, who clocked a 30:52 in her first effort. When timer Peg Buxton reported her result last week, Hess reacted happily to the time she'd trimmed: "Woo hoo! Twelve seconds! It felt like I was going harder."
Mike Josephson, 33, of Clinton, an accomplished duathlete and cross-country ski racer, set the men's amateur course record in West Boylston last year, at 22:20. "Your time's only relevant to you, and you do it only for you," he said. "I just ride how I feel." Last week he came in at 24:14, fastest of the 28 riders. Later in the season, he said, he'll start doing the Gardner TT, which is longer and hillier.
Josephson was riding a sleek red carbon-fiber suspension beam Zipp 2001, but not everyone is given to superaerodynamic equipment. Mark Reid of the Minuteman Road Club distributes the West Boylston results by e-mail, and he keeps track separately of "non-aero" times, clocked by riders who do not have the handlebar attachments for an extra low, tucked-in position.
Rebecca Cooke (Minuteman Road Club) of Boylston broke the women's non-aero course record last week in West Boylston, with a time of 28:05. In the 7.7-mile Dover TT, Wendy Dehart of Thompson set the women's course record at 19:52 on May 7 without aero bars.
The youngest at West Boylston was 14-year-old John van Skyhawk of West Boylston, who was trying out the new suspension fork on his mountain bike last week. Knobby tires and all, he hit 31:48, only a minute off his best road bike time. He said he enjoys the TT because "I like the people that come."
Triathlon promoter Bill Fiske, 56, of Marlboro came out last week "just to force me to ride. I'm hoping to do a race later in the summer." He was the oldest and the slowest, at 34:33, but didn't seem unhappiest.
Charlie Schnare, 53, said he does the TT "to see how fit I am. This is the only thing that tells me." At 25:52 last week, 52 seconds off his best time from two years ago, Schnare was not disappointed, considering the wind. He does no other racing, but logs plenty of miles on his bike commute from Townsend to Shrewsbury.
Mike Brown, 38, of Worcester, said riding the Sturbridge TT regularly last year helped him advance from beginner-level racing to a Category 4 spot on the Haverhill-based team BOB. Other riders are willing to share pointers, and timer Nick Sotar offers constructive critiques, he said. "If you want it, the help is there," said Brown, who is hoping to beat his personal best of 23:38 on the 9.5-mile course.
The Sturbridge event attracts 5 to 15 people a week, and times range from about 22 minutes to more than 30 minutes, according to Sotar. At the 30-minute end, "it's not that they're not serious cyclists; that's the best of their ability," Sotar said. "I've got to say, everybody tries. I like that."
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