Its Really Not About the Bike

Phyl Newbeck
Posted May 21st, 2010

It had been a few years since I attempted a time trial and those attempts had been half-hearted, at best. But now, I was serious. Well, almost serious. I knew I couldn’t keep up with the big dogs, but I had a new bicycle which was more suitable for racing and I thought I’d give it another try.
For over two decades, the Green Mountain Bicycle Club has been running a weekly Time Trial Series. Cyclists race against the clock, starting sequentially at one minute intervals. The races take place every Thursday night, from mid April until early September, with riders convening at set locations in northern Vermont to test their limits. Many are veterans who spend their pre-race time discussing their personal bests on the course they are about to ride, but there are always new riders who are just discovering the thrill of competing against the clock.
I’ve been involved with the GMBC’s day touring section for several years but I am most definitively not a racer. However, in 2009 I abandoned my fifteen year-old steel frame Bottecchia for a lighter, carbon fiber Pinarello (yes, I’m an Italian bike snob). Kevin Bessett, the GMBC President who has been running the Time Trial Series for the last fifteen years predicted the new bike would bring out the racer in me. I had my doubts. I’ve got some bad cycling habits, including popping out of the saddle at the slightest incline, pushing too high a gear, and virtually never riding in the drops. A year of touring on the new bike had not diminished those tendencies.
I should have taken the hint when a foot and a half of snow scuttled plans for a mellow race route close to home, but I decided to head down to Charlotte for the more popular South Greenbush course. South Greenbush is one of the three routes which make up the championship series; the basis for the club’s annual time trial awards. I knew I wasn’t going to beat the women’s record of 20:17, but I was hoping to beat my previous time on the course, a less than stellar 26:10 on a night when the only two riders I’d beaten had yet to enter their teenage years. The South Greenbush route isn’t terribly demanding; it’s relatively short (8.34 miles) and relatively flat, although truth be told, I’m probably better suited to a hilly course that relies on muscle than a flatter one which relies on my non-existent finesse. It was raining when I left my house and I really began to question my sanity, but when I arrived in Charlotte, the clouds were parting.
I didn’t exactly train for the race. Several years ago I bought a wind trainer which, after a sum total of two lackluster ten minute workouts, had been sold to a more disciplined cyclist. The thought of cycling indoors just isn’t that appealing, which also explains why I’ve never attended a spin class. Since I’m partial to winter sports, the early season found me dashing off to the mountain for one last run, rather than lubing my gears and going out for a spin. When the evening of the time trial rolled around I had less than 300 miles under my belt; a combination of touring and “utility” rides. At no time had I really pushed myself. My ex-husband used to say that I didn’t like to go much past sweat. I hate to admit it, but he wasn’t entirely wrong.
So there I was on a cool and windy May evening in Charlotte with my beautiful Italian bike and my heart pounding. I picked an early start time to avoid what I’d seen on the radar loop; fourth out of 49 riders, even though I realized that this would increase the number of racers passing me. The riders with time trial helmets, aerobars, and disc wheels were a bit daunting. I knew I wasn’t in their league, but I thought there was a chance I might not finish last. I watched the others do interval training and other prep work but, afraid to tire myself out before the race, I merely meandered back and forth along the road, a slight improvement from a time trial several years ago when I was too busy doing the New York Times crossword puzzle to even warm up properly.
I tried to focus as I pedaled south, but pretty soon my mind started wandering. Hmm, didn’t I see solar panels on this road the other day? Where were they? Was that my stomach growling? Perhaps I should have had some pasta before leaving instead of a cinnamon pastry? And did I remember to close the window? It sure looked like it was going to rain again. Somehow I managed to think about everything other than the task at hand which was not having a finish befitting the snail socks I had chosen to wear for the occasion. Periodically I reminded myself that this was a race and I had better buckle down, but I noticed my speedometer dipping below 20 mph when it really shouldn’t have.
Things only got worse when I reached the turnaround point and headed back into the wind. On a touring ride I usually find some tall person to draft behind; something which is strictly forbidden in time trials. I had managed to complete the first half of the course without being passed, but that began to change and by the time the finish line was in sight five riders had overtaken me. The last stretch, a slight incline into the wind, was sheer torture but I hollered out my number as I passed the timers. 27:53 was my time; not last place, but second to last. Worse than on my steel frame bike by over a minute. In my defense, almost half of the regular racers were slower than their 2009 times, probably due to the wind.
My Pinarello is a beautiful bike; light and fitted perfectly to my frame. But the truth is, it’s really not about the bike and in this case, the rider just isn’t a racer.
For more information on the GMBC time trial series see
Phyl Newbeck lives in Jericho with her partner Bryan (he rides a Trek) and two cats. In spite of her poor finish, she is hopelessly in love with her new Pinarello. Nevertheless, she’ll stick to recreational riding in the future. Phyl is the author of “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving.”


Phyl Newbeck

Phyl Newbeck lives in Jericho with two spoiled orange cats. She is a skier, skater, cyclist, kayaker, and lover of virtually any sport which does not involve motors. She is the author of “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving.”