Four States, Four Bikes, and One Yellow Travato – Chapter One

OK, I’m going to catch you up on what Stef and I have been doing with our cycling and with Lance, our Travato. Those of you who check out our Facebook page may have already seen pictures of some of this. And I’ll just tell you right now, this is going to get super long because I haven’t written a blog in a while, and there’s a lot to cover. So I’m going to cover it in four installments. And now:

Chapter 1: Utah and the USA Cycling Masters National Championships

Well it must be official. They have a truck.

Well it must be official. They have a truck.

The national governing body for cycling in the United States is USA Cycling. In addition to holding Olympic tryouts and sanctioning races with real cyclists, they also hold the national championships for people like me (complete amateurs). The championships move around, and this year, they were held close to home in Ogden, UT – a relative stone’s throw away. I was intrigued.

Now, for the most of you who know nothing about amateur cycling in the USA, the riders are divided into categories sort of based on ability and experience. Roughly speaking, the categories shake out something like this:

  • Category 5: I bought a bike yesterday! Let’s Race! I’ll crash into you!
  • Category 4: I’ve done this at least ten times. I won’t crash into you… probably.
  • Category 3: I have WAY too much free time to devote to training.
  • Category 2: Now that my wife and kids have left me, I can really concentrate on my training.
  • Category 1: I’m almost a pro. Don’t talk to me – I have to focus… I might win socks.


So, I’m a Cat 4. I have no intention of training enough to move up to Cat 3 because, well… I have a job and a wife and a website and I like other stuff besides just cycling.

But anyway, back to the National Championships. You have to be a Cat 3 or better to participate in them – with one exception: Time Trial. That’s the race where the riders go one at a time, racing against the clock with the funny helmets and the very specific bikes. If you do it in a wind tunnel, it looks something like this:

Yep, that’s me riding my bike in a wind tunnel. It was actually the worst hour I’ve ever spent on my bike. You ride as hard as you can. You go nowhere. And there’s a deafening, hot 30mph headwind the entire time. At the end of the hour, I learned, basically, not to change my helmet, and to raise my seat 2 millimeters.  (That’ll be $800, please.)

But back to Nationals. They’ll let ANYONE participate in the time trial championships, because if you do something stupid and crash, you’re just going to hurt yourself and not 80 other people. And, for some strange reason, time trials are the only races that I seem to have any aptitude for. So, even though I was going to be racing against anyone from Cat 3s to former professionals, I signed myself up.


I really do like riding Time Trials. And I totally blew by this guy seconds after this picture was taken. (That’s my old bike.)

But while I think I have some aptitude for time trials, USA Cycling doesn’t share my opinion. You see, when you sign up for a race, they have a “Race Predictor”. This is some algorithm that compares you against everyone else in the race, looks at your past results, and produces a predicted finishing order. The race predictor said I would finish:

Dead Last

This was both demoralizing and liberating at the same time. On the one hand, it felt like being picked last for dodge ball, and nobody likes that.  But on the other hand, if I coasted, picked wildflowers during the race, and came in dead last, I was actually “meeting expectations.” Or at least, that’s what I was telling myself going in to the race.  But we all know that I really wanted to finish better than dead last, right?

Antelope Island. Get it? (But really, this is Antelope Island)

Antelope. Island. Get it? (But really, this is Antelope Island!)

The race was held on Antelope Island, in the Great Salt Lake, which really is a cool place to race your bike as long as you’re not afraid of free range bison. (And now we know why Stef didn’t race.) Antelope Island is also a state park which has RV camping, so this was the perfect venue for Lance. Stef and I (and Lance) headed out to Antelope Island the night before so that I could get a good night’s sleep and not have to get up early to get to the start in time.

Can't complain about the campsite!

Can’t complain about the campsite!

That worked out perfectly.  We had a great night out on the island, and just rolled over to the start area in the morning. Since I was allegedly the worst rider in the race, I had to start first in my group. Normally, this is a disadvantage, but I was really looking forward to the start.  You see, one of the main reasons I wanted to do the race in the first place was so I could start down a ramp and through some barricades like they do in the Tour de France. While they did have the start house, the ramp, the barricades, and the electronic clock, they did NOT count down in French, which would have made my day complete. In fact, they insisted on not speaking French, even when I did.

Je voudrais une bouteille de votre meilleur vin.

Pardon. Madame, je voudrais une bouteille de votre meilleur vin.

I’m sure they were all glad when I left the start house.

Now, if you’ve never raced a time trial, imagine putting your lungs in a vise, and crushing them as much as you can stand. Then – even though you could stop at any time – convince yourself to stay like that for about an hour. That’s pretty much what it feels like, and the rest happens automatically. At least I think it must happen automatically, because I never remember any of it. Seriously.  I have to rely on my bike computer to tell me what happened after the fact. And according to that computer, fifty one minutes and eighteen seconds later, I was done.

Reinsert lungs.

Reinsert lungs.

Now, another one of the reasons I was interested in this race was because of the possibility that I might be randomly drug tested.  Maybe it’s weird, but getting the call out to head to “doping control” would have at least been a cool story.  But I didn’t get called, and when I saw the kind of hokey way they were doing it, I realized maybe it wouldn’t have been such a good story anyway.

This looks... uhhhh... professional.

This looks… uhhhh… professional.

Well anyway, my number wasn’t on the sign (or if it was, I couldn’t make it out).  So I rolled on back to Lance, cleaned up, and started working in our “mobile office” while we waited for the rest of my group to finish.  (Really, I worked and had coffee.) And when they did finish, we found out I HAD BEATEN FOUR PEOPLE! I WAS NOT DEAD LAST! And considering that the other riders had probably done things like “training”, I was pretty pleased with that. (It’s not that I don’t train, but I haven’t been doing the kind of serious, dedicated training it takes to be competitive at the national level in time trial.)

All in all, I’m calling the event a success, and I’m considering dragging Stef and Lance across the country to Winston-Salem so I can be “not last” again next year.

Then, a couple days after this event, we packed up Lance and headed East for a much longer adventure with a lot more bikes.  For that, you’ll have to read on to Chapter 2.

BTW, the Race Guide said NOTHING AT ALL on what to do about buffalo.

BTW, the Race Guide had NOTHING AT ALL to say on what to do about buffalo on the course.  You’re on your own!

James is a former rocket scientist, a USA Cycling certified coach, and lifelong fitness buff. When he's not driving the RV, or modifying the RV (or - that one time - doing both at once), you can find him racing bicycles, or building furniture, or making music. In his spare time, he's also an IT consultant.

    10 thoughts on “Four States, Four Bikes, and One Yellow Travato – Chapter One

      1. James - Post author

        I actually snapped pics of antelope, buffalo, and coyote from our campsite. We always like staying there.

    1. David Lee

      With that time, and the fact that you finished 5th from last, I’m assuming that it wasn’t the normal 40k distance. I went to the USCF Masters Nationals when they were in St. Louis, MO back in the early ’90’s, and raced the Masters Nationals Time Trial in the age group that included Kent Bostick. He won the 40k TT with a time of just over 50 minutes, and I barely broke one hour! I’m talking 59′ 50.” It is the race of truth, and boy, does it hurt!

      1. James - Post author

        It was a bit less than 40k. 34km, according to my Garmin.
        And over that distance, my average heart rate was 160bpm. You’re right… it hurts.

    2. Ted

      Ha, ha, I’m guessing that Stef measures you somewhere higher on the Category scale depending on: how early she got woken up before the race, if she had to run for ice, and if she managed to grab her Starbucks fix before driving as chase.

      I suspect that the cycling authorities might be tepid on testing since who knows what they’d find in a group willing to crush their lungs for an hour while struggling against a hot blow dryer just to win a pair of socks.

      Could be worse…. maybe someday folks will be riding these “Bird of Prey” bikes for time trials.

      1. Stefany

        Plus Ted you can add to that list another measurement: how well I tolerated James’ pre-race fussiness, and whether or not I wanted to kick his butt out of the RV until after the event…


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