This event was graciously supported by Tailwind Cyclists of Pittsburg, Kansas. You can visit their website HERE.
As race seasons have progressed, it always seems that time trial races (or races that include time-trial-like legs, such as a triathlon or duathlon) get longer, expanding out to 40 kilometers, until finally contracting back to the standard 10km for Octoginta in October. This year, though the former 40km crescendo still remains in Des Moines in September at the Hy-Vee Triathlon, another 40km effort has emerged -- one that I had hoped to target over the last two years, but never did. Finally, for the first time, I would be attending the Kansas Time Trial Championships in Walnut, Kansas.
Previously just the Walnut Time Trials, this race has in the last few years become the state-wide championships, and has most recently usually -- including this year -- been held in mid-June. I signed up immediately following the Jesse Blancarte Time Trials via USA Cycling's registration portal. I was fresh off a solid 11 points earned, hoping to grab even more individual and team points in the KBAR/KBAT standings. This would also serve as a great check-in on my middle-distance time trialing skills ahead of late-August's Hy-Vee Triathlon, not to mention the Prairie Punisher Duathlon in just five weeks (5k run, 30k bike, 5k run). With a heavy cycling schedule ahead, followed quickly by a busy multisport season, it was time to hunker down [in to aero position].
With registration out of the way and "packet pick-up" on race day (I've never done a bike race that had packet pick-up ahead of time), it was time to map out and analyze the race route.
The start and finish would take place in Walnut, Kansas, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburg, Kansas, home for Tailwind Cyclists (our event host). Walnut itself is small, a town occupying just one square mile of land along Kansas Highway 146 in Crawford County. Towns like these are the perfect backdrop for time trials and road races: wide state highway roads with very little traffic and beautiful open horizons.
The route itself would start in "downtown" Walnut at the intersection of KS-146 and Maple. The course runs straight east until the highway turns south, becoming state highway 3. At 12.43 miles (20k), and just short of intersecting with KS-47, the course turns around and heads back to Walnut the way it came. Getting lost on the route would certainly be impressive.
The elevation profile is about what Kansans would expect for Kansas open country lands (and likely what most outsiders wouldn't expect): frequent undulations. The course is mostly uphill for the first 10 miles before diving down 2 miles and change to the turnaround, then uphill until 10 miles go, and a net downhill back in to Walnut. Though there are no official significant climbs, many mini-climbs adorn the first and last 10 miles of the overall course. Those climbs, along with the distance, should present enough of a challenge. The overall climbing on the course would equal just over 700ft along the 24.86 miles.
Then there's the potential for weather. What Kansas may lack in overall elevation change compared to other areas of the nation, it makes up for in weather. Forecast a week before for 84 and sunny, many things can change. In wide open country such as this, along with the arrow-straight nature of the course, wind is likely to be the biggest factor. Winds as little as 10mph from any direction will provide challenge, as participants will hit every point on the compass at least once during the route, each at equal distance. How hard and at what distance the wind is blowing will have to be very closely monitored.
The weather would end up providing a bit of a challenge. Winds out of the south at 10-15mph with gusts as strong as 25 would essentially cut the course in to four equal parts: The eastern trek would have a stiff crosswind and just a touch of headwind; just beyond the 10k mark, the route turns south straight in to a nasty headwind, along with some of the more difficult ascents of the entire route; the large relief would come after the turnaround; even the final 10k would be a great opportunity to push, though still with the stiff crosswinds.
Arriving at 8:45, I noted all of the extra-aero frames, tailed time trial helmets and full disk rear wheels -- gear extras I'm always jealous of at time trials and triathlons. Arriving from a short warmup and getting a taste of the route conditions, I was less jealous. Trying to keep a bike upright with a full disk rear wheel surely would require a fair amount of extra effort. A tailed time trial helmet would shove in a crosswind, and limit any ability to turn your head once in a headwind. Even the extra-aero bikes would definitely be tough to fight against today with nasty crosswinds. With my semi-aero road frame, semi-aero road wheels and tail-less aero road helmet, I had a near-ideal setup, it seemed.
Five minutes before my start time, I slid in to the starting house ready to go. It wasn't long before I was off. I sprinted quickly to a pace I felt I could hold for the short haul east to the turn southward in to the wind. My legs felt fresh and comfortable through the first 10k. I had a great aero position on the bike I felt like I could hold for hours (save for the saddle that was not meant for aero positioning - I need to rid myself of that thing). The crosswinds pushed and pulled the bike, but I felt in full control.
Then, like a steel wall, the turn south. My average speeds went from 22 to 17 in a matter of seconds. This would be a painfully long six miles. My legs started to burn. I made sure to get as low on the bike as possible and just hold out for as long as I could; the turnaround would offer me wonderful respite from the conditions on the road. I felt the need to reach out of the saddle on each small ascent, but any standing on the bike was short-lived, as even the slightest of added surface area to the wind added to the workload exponentially. I started counting the miles off: 8...9...10... only 2 to go. 11...12... and the turnaround was just up ahead.
Given the two-way highway, the turnaround was only manageable at single-digit speeds. But with wind at my back just after the apex, I was quickly up to speed back north. 25, 26...30mph speeds on flat roads. The turn west came in what seemed a matter of seconds, and even then, I had an oh-so-slight wind at my back, the rest of them crosswinds. I was faster on the final 10k than the first 10k, which made my bike dance around in the crosswinds even more. Still in control, "Walnut City Limits" read just ahead of me, 2 miles to go. 1 mile to go... 200 meters, I launched out of the saddle and sprinted across the line. 1:07:14. 22.2mph average speeds. Even with impressive Hy-Vee Triathlon bike legs on my résumé, this 40k effort would be a personal best.
The wait began for placing, knowing very well the massive competition in my category. Once all had crossed the finish line -- after about an additional hour and change's wait -- the results went up. 10th, just after halfway down on the 15 in my category. That was good enough for 12 points in the KBAR/KBAT standings (being a championship, riders earn double the points, meaning I earned double what would normally be 6 points for 10th place). No, I hadn't earned a podium spot. No I hadn't earned a cash-out spot. But I earned points and a PR to boot. With several time trial efforts in the form of duathlons and triathlons scheduled for July and August (not to mention next week's Tour of KC criterium), I was happy with my result.
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