Giant Tour TT: PEZ Vs The Truth
The ITT at the GIANT TOUR was unbelievable. As part of the Giant Bicycles international media team, we were treated to the full “pretend you’re a pro” experience: riding Giant’s pro race bikes in a mountain stage, a fast flat stage, and yes – a full-blown TT stage on T-Mobile’s time machines.
• The course route – 31km travelling west to east, and into a massive headwind. Instead of enjoying the aero-benefits of a tt bike, I ended up slogging away in cellar gears the curtailed a full-speed experience. Yes, it was the wind.
The coolest part of the Giant Tour is that regular Joe’s can sign up to ride a stage race, on closed roads – the same routes used by the DeutschTour – with police escorts, electronic timing, hot showers, hot food, roadside fans, and the feel of what it’s like to be a real pro racer. The stages run on the second half of each day’s DeutschTour route, and if you’re too slow – there’s a broom wagon to sweep you up.
How cool is this: the Giant Media team’s pits were set up right in front of the start house. From left: Taufig Khalil, Enguerrand Lebec, Pez, Ben Atkins, and Tom Davies.
The Giant Tour attracted about 300 riders this year – mostly very fit riders – who were pretty serious about hammering each stage. This ain’t no Sunday cruise – it’s a fast paced pain-fest. And that’s what makes it really cool.
Of the 7 stages of the Giant Tour, we rode the last 3, and the penultimate day was a full-blown Time Trial.
The guys from Giant are no dummies when it comes to wisely spent marketing bucks – they simply invited a bunch of us journos to be their guests, ride their bikes and hopefully tell our readers good things. I’m no stranger to self promotion, but I can tell you even without the special treatment and perks we got, this is truly a cool event – likely the only one of its kind.
”My” bike: the Giant TT machine – same as T-Mobile raced in Le Tour ‘04.
Riding The Pro Course
We rode the full TT course – exactly the same as the pros would later that day. When we arrived at the start, our bikes were already lined up on trainers behind the barriers right beside the start house, so the first thing we did was hop on for a good half-hour warm-up, feeling rather important as the barriers soon filled with fans watching us and probably wondering who the hell we were. So that’s what it feels like when the pros warm up…
Our 8 man team was split into two groups – the first 4 starters and the last four starters of the Giant Tour riders. Naturally Abraham Olano was the anchor man, while I was in the first group – following our Frenchman Enguerrand out as the first 2 riders on the course.
• About 2 minutes before we start I ask Olano for any last minute TT advice. This was my first TT in years, and first one on a full TT bike. In Italian, he tells me to go easy for the first 5km, flicking his fingers to indicate a high cadence…
• … Then he says, once you’re warmed up, put it into the big gears and hammer like you usually do. Hmm… that sounds fine – but what exactly do you mean by “big gears”?
I step to the start house and an official grabs my bike a carries it up onto the stage – well thank you very much – at least now I can concentrate on climbing the few stairs in my cycling shoes without worry of stumbling ass over tea-kettle with one very expensive bike.
I follow Enguerrand onto the stage and watch as another official holds his bike in place atop the ramp, while he climbs on and looks at the clock. It’s full on ProTour stuff as the huge electronic timer displays the time, while another counts down the seconds to our start times.
The stage is cramped with other officials, and an announcer talking non-stop to the German crowd that’s gathered to watch us. I kid you not – there was an actual crowd – even though we were teeing off at 11:00AM, and the pros didn’t start until 1:30ish. I notice the German’s put their superior sound systems to good use – cranking the speakers to 11 while still delivering un-distorted race commentary over top of and endless beat of Euro-Pop-Disco-Trash.
3-2-1 Go Enguerrand! Hammer Hammerrrrrrrr!!!!
If I can just get down this bloody ramp, I’ll be fine.
My 20 second man rolls down the ramp as the first rider on course. I quickly roll my bike into position, making sure I mount it from the right, as the guy holding the bike is on the left. I’m amazingly focused only on getting clicked in and set up before my 20 seconds is up. Both feet snap into place and I look up to see my countdown…
5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – (start moving…) – 1 … I’m OFF!
“Go Richard!!!” I hear Tom Davies’ (our host from Giant) voice boom above the splattered applause from unknowing fans who probably think I’m someone important…
I descend the start ramp without incident. This spurs my confidence and I stay out of the saddle for a good 100 meters rolling Olano’s recommended gear up to speed. By the end of the 200 meter start straight I’m bloody flying – completely overtaken by the adrenaline of the situation. There are still groups of riders pre-riding the course, so I have to yell and take some care to pass them.
If you’re smiling, you’re not working hard enough.
The first part of the course goes south, and winds over & under some on-ramps that circle us around to eventually spit us onto a long bridge to cross the river and turn east. I’m working hard to slow my heart rate and calm down – I expect this to take me somewhere close to an hour, but have no real idea what the effort will feel like.
I’m glad that at least I’m comfortable on the bike (legs and lungs notwithstanding) – I’m able to stay tucked and my upper body weight rests nicely on my arms.
Climbing the slight incline of the on ramp to the bridge, my legs shoot me painful reminders of yesterday’s 3-1/2 hour 3-climb grunt through the Black Forest Mountains. Time to forget about heroics and think survival, as I downshift from the big ring and find a gear I can almost spin.
Onto the bridge I see Enguerrand in the far distance – even a few hundred meters away he looks sleek and fast. This is the last time I’ll see him until the finish.
I think I’ve got the hang of it.
I manage to get my heart rate and breathing under control, only to be overtaken by the guy who started 20 seconds behind me… blasted Germans! He’s fast and turning a much bigger gear than me, although at a much lower cadence.
Pretty soon our camera crew pull up beside me to shoot some film. If you’re smiling, you’re not working hard enough, but I can’t contain myself and break an idiot grin as they roll alongside. I don’t see any race refs around so I pull in close to find some shelter from the wind.
“How you feeling?” they ask.
“Good…” I sputter. For a guy who’s in a lot of pain.
Abraham Olano gets that old familiar feeling.
After much unending grinding into the wind, I cross under the 20km to go banner. It’s taken me around 18 minutes. Okay, a benchmark. Now, will that be my fastest split, or slowest…?
After crossing another long overpass – where the wind is at its worst – I see ahead the first town. The roads so far have been barren, industrial routes that criss-cross the region, and I welcome the town’s buildings to shelter me from the wind.
The fan support was very cool – and given to all riders – not just World Champs.
Entering the town of Heddesheim (see “Town” on map above) is an altogether unreal experience. Fans line the roads, sitting under umbrellas and eating picnics. Banners hang across the road and decorate store fronts. I’ve seen this scenario on tv before, even driven my car through it a couple of times, but never have I been the two-wheeled object of attention and admiration that I am at this moment. Fans are pointing, clapping cheering – all for me!!!
Adrenaline shots? Make mine a double! I notch it up a gear. Hell, I’m feeling rejuvenated and shift back into the big ring. I rail through a 90 degree left hander and fly along a cobbled street. More fans hang off their balconies clapping and yelling. I can’t help myself – I yell back and wave – which inspires a trebling of this two-wheel induced cacophony.
Damn this is fun. But I’m through the town in less than km, and soon turn hard right back into the wind. I chance a look back over my shoulder to see if Taufig is gaining. He just arrived on the Tour last night and we haven’t ridden together yet. He’s got a big friendly personality, but as an ex-NFL player, he’s a big guy who loves to compete. I’m sure he wants me for breakfast.
Tom Davies of Giant Europe uses his big engine to overtake a rather surprised rider.
But I don’t see him. Phew. I get back to the business of recovering from my ill-timed display of speed through the town. I down-shift like going down stairs. Please wind, please stop….
I cross under the 10km to banner – I’m on 36 minutes – my speed is holding steady.
Then I see it – the climb we’ve been warned about is dead ahead. At first I think I’m just going across another on ramp, but as I cross over some railway tracks I see the rise extends out for a few hundred meters. Now, under normal ride conditions, this would not even rank anywhere close to being a climb – it’s just a long rise really – 2-3 percent. But after 40+ minutes of maximum effort, this thing is like the Stelvio on crack.
I’m relieved as I know the end is not far, but curse the tt gears as my toasted chicken-legs begin to rebel. I beg with them to work with me just a few minutes more and they can take the rest of the day off.
Life after TV: The two old guys from the Muppetts have apparently landed a gig watching bike races.
I look ahead to see more fans on the roadside and the buildings of another town (See “Climb” on the map.) I drop down a gear. Then another. And another. My cadence drops to below 50rpm, and I’m out of gears.
Here’s where I discover that TT bikes make terrible climbing machines – I sit up to better lever the pedals, but there’s no decent climbing grip on these bars. Add to that the sweat dripping off my finders and face has made the carbon bars more slippery than a cartoon-skating rink, and I slow to a crawl.
I can barely maintain forward motion, and notice with alarming-humility that I’m able to look right into the eyes of the fans I pass. Not a good sign. They look on in bewilderment – no doubt wondering if I’m in the race or just some sod who’s knicked a fancy bike. I must look awful – and awfully slow.
Then someone claps their hands, then another, and I hear a shout of encouragement. I actually begin to laugh to myself as I imagine how pathetic I must look – but decide I’ll need a lot more fan support if I’m to clear this berg. I give a shout back and coax them on with a wave of thanks.
This has the desired effect as the cheers grow, and as the sounds get louder, more fans further up the road peer down to see what’s the ruckus. They get the joke and just like a Disney movie – they’re cheering me on as I grunt and wobble over the last few meters of the climb.
Olano’s time – almost 10 minutes faster than me over 31km.
With a final heave I swing around the sharp left hander and am rewarded by a short descent. The worst must surely be over. Leaving my peeps behind, I imagine I’m recovering, and upshift to more respectable gears.
This section of the course is gently rolling, ups and downs through a picturesque town. With 2000 meters I crest the final roller and drop into a fast descent. This thing is steep and there’s plenty of speed to be had.
I sit up and look to the sharp left hander at the bottom of the hill, and 2 seconds later set up for the turn. Just then another rider dives by on the inside, pulling a dangerous pass with no warning. This serves to give me the extra boost I need for the final 2km.
Not too bad… Check me out in 15th of 45 in our category!
I’m onto the flats now, and it’s big-ring hammer time – leave nothing in the tank. The jerk’s got 20-30 meters on me but I’m not letting him go.
Under the 1km to go kite and the end is in sight. It’s maximum effort as I chase Herr Dangerous, and into the final 500 meters I notice my peripheral vision becomes a blur – give ‘er warp factor 10 Mr. Scott! My heart and lungs make noises I’ve not heard before – I think this can’t be good for me – vision closes in on a small point at the finish line – – – –
And I’m across! Done! Did it! Gulp some air and don’t crash into those volunteers stringing that banner…
And after a hard days work, it’s important to replenish one’s liquids.
I clock a 54:02 and I’m satisfied. My legs quickly start to seize up, so we head for a free massage – included as part of the Giant to for all riders. Then it’s lunch pasta and salad in the mess hall, and finally we all meet up to watch the pros come in from the luxurious comfort of the VIP Hospitality suite.
Our Giant TT bikes were full carbon, Shimano equipped race bikes. And I mean full carbon – frame, fork, bars, and wheels. My bike weighed around 16lbs. Our hectic schedule allowed only enough time to set-up the bike fit in an alley – so no time to test ride before the actual race. I was going to learn it all on the course.
Everything is aero-shaped – even the rear stays. And note the carbon everything.
We had huge head- and side-winds on the course, so strong that they slowed my pace considerably, and although I’m sure I was travelling faster than on a regular race bike, I didn’t experience the full-TT speeds I was hoping for.
Internally routed cables add to the sleek design and help cheat the wind.
The winds were so strong for one stretch that I was leaning the whole rig into the gale to maintain a straight line. But the bike felt very stable when in the tuck position – very balanced. I did notice that getting out of the saddle was a bit tricky, as my knees brushed the bars, but I attribute this more to the position of the bars than the bike design (a fully dialed set-up would have required cutting the back ends off the bars).
The massively deep-sectioned seat tube creates a nice envelope for the rear wheel.