Posted by: Ian | May 15, 2011

Being crew

Today was my day to play Support crew at a cycling event rather than participate. I was glad of it. Yesterday while the girls were at school in the morning I did a 53 mile ride over Exmoor and The Quantocks with 5,000 feet of ascent, so helping others push themselves instead of doing more exercise myself felt like a great way to spend my Sunday.

I call it “a cycling event” revealing my bias: in fact, it was a triathlon, which Paula signed up for with her sister, Adrienne, and friend Brendon. Last night I made sure that Paula’s bike had inflated tyres and was generally in good order and did the same for Zoe’s bike, which Adi has been borrowing. This morning we put the bikes into/onto the car and drove to Wellington for our rendez-vous with Brendon, Adi and Antony (Adi’s husband).

Milling around the car park where all the participants congregated was interesting. The bikes were notably different from those at a sportive or audax. There were quite a few hybrids as well as many of the road racers I often see; what was less usual was the number of high-end aero and time-trial bikes and the collective investment in deep-rim carbon wheels. The contestants parked up their cycles in a fenced off area where they lay out their towels and clothing in a way that would help them transition between the three legs of the tri. The diversity of arrangements devised by the riders – some packed all their gear in a plastic crate, others lay their clothes and shoes out on their towel – reflected idiosyncrasies that for the regulars must crystallise into rituals. Here’s Paula checking out her bike lay-up:

The first sector of the tri was in the pool. Antony and I watched from the gallery and it was evident that swimming was a discipline that didn’t come naturally to many of the triathletes. One or two of them looked like natural swimmers but most struggled. Brendon was the first of our party to get going. He started off with a very passable crawl but soon abandoned it for a breast stroke that was less effective. Next up was Paula. She and Adi were serious competitive swimmers in their youth and it showed. After a length of exuberant crawl Paula did her next seven breast stroke and completed the 200m in just over 4 minutes. I ducked out to watch her start her cycling then returned to see the end of Adi’s swim. She did it all crawl and so was, I’m sure, even faster.

Paula, Adi and Brendon all looked comfortable on the bikes, as, to be fair, did most of the riders. It was very pleasant sitting on a street corner with Antony drinking coffee, eating sandwiches and watching them all go by. Our neighbours, Paul and Becky, came and joined us, with Becky yelling “Come on Paula Green!” at every distant and approaching female rider who was dressed in light coloured clothes. Incidentally, the most striking fact of the day was how many female riders there were compared to the ratio at any sportive I’ve been to.

I was impressed by all of them for being able to cycle in wet gear. In the overall results the time spent in the transitions seems very significant, especially on these shorter triathlons, and I don’t suppose anybody gets properly dry. This guy, though, was taking it too far; wearing a trisuit to save time is one thing but not wearing shoes?? I’d love to know the story.

I’ve done the eight mile cycle route with Paula, Adi and Bren. It’s a nice circuit down to Milverton and back with enough undulation to make it interesting but not so much that you can’t keep up a good head of speed. Paula did it in about 35 minutes, looking strong at the end, and I think Bren managed about 30. The timings aren’t yet online so I can only judge by reference to the timestamps on the photos I took. Rumour has it that the computer collating the timings has crapped out so it may be as well that I have at least that.

The final leg of the tri was the run and this was the one that Paula, and possibly Adi and Bren too, looked forward to least. Again, as crew I could soak up the sun and worry about little more than capturing a photographic record, with even my function as stand-by emergency repair guy now over. The run was over a 1.5 mile circuit; after watching Paula start and taking in some more of the cycling I moved to the finish line. The runners were urged towards the end by a pair of guys who were getting their names from their race numbers and shouting encouragement over a tannoy; it was actually not a bad system, although the success rate at calling out the correct names might have been higher if it had been done by younger men or women. In any case, our three were heartily welcomed towards the line by our little party, with Becky again displaying great gusto.

I didn’t see Bren finish. Adi jogged in looking very relaxed. Paula, who had started the run smiling, looked as if she’d given it everything she had. She did the whole lot in about 1 hour 1 minute. When it was over they were all as pleased as they deserved to be. It only remained for me to put bikes into/onto cars and to keep taking photos, which I did.

I could get a taste for this being crew!

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