Monday, May 07, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, Week 7: Riding the new IMCdA Bike Course!

As Ironman Coeur d'Alene creeps ever closer, I was hoping I would get a chance to take a look at the new bike course before seeing it on race day. Fortunately, my step-sons both live in Spokane, a hop-skip-jump from Coeur d'Alene, and so we combined a family weekend of BBQs and fun with family with some time for me to take Pinkalicious out on the course and see first-hand what was in store for us.

The day I chose to ride the course, Saturday, was not especially promising, weather-wise. It dropped to 35 degrees that night, and was still a chilly 42 when I set off in the morning. On top of that, the big wind storm that wreaked havoc on the poor Ironman St. George participants seemed to be blowing up through Idaho as well. The winds were howling, the lake had 1 - 2 foot whitecaps, and I was very glad that I wasn't actually racing, but just checking out the course.

First I rode down the Lake Drive that constitutes the first part of the course. I had already seen this on the Computrainer Ironman course, but it was far prettier first-hand. I tried to picture my ride through town on this quiet Saturday morning the way it will look on race day, streets lined with cheering mobs. A thrill of excitement and goosebumps, not to mention a little lurch of the stomach shot through me as a small echo of the race day nerves to come. Then, after moseying along the small roller hills of the lakeshore drive, I headed back through town and out onto the newly added course on Hwy 95. I had no idea of what to expect here, and to be honest I was not thrilled about riding on a highway with all of those cars whizzing past.

As it turned out, the ride is quite scenic, and I think on race day when we'll get a couple of lanes of traffic all to ourselves, it will be very beautiful. To ride the course right now, you have to stay on the shoulder, which means contending with a serious rumble strip. These are very hazardous to cyclists, especially those of us on thin tires with squirrely aerobars to contend with. Throw in some wickedly gusting winds, and you have a bit of a nerve-wracking ride on your hands. Still, in most places the shoulder was very wide, leaving me lots of room to avoid the dangerous strip. And the good news was that motorists were not likely to casually venture onto the shoulder and strike me, since the rumble strip would quickly alert them to any detours from their lane into mine.

So, on to the question that's probably on everyone's mind who will be riding the new course: What about the hills? To be honest, the first one is pretty intimidating when you look at it, especially if you look UP and see the road winding way above where you are now (later on, you'll get to look DOWN into this amazing valley below you and wonder that you managed to pedal your way so high). The good news is that because you're on a highway, the grade is very gentle. It probably tops out at about 6%. On race day, this could make these hills seem deceptively easy. I rarely got into my lowest gear, and I don't currently have a compact crank on my bike. So it would be easy to overbake these hills on race day by a few watts here and there, and enter T2 with considerably less gas in your tank than you counted on. I filed this away in my mental notebook for race day: stay within my zones on the hills and you'll be fine. For me, riding the hills put my mind at ease. There's nothing here that I don't ride a thousand times in the hills behind my house. I can tell myself  "It's just another hilly ride, take it easy and enjoy the scenery."

And on this particular ride, the hills took a big backseat to the wind. I literally would be winding my way up a hill, reach the flat part at the crest and get hit by a wall of wind so stiff that it made me gear DOWN from the gear I was climbing the hill in. I had to pedal harder on the flats and even the downhills than I did on the uphills. This had the effect of making the whole first half of the Hwy 95 portion into an effective 20 mile uphill grind. Somehow I think on race day it might feel a whole lot easier (if we don't get an IMSG-style windstorm, that is).

All in all, my take on the new course is:

Hills: not too terrible.

Technical: None. All of the sharp turns of the old course are gone. You'll want to be comfortable with screaming down a couple miles of 6% grade at 45 mph+ though.

Highway: Rideable for people who want to check it out before race day

Scenery: Top Notch. Green valleys, horse pastures, rolling hills, big clouds scudding across an impossibly blue sky. Glimpses of the lake in the distance. What's not to love?

Old Part of the course: Fun, with cheering sections in the city, and beautiful lakeshore views outside of town. A couple of rollers will warm you up in the first 15 miles.

1 comment:

Oldman said...

Isn't it amazing how the wind makes you think hills are not so bad?