Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Mopac TT Is Back!
AllSports Timing brings new tech to an old favorite

by Kat Hunter

You could say that the Mopac TT is an "underground" cycling event, since it's never been a high-profile or formal race. News of it has always traveled mostly by word of mouth, with many of the same participants attending religiously year after year. But it's not exclusive, or no more exclusive, say, than a mental institution. You're welcome to the club so long as you think doing an all-out 8-mile time trial at 6pm in the dead of a Texas summer sounds like a good idea.

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Started by RunFAR Racing Services in 2004 and long known as the "RunFAR time trial," the Mopac TT was still going strong in 2010, held the second Tuesday of every month from the spring through the beginning of autumn. The course was the same out-and-back, starting near the Veloway at Mopac and La Crosse, heading south and then west until the turnaround at 45 and 1826, and returning to the finish at the same intersection on the northbound side of Mopac. Last fall, however, the rumor mill had it that RunFAR was moving their headquarters to Dallas. Many refused to believe it until they saw the notice on RunFAR's website in large red text: after 7 years, the Mopac TT was no more.

Amid the wailing and gnashing of teeth, other rumors began circulating at the beginning of the 2011 season. The Mopac TT had always been popular in the cycling and triathlon community, and different groups talked of a revival. Training on Mopac, it wasn't unusual to see a smattering of aero helmets and skinsuits out on the old course. The addiction was strong.

Newcomers should note that even a brief flirtation with the Mopac TT is enough to cause a dangerous preoccupation. In 2010, if you were following pro triathlete Phillip Graves' tweets, you would have seen the telltale signs: First, a brief mention. Then, talk of records, weather conditions, times, and finally, training fatigue from the event that he said had "become an ever increasing part of his life." No matter how fast you go, you'll think you can go faster. Graves broke the course record, and then beat his own time twice after. He still holds the record with a time of 15:24.8 (31.2mph).

Some of Austin's fastest professional and amateur cyclists attend the Mopac TT. Before last year, 2011 Elite National Criterium champion David Wenger held the course record with 15:44.4 (30.5mph), set in July 2007. In April 2010, Graves beat that time by one second on a windy day. Then, in October, Wenger set a new personal best of 15:33, but on the same day, Graves came in at 15:25. At the following TT, Graves set the current course record of 15:24. It's difficult to compare records from year to year, however, since the course changes so much over time. The new fast times were, in part, the result of the new turnaround added at 45 and 1826 last year. Unfortunately, since road conditions have since worsened, it's thought that this advantage has effectively been cancelled out. Graves' record may stand for a long time.

And yet…on June 14, the most recent TT, amateur triathlete Maggi Finley broke the female course record with a blistering time of 17:57 (26.9mph), beating out the 18:01 I'd had the month before. Maggi's run was a firm victory, the record set in a strong crosswind on a day that most riders were significantly slower. In 2010, the course record was held by pro triathlete Desiree Ficker, at 18:13 (26.3 mph). Before the turnaround was added, cyclist Christina Wolfe had the fastest time of 18:22.9 (26.1mph), set in August 2008. For the women, the excitement is likely to continue, even if the record-breaking runs are Maggi, a la Phillip Graves, simply setting new smoking PRs.

The Mopac TT's appeal is hard to define. Maybe it's the frequency of it, or the fact that it's such a short, fast course. Or, then again, maybe it's the low-key atmosphere. Although results are posted online, which demands a certain accountability, there's no prize money or medals to be won and no official start time. You just get there, pick up your chip, and roll out across the mats any time after 6pm and before 7:30. And though you've got plenty of company if you show up in an aero helmet and booties, you can race on a pink cruiser with a basket in front and still not hear anything for it.

The Mopac TT has a special place in many hearts. And since most, if not all, of the Mopac regulars have the idea that they've got a faster time in them, the event's disappearance was cause for despair.

Fortunately, just as hope was about to breathe its last, word got out that AllSports Timing was hosting a free Mopac TT in April. The response was good, so TTs were also held in May and June. All were free, since a permit cannot be obtained for the course. But Chris Oroshiba, owner and founder of AllSports Timing, doesn't see that as a problem and says he plans to continue as long as there's interest from the cycling community.

A runner and triathlete, Oroshiba had participated in the Mopac TT many times himself in the past, and says the spirit behind it is the same as when the event first began. "The purpose of the time trial is to provide cyclists a reason to get out and see what they can do," he says. "Even though I'm not riding, it's still equally satisfying to go out there and hear people come back and say ‘wow, I hit my target.'"

He's also used it as an opportunity to optimize timing equipment. The first two AllSports Timing Mopac TTs used a chip that was attached to the head tube, and mats that were fairly bumpy. In response to feedback and testing, AllSports Timing decided to purchase the current system, which uses thin, adhesive tags that attach to the front of a participant's helmet (just like slapping on a bar code), as well as much smoother start and finish mats.

This is year one for AllSports Timing, but business is good, and Oroshiba says he's already had to turn some races down. Fortunately, since the Mopac TT takes place on Tuesday, he expects to be able to continue to have the capacity to host the free event.

In addition to looking like something straight out of Tron, AllSports Timing's new UHF (ultra high frequency) timing system has a number of advantages compared to older LF (low frequency) systems. UHF technology, also currently used in some types of credit cards and clothing security tags, is essentially weightless, easy to wear, reusable, much less expensive (20 cents per tag rather than $3- 4 per chip), and readable up to 35 feet in the air (vs. the former capability of 2.5 feet, which meant that cyclists were often missed if they crossed the mats on an upstroke). But the best part? Results are available immediately. When you come off the Mopac TT course, you've got your standings before you can even catch your breath.

A few drawbacks remain, however. Any timing system, LF or UHF, will have more trouble tracking an object the faster it moves through the electromagnetic field – for example, a cyclist moving over a mat at 30mph, as compared to a runner moving at a max of about 12mph, becomes more difficult to read. Also, metal and water cannot be in direct contact with the UHF system. Thus, the tags cannot be placed directly on a bike, even if it's made of carbon fiber, and cannot be placed on the body, since the body is composed of approximately 50-80% water. Putting it on the helmet gets a nearly perfect read rate, Oroshiba says, but he's hoping to produce a permanent seatpost mounting for the bike, similar to professional cycling events. These systems could be reused at any race timed by AllSports Timing, including the monthly Mopac TT.

Oroshiba, with 14 years of previous experience in the semiconductor industry, considers his business a technology company and is full of ideas for what comes next. But he says that though they plan on continuing the Mopac TT and even extending the season all the way through November, they can't and won't charge for the event. "If we sell bike numbers for use with any of the races, that will be a different thing," he says, "but it will always be something reasonable."

To attend the event, you must "like" and sign up for each Mopac TT on AllSports Timing's Facebook page. Mopac TTs aren't scheduled in advance, but are announced roughly a week before the event (and usually take place in the middle of the month). Results are also posted on the Facebook page.

AllSports Timing is not actively promoting the event or seeking to increase attendance. In fact, they'd rather keep it small, since too many participants could create parking problems. The intent behind it is not to get a lot of people out there, Oroshiba says, but rather to attract the people who really want to be out there. His reasoning is two-fold: one, AllSports Timing gets to serve the cycling community, and two, the company gets connected with individuals interested in future events. Next year, Oroshiba hopes to host a 40k time trial.

As a competitor, the most important thing to remember is that although the Mopac TT is a great opportunity to test yourself and go as hard as you can, you're not on a closed course and your safety is your responsibility. Don't take any unnecessary risks, and be sure to watch the intersections carefully. Remember, as well, that your behavior is likely to influence the future of the event, and some of us are dependent on Mopac TTs for our mental health. Traffic has increased in recent years from new development in the area, but there are still no stoplights, and the Mopac TT remains, without a doubt, the most constructive thing you can do on a Tuesday evening.

We hope the obsession continues for many years to come. Viva la Mopac TT!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Upcoming Race: Tri from the Heart
August 7, 2011

Deep in the heart of Texas, or rather, right in the state’s geographic center, sits the small town of Brady, population around 5,000. Home to traditions like the July Jubilee and 38th Annual Goat Cook-Off, Brady is adding a new type of event to its calendar this year, the first Tri from the Heart Triathlon.

A 1k swim, 35k bike, and 7k run, the race will take place at Brady Lake and surrounding park grounds on Sunday, August 7, with individual and relay categories. Race director Heath McBride says he designed the course with both the competitor and spectator in mind: From the transition area, the entire swim course is viewable, as well as most of the run course, which goes out over Brady Lake Dam, follows a lollypop on the other side of the lake, and takes in two short climbs before returning. The bike course is a rolling out and back, crossing through scenic ranch land.

Tri from the Heart will benefit local charity Hope from the Heart, an organization that raises money to help people fighting cancer in McCulloch County, with funds distributed by the Brady Clergy Association. In addition to medical costs, Hope from the Heart assists cancer patients in meeting many day-to-day and essential expenses not covered by other charities, including costs like fuel and wigs. Last year they raised more than $70,000 from local contributions, which McBride says directly helped to extend the lives of 16 people in the community.

When McBride’s brother died of cancer in 2001, the disease took on a personal meaning for him. So in 2010, asked to participate in one of Hope from the Heart’s largest fundraisers, “Mr. Heart of Texas,” he raised money by swimming, running, and biking 500 miles in 20 days, recording his experience in a daily blog. “I know this isn’t a huge block by tri standards,” McBride says, “but it was a goal and one that most people could comprehend and appreciate.” Triathlon has been his hobby for 13 years, though he modestly describes himself as a middle-of-the-pack age grouper who simply loves the sport.

McBride says that the most encouraging aspect of organizing the race has been the energy and enthusiasm of the townspeople. A large number of volunteers have signed up (currently, they outnumber registered competitors), which promises first-class race support. And there has been a new surge of interest in fitness and triathlon in the community as well, he says, with many locals training in anticipation of their first multi-sport event.

Brady is only 130 miles from Austin, 140 miles from San Antonio, and 75 miles from San Angelo, so pack up your goggles and quick laces this August and make a trip to Texas’ warm and welcoming center. The Brady Rotary Club will host a pre-race spaghetti dinner also benefiting Hope from the Heart (plates $10, details will be included in packet pickup and on the website), and race entry will include a T-shirt and other fun extras. Whether you’re a seasoned triathlete or just getting started, we encourage you to sign up and show this small, caring town a big turnout.

Register online: $75 individual, $115 relay (chip timed & USAT sanctioned)

Monday, June 6, 2011

CapTex Tri Race Reports
May 30, 2011

Every Memorial Day, the cars and free-spirited fixies that patrol downtown are replaced by
alien invaders in spandex and aero helmets. The streets are closed and the area teems with
spectators and triathletes walking, swimming, biking, and running in every possible direction.
No doubt the 1.5 million bats living under the Congress Street Bridge think every year, "This is
it. This is the end of the world." But no, it’s just one of the biggest races in town.

This year, the CapTex Tri had over 3,000 competitors spread across four different races, including a pro category, Olympic-distance race, sprint-distance race, and a super sprint "first timer" triathlon, further divided into sprint and Olympic relays and age group divisions. The number of participating athletes and the downtown venue make this race very complex and difficult to organize, and this year’s event had a number of hiccups, including timing problems and delays, as well as some course confusion during the pro men’s swim.

Logistical problems aside, we love the CapTex Tri and all the great people and excitement it brings to town. Whether you simply watch or compete in this race, it’s always a memorable occasion. So check out the pro-race summary and the reports below from ATC's own George Schmitz and renowned newcomer Maggi Finley of the Snapple Tri Team, who was also overall female amateur at the Memphis in May triathlon on May 22.

The Men’s Pro Race & the Legend of Andy Potts

Part of the Toyota Cup Series of triathlons this year, CapTex attracted some big-name pros,
including Andy Potts, Big Matty Reed, Hunter Kemper, Cameron Dye, and Filip Osplay. The
complications of the men’s pro race began during the swim when the lead kayak started to head the wrong direction at the first turnaround. The pros knew it was going the wrong way and were making the turn properly, when an unknown person on a jet ski, claimed to be an Austin police officer (but there may be 'Mo' to the story), approached and told them they had to follow the kayak. Ben Collins reported that when he attempted to push past the jet ski, the driver actually turned it toward him and gave it a burst of gas. At this point, Collins and most of the other pros decided they would obey the instructions rather than risk a collision. But Andy Potts, who had apparently run into the jet ski with his head, simply said "You are wrong," dove under it, and proceeded along the correct swim course, unsure of whether he would be disqualified for not following the verbal instructions.

In the meantime, the rest of the pros were led on a two-minute, meandering trip of the lake before the officials in the water sorted things out. Andy Potts left the swim with a three-minute lead, but when exiting T1, was directed the wrong way and lost about a minute before getting back on track.

The other pros, actually caught by the pro women's swim wave, which had been allowed to follow the correct course, began to chase Potts, with Cameron Dye managing to catch him at the end of the bike. Potts held on for the win, however, with Hunter Kemper a close second. We'll never know whether, if the race had gone smoothly, Hunter would have won. What we do know is Andy Potts said "you are wrong" and dove under a man with a large machine and a temper. Legend.

Race report from Maggi Finley
Olympic Elite Wave, Overall Amateur Female winner

Dustin and I started our Memorial Day celebration at 4:55am, racing already to get dressed, all the kids’ things in the car for the day, race gear packed, dragging sleepy girls from bed to the car, and shoving down breakfast (pb&j, coffee, and Accelerade – yummy!) on the way to the race site. We arrived at Austin Tri-Cyclist to drop the girls for the duration of the race with their cool new babysitter (daughter of ATC's owners Don and Missy) and we were off to the transition area.

Lucky for me, we had a wetsuit-legal swim. I was in the open wave so I got to start early in the race, as opposed to last weekend’s start at the very end! We had a delay for another unknown reason after the pros went off, so we got plenty of warm-up time. The gun finally went off and the pre-race jitters ended. Whew! The swim went smoothly for me – I was in a pack of red caps (my color!) the whole time, didn’t see swimmers constantly passing me – always a relief, and even caught a consistent pair of feet for the last 1/3 and felt like I was using almost no energy to move forward!

The bike was a different story. The wind was so strong, I was nearly blown over more times than I could count.So much for the aero position – but life is good and I’d like to hold on to it as long as I have any control. The 40k bike was four loops of wind, some hills, and lots of turns. Oh, and three separate races all on the same bike course: Olympic doing four laps, the sprint doing two laps, and the First Tri doing one loop – lots of people out there! My first lap proved to be good practice with a learning curve of how to handle the 180 degree turnarounds, the wooden timing platforms in these turns, and did I mention the wind? I tried to pay attention to the women’s positions, I really did. But considering I couldn’t even tell where I was on the course and spent three laps trying to figure out how I was going to get back to the transition area on the fourth, my position among the open female division was completely lost on me!

I finally got off the bike, and though unimpressed with my bike split, I figured I must have done okay because I didn’t get passed more than three times during the entire bike course, and almost the entire field started behind me. I headed out on the run with mediocre confidence of maintaining the lead that I thought I had. My run training has been significantly hindered for the past few months with some injuries and I was just hoping that I wasn’t going to spend the next 10k getting passed. Have I mentioned the wind? Wow – I don’t think I’ve been blown around so much on a RUN course in my entire life! It was heating up, but we were lucky with some cloud cover and "breezes" of 20+ mph. My cool new bedazzled Snapple visor that I just received last week blew off at the mile 1 aid station. I turned around to pick it up only to see it flying about 200 feet back and moving in the opposite direction. Sadness. Surprisingly, I passed a few people in the run and don’t think I got passed by anyone other than two young guys also in the Open division. I finished thinking I may have gotten the OA amateur female win, but really couldn’t be sure. Two hours later I discovered that I did indeed win, by a close 30 seconds or so thanks to my 42-minute run (glad the run course wasn’t too long!).

I have four races in and am looking forward to a little downtime to address some ailments and hopefully come back for a stronger last half of the tri season. Is it too early to say that?!! (Oh, and my visor magically appeared back at my transition area before I left - thank you, volunteers!!)

Race report from George Schmitz
Male 20-24 Olympic, 6th in division and 17th overall

This year was my sixth or seventh time participating in CapTex, Austin's premier downtown triathlon. (Consecutively, if it hadn’t been rained out in 2007 .) This year the race itself went well. The water was clearer and cleaner than usual, the course was well marked, aid stations were sufficiently manned and stocked, and the distances were seemingly accurate. The only problems I was affected by during the race were responsibilities of my own, minor details like training and remembering to unload all items out of my transition bag before the race started.

My wave start, scheduled for ~7:50 ended up closer to 8:15, which is normal for this race. No problems in the swim besides traffic when we caught the feet of the 50+ age groups that were seeded in front of us. Out of the water, out of the wetsuit, courtesy of wetsuit strippers newly implanted for the 2011 race, and out on the bike.

The bike was windier than I've ever experienced it and especially bad when going back and forth between being shielded by buildings and being sailed around in open intersections. The bike course was mostly unchanged except going up the highway ramp rather than under it. This made no difference besides the carpet covering the curb we rode over. Four times. No PR bike split but not PR weather conditions.

Back into transition, threw my bike in the pile, and headed out for the run (jog). Same course as always (for the most part) but made especially hard running uphill with the wind and downhill against it. Still muscled out a semi-acceptable pace marginally ahead of what I thought I was capable of that day. Post-race support was good like always and I even got out a little early since the award ceremony was cancelled because of the timing issues...

To read more about the event, check out these links: