Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Two Days with a Cervelo P5
Hel of a Du and Natural Bridge Caverns Duathlons

Photo by Steven Starnes: Heading into T2

by Jack Mott

When the road cycling state championships were over at the end of September, I started running to prepare for the winter duathlons. After some good results on my trusty P3, Don at ATC offered to let me ride his P5 for the final two races. Free P5? I'll take it! I would be racing it at two bike-heavy duathlons in one weekend. First was the prestigious Hel of a Du in Helotes, Texas. This race, featuring two 3.5-mile hilly runs and a 26-mile hilly bike course, was originally created by ATC's own Adam Stroobandt. The very next day I would race in the T-Rex category at the Natural Bridge Caverns Duathlon. The T-Rex category, the longest race option, includes a 5-mile run with an uphill segment out of a cave at the start, about 24 miles of biking, and a final short run of just 2 miles.

Bike Prep

The bike was a pretty standard P5-3 build, the UCI legal model, with Don's current aerobar setup – a Profile Design base bar with Zipp extensions. The bike came equipped with Magura Hydraulic TT brakes, something I was interested in trying out to see if they were worth the hype. Other standard equipment included a Dura Ace mechanical groupset and Rotor BBRight crankset with an aero chainring.

The first step was to try and recreate my P3 position on the P5 as exactly as possible. Don's profile design cockpit had to stay, but we were able to get the stack and reach nearly identical by swapping the stem and removing all the spacers. I did end up losing a little bit of reach due to a last-minute adjustment I had to make to the extensions, but it didn't cause a problem for me. We carefully measured the saddle height and setback from the bottom bracket, and used the exact saddle I have on my P3, a Cobb Max. Remember that the P5 has a different bottom bracket drop than all previous Cervelo TT bikes, so make sure to measure from the BB if you upgrade and want to recreate your position.

I used my own race wheels and tires, a wheelcovered HED Jet 9 with my Powertap in the rear, and a HED Jet 6 in the front, with Continental GP4000S tires and latex tubes. I used my super slick View-Speed Skewers, which you can barely see in the picture at left. I also zip-tied a bottle cage between the aero bars to hold my water bottle.

Hel of A Du

I traveled to Hel of a Du with my boss, John Craft, and his Houston area triathlon teammates from Jockstrap Catapult. John and I had gone head to head a few weeks prior at a duathlon in Waco, where I narrowly came out ahead. John was here for an epic rematch!

The transition area was in one of the outdoor stadium areas at Floores Country Store, a local restaurant/bar/dance hall across the street from Soler Sports. As we prepared our bikes in transition I heard that pro triathlete Robbie Wade was going to be racing, which meant my hopes of clocking the fastest bike split of the event were already crushed. I had been in a bike race with him before; there would be no contest.

The weather was nasty, too – warm, dark, and foggy. It was so foggy it was basically raining, and the roads were wet. As we lined up at the start I realized my visor was going to be a problem on the bike, but I would have to deal with that in transition because it was time to run! John Craft must have been out for revenge, because he pulled away from me nearly immediately on the run. I didn't try to stay with him because I have learned, the hard way, to stay within myself on the first run of a duathlon. The Hel of a Du run is a tough one, a little extra length and some very steep sections that really suck the fight out of your legs. I like to fly down the downhills super fast to take advantage of the free ride from gravity, but I may have taken that too far this time because it pounds your quads pretty hard too. I got to T1 in about 20th place, almost 2 full minutes behind my boss. I grabbed my helmet, tore the visor off, tossed off my running shoes, picked up my bike, and was off.

I pace the bike with my power meter, trying to keep a steady wattage, going just a bit harder on the uphills and a bit easier on the downhills. The goal for today, based on last year's duathlons and recent performances, was 250 watts, about 15 watts more than I did the previous year at this event. I started out just under that, knowing that a long uphill section awaited in the middle where I would want to raise the power a bit. I charged through the field and eventually caught John and a couple of others at around mile 16 in the middle of the long uphill section. I raised my power slightly to make sure I passed with authority and nobody tried to follow. John was able to keep it close while we were still going up, but he reports that I disappeared once the road went downhill and the P5 got to do its job of not hitting any wind. The fog was making the roads wet, and many people had trouble slowing down for the corners, with a number of crashes. The hydraulic brakes really shone through here. Gentle touches of the fingers slowed me down without any difficulty at all.

I kept the power up till the end, finishing with a normalized power of 244 watts and 3rd fastest overall bike split. I counted 4 bikes in transition, meaning I had moved up into 5th place, about 2 minutes ahead of John.

The second run always hurts, pain the whole way as I try to hold off people who can actually run. With about 1 mile to go I had been passed by a few guys, but still no sign of John. Then I heard footsteps, and John pulled alongside me at the top of a steep uphill section. I fought back on the downhill and pulled ahead, but as soon as the road was level again John was gone. He had his revenge. He would end up one place ahead of me in 7th overall. We both would walk away with age group wins and $20 prize certificates.

Full 2012 Hel of a Du Results

Natural Bridge Caverns

This time I was joined by my Ghisallo bike racing teammate Matt DeMartino and fellow ATC groupie William Jabour. The weather was the same as the day before, warm and foggy with wet roads. This race started early, at 6:30 am. It was still completely dark as I set things up in transition and this, combined with fatigue, led me to make a rookie mistake I would discover later.

The T-Rex category was to start first, and we were led into the cave by a race official. Since the cave is too narrow for a mass start, we went one by one, with 5 seconds between each racer, seeded in order of predicted run speed. The cave section of the run is short, but steep. Taller people need to watch their heads at times as well. As we exited the cave it was still dark outside, and the front group of us, about 5 in all, got lost for a few seconds before we could find where the course was! Once that was sorted out the real runners left me in the dust. I knew I would never see Matt again unless he crashed. William was an unknown – I knew he could run much faster than me, but I have never biked with him before. The 5-mile run, once you leave the cave, is almost entirely dirt and gravel, with a super steep section right at the turnaround that pretty much brings you to walking pace when you go up. Once again I tried to just stay within myself, arriving in T1 in 20th place.

I left transition and hopped on my bike, placing my feet on top of my shoes. This is when I realized my rookie mistake. I had put my shoes on the wrong sides of the bike! I had to stop, get off my bike, pop the shoes off, put them on my feet, and get back on. Probably 20 seconds wasted! I kept calm, though, and got going and tried to see whether I could aim for 250 watts today on my tired legs. Pretty soon it was clear that wasn't going to happen, so I dialed back and just tried to keep the power above 230. This race has many separate race categories going on at once, so it is hard to tell when you are pacing someone that is part of your race. Many athletes competing in shorter distances were already out on the bike course. Having someone to pass is always good motivation, though, so I kept picking off people one by one. A few hundred yards before the turn around, I saw William up ahead. I love to take corners fast, and this one was nice and dry. I didn't want pass in the middle of the turn or get stuck behind, so I surged ahead, passing just before the corner and flying through it as fast as I could. William reports that it was pretty cool to watch.

The 2nd half of the bike had a few short, steep climbs, and I stopped caring about the pain a bit and cranked hard up the hills, bringing my average power back up. Once again the fog was making parts of the road wet and people were crashing. On a wet, slick-looking left-hand turn at an intersection I saw Matt standing with his bike. He had gone down and destroyed his rear wheel while in a commanding lead of the race. Disaster! I squeezed gently on the Magura hydraulics to make sure I didn't go down too. Just a couple miles later I flew into T2. Normalized power – 237 watts, and fastest bike split of the day! A great victory for the P5 and fast enough to move me into about 4th or 5th position overall.

The final run was just two miles, and I ran as hard as I could. At the turnaround I could see two other T-Rex racers bearing down on me. I successfully held them off to the finish, but because they had started after me in the cave, I was actually just behind them on total time. I would end up 7th overall and 1st in my age group, which gets you cool geode trophies at this race! ATC's William Jabour screamed through the final 2-mile run at sub 6 minute pace to take 3rd in the most competitive age group of the race.

Full 2012 Natural Bridge Duathlon Results

The P5
Comfort - While I am not very sensitive to frame comfort, I did feel like the P5 had a bit more compliance in the rear triangle than my P3. Damon Rinard, engineer at Cervelo, confirmed that this was the case, referring me to the P5 White Paper.

Handling - The overall feel of the P5 was similar to my P3 back when I had a shorter stem on it. Comparing the two directly is difficult because they are different sizes and have different length stems. However I was perfectly comfortable doing threshold workouts at the twisty veloway on the P5, rounding the hairpins at my usual speed. The P5 also handled the wet corners, turnarounds, steep climbs, and fast descents at both races with no issues. Everything felt rock solid.

Braking - The Magura hydraulic TT brakes are very cool. My P3 uses a TriRig Omega center pull setup, which is cheaper and perhaps a bit more aerodynamic. The Magura brakes, however, offer amazing modulation and power. Those who race or train on carbon rims, and/or in the rain, may especially want to give these a look. The good news is you don't need a P5 to use these brakes; they will fit on any bike. And if you don't want them, you can also use regular brakes on your P5.

Speed - The most important question of all! No scientific studies were performed during my days with the P5. Cervelo's own claims suggest well over 100 grams of drag, or over 40 seconds time savings per 25 miles, are saved by moving from bikes like the P2 or P3 to the P5. The exact number will depend on many details, especially your cockpit setup. I did these two races last year, and I went faster at both of them this year. An interesting point of comparison as to the real-world utility of aerodynamics comes from the Hel of a Du race. Another competitor who raced with a power meter put out 3.3 watts per kilogram of body weight on a well-prepared Cervelo P2. On the P5, with a lower position and little details like aero brakes and aero skewers, I biked 4 minutes faster over a 26-mile hilly course with only 3.1 watts per kilogram. Aero works in the real world. But don't forget to run!

Thanks to Don Ruthven Austin Tri-Cyclist for the bike, and to my wife, Kat Hunter, for putting up with me being gone all weekend!