Since my rocking trainer experiment is on hold (more on that later) I don't have a proper indoor way of doing a real out of the saddle sprint to test the position offered by the custom stem. Florida would be the last time I'd get outside, realistically, before I start racing in March.
Therefore I needed to get out and do some sprints.
I tried a few half hearted jumps here and there but they weren't impressive at all, and in fact I was so weak (based on both feel as well as SRM numbers) I started getting worried about my lack of power. I sort of forgot about being deathly ill on the way down here as well as the first day where I could barely do anything, but at the time even if I were sick I felt I should have been better.
Almost a week later, in warm-even-for-Florida temperatures, I felt much better. On Christmas Eve day the Missus booted me out of the house to go ride. I obliged.
When I headed down my now-normal route I realized that I'd have a friendly cross-tailwind the southward bits of road. I'd have one on the eastward stuff also but there wasn't a lot of eastward stuff where I could sprint.
There was a southward section though. It was just before the road loops back into a busy road, one that I wouldn't want to ride, so it worked out perfectly.
I zipped down to the bit of road in 20 or 25 minutes, about 7 miles or so, a decent clip for me if I were at home. I rolled through the sprint zone slowly the first time, trying to get some landmarks down, trying to figure out where to jump and where to sit up. For me sprints are much more productive with a real, solid finish line, but without one my sprints end up really kind of blah. I need to throw the bike at the finish to really finish the effort.
Unfortunately I never figured out a good finish line nor did I figure out where to jump. I just jumped when I thought it was getting a bit late to jump and I sat up when I knew I was about to blow. A finish line might have bought me another 20-30 meters of focused speed, but, well, if I get down there again then that's what I'll do, set out a finish line and try and do a better sprint.
Later, when I got back, I created a Strava segment (Anclote Road Sprint) for that bit of road so that I could easily see what I did for each sprint. (Unfortunately I created the segment without viewing the helmet cam footage so I really missed in the finish line point, making the segment way too long.)
That first roll through took me 50 seconds to cover the bit that ended up becoming the segment. The next one took me 27 seconds. I rue the fact that I was alone because with a proper leadout I think my speed would not have dropped under 35 mph. Even alone I managed to roll from 27 mph up to just over 40 mph, hold it for a bit, then drop down until I blew and sat up.
The important thing was the feel of the bike in the sprint. The whole reason for the custom stem was to get the drops down to where they were with the 3ttt Gimondi and Mavic bars. With the FSA Energy bars I was close but the bar shape was such that I was actually a couple cm higher. With the FSA Wing bar, whose shape I love, I was a good 3 cm too high.
This led me to get a stem that would drop the bars 3 cm. It would also make sure my reach was closer to what it was - the compact bars reduce reach by 3 cm and this stem would take back a little over 2 cm of that, maybe 2.5 cm.
I hoped that this would let me get forward enough and low enough to weight the front wheel properly. In my 2013 sprints the bars have simply been too high. The bike felt skittish and I never had a good jump, not ever. There were few sprints in training where the bike was so skittish I unclipped while at 100% effort due to the front wheel not doing what I needed it to do. It wasn't just once, it was a few times, and this really made me hold back when sprinting (the few times I did sprint).
So how did the custom stem work?
It worked great!
That first sprint wasn't totally foreign to me. I'd done a few jumps here and there and I knew that there was potential. I just hadn't done an all out sprint at sprint speeds.
View of the section of Anclote Road in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Wesley Avenue is to the left.
Still, though, that first sprint was like coming home. I rolled through the right turn into the straight, waited a bit, and then jumped as a car approached me.
My first jump point.
For an instant I thought, "Oh, man, I'm gonna hit a 35 mph wall of wind just as I jump," but the thought quickly dissipated as I focused on doing a super hard jump.
Thumb to shift.
Thumb to shift.
A bit longer, then thumb to shift again.
I started bogging down - I probably should have tried to get more rpms out of the lower gear instead of getting into the high one.
When I sat up. That bush up ahead to the right would be a good finish line.
In Strava I put the finish is a good distance away, maybe 100m or more.
I looked down. I was in the 11T.
I don't think I've done a decent sprint in the 11T in, what, in forever actually. I don't remember the last time I sprinted in the 11T. 12T, okay, 13T, whenever, but 11T… it's been a while. I mean, yes, I've shifted into the 11T but I haven't been able to get it turning.
I turned around and headed back to do the bit again.
I did three more sprints, two of them ending in the 11T, one of them in the 12T. I actually thought that I wasn't shifting into the 11T for the second or third sprint but when I sat up and looked down the chain sat on the 11T, not the 12T.
The last sprint I blew up before I really got up to speed - my base conditioning isn't really good for more than a few sprints - and I knew I was in the 12T and I knew I wasn't going fast.
Around where I jumped there was a dip in the pavement. A few inches, nothing major, but definitely something you notice when sprinting. For me it meant the front wheel was airborne for a moment, waiting to land, and since I seemed to be in the middle of a power stroke each time I hit it, the wheel was landing a bit sideways.
With the FSA Energy bars or the regular stem FSA Wing bars that would have been disaster. The front wheel would have not been planted, it would have done a wobble or something, and my bike wouldn't be 100% under control.
In the sprints where I unclipped I was trying to muscle the bike back into line, putting some lateral force into the pedals, and that caused me to unclip really hard. Unfortunately I can't increase the pedal tension any more so that meant I had to ease off on my body English.
This sprint resulted in no such shenanigans. I could sprint, the bike went straight, and nothing weird happened.
When I blew up on that fourth sprint I was already feeling queasy. I knew from experience that if I had some fitness I'd be able to push through that queasiness, substantially even, but I didn't feel today was the day to make the effort.
I rolled back to home base slowly, satisfied that my bike was finally working the way I wanted it to work. Hopefully it makes my racing just a bit more solid, a bit more rooted in its foundations. I felt like my speed was always in danger of evaporating last year, where I could never really dig hard. It became such that I remember feeling really good the few times I felt the rear tire dig in as I jumped out of a corner. That should be a normal occurrence but last season it was unusual.
Hopefully this year I feel a lot more of that.