This past Sunday morning, on a road that was THE way to get from Little Rock to Memphis before Interstate 40 was built, road cyclists from around the state met to see who is the fastest rider. There is probably no better way to find out than a time trial.
Time trials are a true test of an individual cyclist’s mettle. No drafting, no team play, no laying back and waiting on a sprint. Each cyclist is riding their own race, against the clock with no idea how anyone else is doing. Racers either leave everything out on the course or wish they had.
In each category, racers leave in 30 second intervals. Starting at 7:00 a.m., over 50 racers lined up on the side of highway 70 just south of the Galloway exit of I-40. They would be heading east, into the sun for the first half of the 40 kilometer race. The juniors raced a 20 kilometer course. It’s a flat straight road with light traffic, the only turn being a 180 degree turn around at the 20 kilometer mark then back to the start. Finish times for each rider were based on their departure time so it really is like watching over 50 individual races, running at the same time.
In time trials every second counts, every advantage is taken. Right from the start as a racer lines up at the line, a race volunteer holds the seat of the bike allowing the cyclist to clip into the pedals so they can apply full power from the beginning. “15 seconds, 10 seconds, 5 seconds, go“, the starter says, standing next to the racer so no yelling is needed. The next rider is called up and is gone in 30 seconds.
Organizers have used the same course for the Arkansas Time Trial State Championship since the late 70’s with the exception of 1999. That year Masters Nationals were held near Fort Smith and they wanted to test the course that would be used for Nationals. The weather was unseasonably cold, a light rain fell throughout the event, and the course had several hills which the traditional course is luckily missing. In the late 80’s, USA Cycling (then called US Cycling Federation) changed the championship event from 25 miles (40.2336 kilometers) to 40 kilometers to be aligned with UCI (International Cycling) standards.
Most of the bikes are designed to cheat the wind with advanced aerodynamics. Fully enclosed rear wheels, swept back helmets, shoe covers and aero bars that allow a cyclist to keep their drag as low as possible. Fingertip shifting, streamlined water bottles, and handlebars that look like wings allowing the rider to get leverage on the bike when they need to get out of the saddle and apply more power to the pedals which is particularly helpful on climbs and the start, are some of the staples of time trial bikes.
Of course not everyone has a specialized bike for this type of racing so organizers Ian Hope and Steve Shepard included what is called the Eddy Merckx Class. Bikes with no special aerodynamic enhancements, normal helmets, no aero bars….old school.
Out of the gate, riders drop the hammer looking for some muscle saving momentum. The lack of even the tiniest of breezes that morning was a blessing for the racers, not so much for the spectators. Top riders were soon hitting averages of over 25 miles an hour. They would try to maintain this speed for around an hour. Almost everyone sprints the finish, not knowing exactly how far back or ahead they are in their class they don’t want to miss out on moving up a place or being beaten by a split second that they could have had with just a bit of extra effort. A few hundred yards from the finish was the best place to catch the pain faces, the whimpers, yells and groans as they left the last of their strength on the thin strip of duct tape that served as a finish line.
Steve Shepard became involved in 1983, over 30 years ago. He shared his thoughts on the age of the racers, “This is not an event that always favors younger riders. Rob Walton won the championship at age 43. A little known fact is that the chairman of Wal-Mart is a great athlete. You’ll also see the name of Rich Raspet on the list of winners in a couple places. He is a professor at the University of Mississippi who has a wall full of gold medals from Masters Nationals. While in his 50’s, he’s had the fastest time at the Arkansas Time Trial State Championship on two occasions. And you’ll see that at 66, he had a good time this year.” To add to Steve’s observation, the 2013 fastest rider in the race was Kurt Searvogel who raced in the 50-55 class.
30 years of champions – AR Time Trial Champions
2013 Results – 2013 AR State TT Championship – Race Results
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Great article, great description of the race! So glad to hear it’s still going, & that Steve Shepard is still going strong – he’s the real foundation for bike racing in this state.
Great article and pictures! Thanks Ian and Steve for continuing this event. So enjoyable to read about it as at this point, am in no shape to participate.