Sunday, July 8, 2012

Rev3 Maine Bike Course Review

Living in Portland gives me a bit of an advantage when it comes to Rev3 Maine: I can head out onto some part of the course, whenever I want. It's just a short drive from Portland down to Old Orchard Beach, so I can swim, ride, or run the course whenever I find the time.

It just so happens that an opportunity arose to do a full bike course recon-mission with fellow Team Rev3 athlete Jen Small and a small group of recruited help. We rode the whole course at some point during the day; we actually started and finished in Saco, just outside of Old Orchard Beach.

I'm breaking this review up into the mileage for the actual bike course, and not the mileage the way that we rode the course.

Miles 0-3: Heading out of Town
This is probably the worst of the roads that you'll face all day, starting about a mile out of transition until you get to Route 1. By this, I mean it's a little pockmarked, but overall very much rideable and easy to find a clean line. It's gently rolling and generally well-shaded, so it's a good place to settle down from the swim and get ready for the work to come. Because trust me: there is work to come.

Miles 3-10: Working Time
This is where the course starts to really coming into it's own. We rode on a relatively hot day, with a decent amount of wind. You start off with a pretty flat section, minus the overpass over Interstate 95. Then you begin some of the turning on the course, as well as the starting of the rolling hills of Maine.

Here's the thing: when you hear "flat," if you are from, say, Kansas, this course will come as a shock to you. If you live in Montana, then this'll be considered pancake-flat. For the rest of us, I think the most apt descriptor would be "rolling." This course isn't like Rev3 Quassy, which is a beast to climb. But what it will do is separate those who can use their shifting to their advantage and those who attempt to go at courses with the idea of smashing it.

This course will fight back. Roads are gentle through this section, but the exposure means little reprieve if the sun is intense as well as getting to know the wind. Most of this section is parallel to the coast, so it is most likely this section should be crosswind come race day.

Miles 10-15: Route 5
It's probably the busiest stretch of road on the entire course, so if you are thinking of pre-riding, I would highly recommend a group environment in order to be visible. This road has heavy truck traffic, as a lot of farmland and construction calls this stretch of road home.

As such, it's prudent to ride in the shoulder. Expect a headwind heading away from the coast. This also features the first real climb of the course, a gentle slope heading for about a third of a mile.

Miles 15-25: The Bottom of "The Square"
Rev3 Maine Bike Course Map, courtesy of Rev3Tri
One of the more intriguing sections of this course is this "square." This is the lower left-corner of the map above on the bike course.

This square encompasses miles 15 to 35 of the course. The bottom end here turns left from Route 5, heading south, before heading for a right to Lyman and Waterboro.

The most scenic section of the course, this features some beautiful ponds, rolling farmland, and some stonework that screams "classic New England." It's probably the one section of road that makes me think of Rev3 Quassy, and some of the climbing to be done there. There's some uphill here. Nothing too severe, nor too long, but it exists. Those who can spin efficiently will be rewarded.

The back half of this ten mile stretch allows you to really open things up a little bit, as you get the downhill from a lot of that climbing that had been done, as well as some smooth pavement.

Miles 25-33: The Top of the Square
Fastest section of the course by far. According to my Garmin data, this is where I hit top speed, as well as the fastest ten-mile stretch of the day.

Do not think that it will be easy, though; far from it. This section of road moves roughly parallel to the wind, so expect some cross-breeze. This turns into a tail wind when you turn back onto Route 5, but this means that you need to be comfortable moving at a high rate of speed with a pretty stiff breeze trying to knock you on your rear. Bike handling skills and core stability work would be wise additions to your training schedule if you are not already incorporating them.

That said, those who are comfortable can just let 'er rip. There's a small false-flat uphill just before you get back onto 5, but outside of that this is flat to slightly downhill and really, really fast.

Be aware, though, that at the end of the square you'll have a very sharp left to head out onto Route 35 for the next stretch of road. You'll be flying at this point, so be ready to scrub some speed stat.

Miles 33-40: I Thought This Course Was Flat?
Again, it's not flat.

With that out of the way, this part of the course is pretty gentle throughout. Never any hills that should have you concerned if you regularly do some climbing repeats, or have raced at Quassy, this year's Portland bike course, etc.

Be prepared for another decent gust of wind when you hit Route 202 by Hollis. It quickly turns into a tail gust as you turn, and you can really fly down towards the next turn. It's easy to get into a rhythm here. Those who rode a little conservatively on the front side of the course will be able to really let things fly here.

Miles 40-44: Simpson Road
Here is the stretch of road that will eat those who rode too hard out of the gate alive. There's some climbing to be done here. It has the steepest hill of the day. Depending on how many matches you will have burnt by this point, it will be wise to carry a decent granny gear here. I rode pretty comfortably on a 11-26 cassette (53/39 standard crank), but depending on what you typically respond best to I would not be surprised to see a few compact cranks or 27 tooth cassettes.

Miles 44-51: Headed for Home
Time to hit the gas and stay on the pedal: get the calories in, do some work, and get ready to run. Mentally, this stretch is daunting because you have a few turns to navigate, and you've done some of the hardest work already. But you need to have left something for this stretch of road. It'll be very easy to wind up riding too easily here if you lose mental focus. Don't.

At this point, it's also good to start thinking about the run: keep active shifting in mind. Two seconds to let yourself come into transition with fresh legs will be well worth it, so if you find yourself grinding on the pedals, let up on the gearing. A good rule of thumb: if the muscle tension feels "perfect," it's probably one gear harder than the one you want to be in at this point.

Miles 51-56: Back to Old Orchard Beach
This sees you repeat the first five miles that we had talked about before: pretty smooth sailing, straight-forward direction. There's nothing to really bite you hard here, so it'll be good to spin out the legs a touch and get ready for the run.

I think this course is going to be very rewarding for those who focus on spin efficiency: proper gearing, good aero position, smooth-riding. Those who try instead to will the course into submission will be found survival slogging the run. It is quick; total ride time for the course was 2:44:09. (I raced Quassy in 2:46 as a point of reference.) But I think that's from riding smarter, and not harder.

It's gorgeous scenery, as smooth of a set of roads as you'll find in the state, and challenging. You can't ask for much more out of a bike course. I look forward to racing it in August.


Unknown said...

what a great summary!!
it is a fun, fast and enough rollers to keep it challenging!!
such a pleasure to ride with you :)

Maggie said...

Great recon recap!! Sounds like a super fun course.

Thanks Ryan - looking forward to racing with you!