Triathlon Magazine Canada - - FEATURES - BY LOREEN PINDERA

MON­TREAL­ERS BRAG THAT their city is Canada’s ur­ban-cy­cling mecca. With Bixi, the city’s sub­si­dized pub­lic bike-shar­ing sys­tem and more than 600 kilo­me­tres of ded­i­cated cy­cling lanes, that’s not an empty boast.

I Bixi to work from April un­til Novem­ber. I do my hill train­ing up Mount Royal on my tri-bike un­til the snow flies. But win­ter bik­ing is not for me. I tried it a decade ago: fit­ted my moun­tain bike with stud­ded tires, bought im­per­me­able cy­cling pants and ther­mal booties. And – thank heav­ens – I slipped my son’s cast-off ski hel­met on over my toque. I say “thank heav­ens” be­cause two weeks into my win­ter-rid­ing ca­reer, I hit black ice, skid­ded out and smashed my head into the pave­ment so hard that the hel­met split in two. I saw stars and promised my­self: never again.

Those were my early days as a triath­lete, and so I opted for cross-coun­try ski­ing and run­ning – cram­pons de rigueur – to stay in shape. How­ever, the year that I signed up for my first full Iron­man, I knew I was go­ing to have to do some se­ri­ous seat-time on my own bike all win­ter, if there was a hope in hell I was go­ing to be able to man­age 180 kilo­me­tres come Au­gust.

Eigh­teen weeks of spin­ning on a Com­pu­trainer along­side other sweaty ath­letes in the base­ment gym of Montreal’s spe­cialty tri-shop, Cy­cle-tech­nique, and I hit the pave­ment at the end of April barely puff­ing as we climbed the sea­son’s first hills.

What a dif­fer­ence those three hours of spin­ning a week made. Not to men­tion the grow­ing ca­ma­raderie and friendly com­pet­i­tive spirit in that spin­ning room. Chas­ing the pelo­ton – while sit­ting still – kept me mo­ti­vated and fo­cused on my sum­mer goal.

Not ev­ery­one lives near a gym or bike shop that of­fers a spin class, nor can ev­ery triath­lete af­ford a com­put­er­ized trainer for home.

En­ter Michel Brazeau. In his thir­ties, Brazeau – a couch potato com­puter whiz – no­ticed his grow­ing spare tire. He joined a cy­cling club, lost the spare tire and for the heck of it, de­cided to do a time-trial race. He showed up in baggy shorts and a cot­ton T-shirt with a road bike that was way too big.

“I ended up do­ing a 37 km/h av­er­age speed,” Brazeau says, shrug­ging it off mod­estly. “That was pretty good – good enough to fin­ish 12th, with a lot of se­ri­ous guys there. They were like, ‘Who is this guy?’ “I was hooked.” Brazeau knew noth­ing about win­ter bike train­ing. He could see ev­ery April how cy­clists who trained in­doors all win­ter had a leg up on those who took a five-month break. But he couldn’t get past the bore­dom fac­tor.

“There are so many peo­ple who just put on a movie, and they try to get through it while on their trainer,” he says.

Brazeau wanted an in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. Al­ways a tin­kerer he built the soft­ware to make such an ex­pe­ri­ence pos­si­ble. It’s called and Pow­er­curve ( pow­er­curvesen­sor.com) – soft­ware the cham­pion duath­lete has made avail­able free on­line. The pro­gram even al­lows you to hand­i­cap your­self (or your part­ner).

“I wanted to ride with my girl­friend, who is not as strong a cy­clist as me,” Brazeau ex­plains, “It’s not fun if you’re rid­ing with some­body and she can’t even stay on your wheel.”

I had a blast be­ing part of Brazeau’s field-test­ing last win­ter – in a room with 10 other cy­clists, all big­ger, stronger and faster than me. In time-trial mode, with my hand­i­cap set, I kept up and even oc­ca­sion­ally passed them on the home stretch. Ev­ery­one, that is, ex­cept the only other woman in the room – a world-ranked ju­nior rower young enough to be my daugh­ter.

Brazeau, at home with his one-year-old toddler, Cadel, would some­times join us vir­tu­ally, set­ting the pace on, say, the ride from Va­radero to Matanzas, Cuba – a ride he cap­tured on video dur­ing a bike trip last Jan­uary.

You ca n down­load t he re­sults onto com­pat­i­ble sof t ware such a s Train­ing­peaks.com and track your progress through the win­ter. But come spring, the best gauge of your win­ter ped­alling will be how your legs, your butt and your lungs feel when you hit the pave­ment and trade vir­tual for re­al­ity.

Triath­lete Loreen Pindera is an editor and broad­caster at CBC News in Montreal.

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