Phil Tinstman is one of the top masters riders in America, and he’s a factor every time he pins on a number. But you can’t pigeonhole him — he excels in road races, crits, and time trials. Still, when I heard that he’d gone out into the desert and knocked out a 100-mile team time trial at the Stagecoach Century, I had to know more. So we set up a time to talk, I missed the appointment, and we spent the next four hours playing phone tag. By the time we finally got hold each other it felt like a grueling time trial of its own.
A few hours later I had the chance to also speak with Andrew Danly, a/k/a Metal, a 125-mile-a-week commuter turned ultra endurance shred machine. His take on the ride was as entertaining as Phil’s, although I have to say that spending a day in the desert on a bike with either one of these motorheads sounds like the honeymoon from hell. The team was made up of Adam Bickett, Andrew Danly, Jeremy Gustin, and Phil Tinstman.
CitSB: What is this ride?
Phil Tinstman: It’s the Stagecoach Century, a standard century ride but one that’s cool because it’s a timed event and you can start whenever you want during a certain starting window.
Metal: It’s in Ocotillo, remote and in the desert with about 4,800 feet of climbing. It’s a fun ride but I think it’s a great ride to throw yourself into. There’s a lot of support and fun — and it’s a great day on the bike, more so if you want to really go hard.
CitSB: Why was the variable starting time a good thing?
PT: You can plan your start according to how you plan to do the ride. If you want to cruise with friends you can opt for a later start, or you can start earlier to take advantage of the wind.
Metal: Or you can stand around watching Adam Bickett fiddle with his rear wheel for an hour while you’re champing at the bit to start.
CitSB: Why did you want to do a four-man TTT for 100 miles?
PT: It’s one of the categories, and the other three guys have all done it; two of them did the four-man last year and they had a good time and they needed another rider so I thought that would be kind of fun. So I did it.
Metal: I’m just a commuter, but I’ve done RAAM three times on an 8-man team. I won’t crit race because of the crashing risk, but I went to Utah with Adam Bickett and did a 500-mile ride, switching off every 20 minutes, this kind of thing is so fun, so challenging. I’m almost 50 and getting stronger every year and 100 miles with these guys was so much fun; great teammates and it was a huge challenge. Of course, we would have gone that hard even if no one was looking.
CitSB: It’s bizarre to hear you describe a 100-mile TTT in the desert as fun. What’s up with that?
PT: Cyclists do 100 miles a lot, but as a TT it gave me a chance to work with a different position on the bike and ride with ultra endurance guys I don’t normally train with. There were a lot of unknowns and the dialogue before the event was entertaining.
CitSB: How so?
PT: There was a lot of talk about wearing Camelbacks–these guys do 200-mile rides just for giggles, they’re ultra endurance athletes and one of my jokes was that I can’t wear a Camelback; someone would take a picture and post it and I’d never live it down. Just fun stuff back and forth.
CitSB: How did you handle hydration without a Camelback?
PT: I started with two bottles on my bike and got one at the turnaround. It was nice and cool out.
Metal: We didn’t want to stop so we did Camelbacks, which is so humiliating for bike racers, and at Mile 75 I pulled the valve out and the water bled all out and so I not only looked like a dork with a Camelback but it didn’t even give me any water. I do 200-mile rides every Saturday and have ridden the last 100 miles with no hydration and that kills my performance, so it made sense to me to go with the guaranteed hydration, which didn’t really work. It was horribly embarrassing to wear those dorky things but I’m happy to say that Adam looked like a hunchback, as he stuck his under his jersey, truly the ugliest creature on two wheels, worse than a wildebeest.
CitSB: What was your time?
Metal: I was happy with the time but the conditions were slower than the previous year. The wind wasn’t favorable and we wanted to break four hours. I threw in some hard efforts and was asked to slow down but on the way back I was hurting so bad; it was harder to stay on Phil’s wheel going back than it was sitting on the front going out. Phil was amazing. Over the 100 miles we all worked together very well, very measured. With better wind and we would have broken four hours.
CitSB: Is that a course record?
PT: Yeah, the old one was 4:17.
Metal: We can take another eight minutes off with the right wind. Temperature is a variant too, cold air is denser and over 100 miles the small things can slow you down because they add up. I hope we go back and race even harder. I was never really thinking about the time, just wanted to race hard and we did.
CitSB: What kind of prep does someone do for a 100 mile TTT?
Metal: I commute 125 miles a week and every Saturday I ride for 200 miles, so 100 miles for me is very doable. I can push that hard, and then I mix in some intensity on Fiesta Island, everyone’s favorite place, so it’s a combination of base and intensity. All four guys were well prepared, and Phil had both the endurance and the explosive strength.
PT: Two weeks before the ride I thought maybe I should actually get on my TT bike, which was pretty dusty, so I thought I that would be a good start. Then I had to change the position, raise it up so it was a little more comfortable, put in a couple of hard efforts during the week, and be well rested.
CitSB: What’s the hardest thing about doing a TTT for that distance?
PT: Getting everyone on the same page regarding the pace and how long to pull. That will work itself out as you go along but we’d never ridden together and these guys have all done the event, and were preaching about starting slow because a lot of people crack on this ride at the end because it’s gradually uphill all the way out with a couple of pitches, then downhill on the way back and you can implode and lose a lot of time. The key was finding a comfortable pace for everyone.
Metal: Concentration is difficult because you are within inches of three other guys who you respect and you don’t want to knock anyone down; you want to provide a good wheel and be smooth. People have asked me, “Isn’t it boring for such a long time?” It’s not boring! I was focused the whole time. The way to do this is to really be passionate about it, seeking my best performance, digging deeper.
CitSB: What was the pace?
PT: On the way out we started uphill with a headwind and we were at 22-ish, 23, and dropping to 20 on some of the climbs. I wanted to do the ride in under four hours so I was calculating that every minute we spent at 22 we’d have to make it up at 28 somewhere else, so on my pulls I started upping the pace slightly where I was comfortable but it was having a negative impact on a couple of the guys, putting them in the box a bit, so we took it a little easier on the climbs and drilled it everywhere else.
CitSB: How long were the pulls?
PT: We started at one minute pulls, rotating easy, and on the way back I started taking longer pulls because I felt really good.
Metal: We decided at the starting line. We picked the sequence and agreed on one-minute pulls to see where we were at. I was pulling 3-5 minutes and my intensity was close to all out because I was getting such good rest from the other guys. We’d audible on the road as energies ebbed, and on the way back it was all Phil. It was beautiful. He just wanted to go all out, and the last 25 miles he did way more than me, that’s just how it shook out. Phil became totally dominant at the end. I had no idea. It was amazing. Everybody was throwing everything into it, but Phil was on fire.
CitSB: What’s the hardest part technically for a TTT like that?
PT: On your body it’s the neck, being down that low. I was sore the next day. The biggest thing technically is riding that close to other people on your aero bars because you can’t touch the brakes or adjust your speed as well, and the closer you ride the faster you go.
Metal: To stay in position, and your neck gets stiff. Holding the position for four hours is hard; you get little breaks on the hills but you’re locked into one position basically. We did some testing on the track before RAAM last year and Adam could tell looking at my numbers where I was sitting up–that’s how important position is. And the man parts when you’re on a TT bike are not happy. You have to just endure it. It’s like being put in a microwave oven. The first time in, you want to jump around and get out, your face is banging against the glass, and then the second time you realize you’re in a microwave and you can’t get out, you can’t make faces, and you just accept the searing pain and don’t think about the little bell going “ding.” You stop thinking about the finish line. And you also concentrate on making something crack other than your will. It has to be your body, you don’t ever crater mentally.
CitSB: Did you have any “Oh, shit!” moments?
PT: No, we rode really well. Everyone was predictable, we had a few gusts of wind and bumps, but we were all good. I wouldn’t want to have an “Oh, shit!” moment in a TTT.
Metal: Yeah, my Camelback. Not really, though, I never came close to crashing, never crossed anybody’s wheel.
CitSB: Were you ever in the box?
PT: I was really comfortable and I felt like I was having a good day. The only time I was in the box was when I put myself there at the end of long, hard pulls.
Metal: The last hill after I’d been out of water for 15 miles, and my stupid iPod had stopped at 50 miles and I had had some special music lined up; that’s when I was close to getting in trouble and then we got over Sweeney Pass and eleven miles from the finish I had to accept just taking occasional pulls and letting the others do the work. I would prefer to lead from the front but that wasn’t happening the last ten miles. Good thing we had three guys to work it hard and get us home!
CitSB: Is this going to help your road racing?
PT: I hope so.
PT: It was a great 4-hour super hard tempo workout and those are hard to come by. They’re good for hard races like last weekend. [Note: last weekend was the 84-mile Santa Barbara Road Race, where Phil placed sixth in the pro race.]
Metal: I don’t road race, but this keeps the endurance base built. Going that hard for four hours you get a power jump from the training. It all adds up. I try to keep my speciality of 200-mile events fresh; I’m doing the BWR this year and six days later I’m doing the RAAM Challenge.This ride will help me get ready for that.
CitSB: Where did you feel the benefit?
PT: Any time there was a high tempo, like when we were holding high speeds on the flats, because the first couple of laps we averaged 27 mph it was a very similar kind of deal to the TTT at Stagecoach.
CitSB: Do you have any TT goals this year?
PT: Yes, I really like riding my TT bike and want to ride it more. TT’s on the road would be Murietta and Valley of the Sun, because a good TT sets up the rest of your stage race. I always do all the events at nats and I feel like that’s an event I could do well in at nats.
Metal: BWR and the RAAM Challenge are important and each year the bike is something different for me. It’s got so many challenging dimensions. I’ve ridden in Africa and Europe; I want to be fit and be on my bike. My biggest goal is to help my friend Adam Bickett do well in RAAM. I help him with emails and by making fun of him; seriously, I’d do anything to help him do well. He’s taught me everything and I owe a huge debt to him.
CitSB: On the spectrum of cycling skills, how would you say most amateurs are with regard to time trialing?
PT: The skill issue boils down to spending time on the TT bike; that’s the most important because the bike isn’t easy to ride. It has such quick steering and you’re so far over the front that it’s really twitchy. It’s not the best handling machine going around corners and it’s difficult to get comfortable going fast.
CitSB: Most cyclists don’t like time trialing, right?
PT: It’s a really hard individual effort in which you have to practice effort management, and that’s hard even for good racers. I know great racers who can’t TT.
CitSB: Do you think time trialing is important to be a good racer?
PT: It helps.
CitSB: Were there any whacky moments during the event?
PT: It all went smoothly. The cool things were on the route; some of the guys doing the filming and the drones got awesome footage. That was the coolest. Connie from Pink Shorts did the photography and David Su was the ultra-pro videographer. All the riders are SPY riders so we were well supported and this was a great way to bring the sponsored ultra endurance guys together with the regular bike racers.
Metal: I always get a kick out of our media lying in the road taking pictures. The guy running the drone, Nick Cohenmeyer, was in the wrong place and the drone couldn’t keep up. We rode so hard we actually dropped the drone, and then it went out into the desert, like it had decided to fly back to China. Nick wandered around in the desert like someone looking for the black box in a downed airplane. And the media guys were hanging out of the van by belts, producing this really cool stuff. It was so cool.
CitSB: Anything you want to add?
PT: The ultra guys can go out and ride 12 hours on a Saturday, and ride it fast. That’s so impressive.
Metal: The roads in Imperial County are so badly paved they bang you around like a jackhammer. There we were at Mile 90 on the jackhammer roads of Imperial County just having our brains battered, it was so bad we rode on the opposite side of the road for a while just to get some relief. That’s the kind of thing that makes a ride like this so memorable and fun; wouldn’t have it any other way!
CitSB: Are you going to do the Stagecoach Century again?
PT: I’d love to. I had a blast.
Metal: I’d like to take the same guys out and get it under four. I hope the race grows because it’s a great event and people should go check it out.
A fantastic video of the ride was produce by David Su: Check it out here.
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