The only reason stage races exist is so people can feel good about the six grand they dropped on their TT bikes without having to resort to doing triathlons.
At least that’s the case in the amateur ranks. Back in the day when time trials were invented, everyone rode them on their regular road bikes and just pedaled hard in the drops. The Cannibal Eddy Merckx never spent time in a wind tunnel—he just pedaled his damn bike as hard as he could until he reached the finish line. The great Fausto Coppi rode every race like a time trial—once he went off the front, he was gone, never to be seen again.
It wasn’t until Lemond put Scott aero bars on his bike in Le Tour that we began the dick dance that modern time trials have become. Now everybody has a TT bike and the UCI has an opinion on whether or not it’s legal. Driving out to Tooele on Saturday morning, Steve and I were behind a pickup truck that had a pro-level TT bike on one side, and a pro-level road bike on the other. The road bike had gold bar tape.
Needless to say, if you have gold bar tape, you better be fast. Really fast. Unfortunately, someone forgot to send Mr. Goldbartape that memo because he got spit out the back of the masters field in the circuit race. Perhaps it was intentional so the bling of his bike wasn’t obscured by racing in a pack. But I’d think soloing off the front would have been a more effective means of putting the pretty bike on display.
The collegiate racers have the best system—they have to ride regular road bikes in a TT. The intent is to keep the sport from becoming prohibitively expensive for poor college students. Pat owns a TT bike, but he couldn’t ride it, because he races for a collegiate team.
How about similar rules for amateur racers up to the Cat. 1/2 level? There are all of five races on the UCA calendar where you can actually use a TT bike. Yet Steve was the only Cat. 3 not on a dedicated TT rig*. Countless Cat. 5s were on TT bikes, and these are guys who haven’t even done ten races yet. Either everyone I race against makes a lot more money than I do, or they’re starving their kids in order to fund their bike racing habit. Either way, it’s absurd.
*Jon S. converted his old aluminum-framed road bike to a TT bike by turning around a setback seatpost and adding some bullhorns and aero bars. Entire conversion probably cost him $200. This is the only way of doing it that makes any sense at all. Jon placed 9th in the TT, less than 30 seconds behind the winner, and I think he “trained” on the TT bike exactly twice. If you can call a chatty lunch ride with me and commuting to and from work “training.”
Adding to the absurdity of Cat. 4 and 5 racers with TT bikes is that TT and GC results don’t even count towards an upgrade. I didn’t even contest the TT on Saturday for that very reason. What’s worse is that unlike the last stage race I did, where I was going all out in the TT, I didn’t finish DFL. (So if you finished behind me in the TT and you were on a TT bike, your shop owner thanks you for adding to his bottom line, but if your goal is to be fast, you're doing it wrong.)
I’ll be honest—I wish I had the money for a TT bike and a couple sets of Zipps. But if I did, I could also afford to light cigars with twenty dollar bills. And that is just stupid whether you can afford it or not. There are about 1,000 guys in the world who make their living racing bicycles. Only a fraction of them make enough that I’d want to trade paychecks. As much as I’d love to have one of their bikes, one need look no further than what Tyler S. and Alex were on when they went 1-2 at last year’s High Uintas road race—easily the toughest race of the year—to realize it’s not about the bike.