My Escape from Alcatraz – The Bike

Posted on June 14, 2012. Filed under: bike, cycle, escape, escape 2012, escape from alcatraz, escape from alcatraz 2012, ironman, ironman regensburg, race report, race review, t0.5, triathlon |



After my last blog post for a triathlon swim “Froth, Speedos and Bulging Eyeballs” my blog seemed to attract a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons. The most referred search term from google was “bulging speedos”. Twenty four hours on since i posted the Escape swim seems to have been attracting the right kind of attention!

T0.5 or the warm up run as the race organisers called it was an exceptional transition compared to the average triathlon where you only need to stumble a hundred metres at the farthest. The run from the bags to Marina Green to the bikes was half a mile or so lined by a lot of screaming supporters. With ice cold water sloshing about in my ears, just recovering my sense of balance and with totally inappropriate footwear for a run I made my way as quickly as I could to the bikes with the odd stagger and stumble along the way. Unusually for running any race whatsoever I overtook about a dozen people on the way into T1 where we had to run to the far end of the racking area and then back to the bike. Just before entering the funnel to the racks I got an unexpected cheer from my much depleted Sherpa squad of Pam and Roar. For the rest of the Sherpas it must be a case of “if it’s not an ironman we ain’t coming!”

Despite setting up my transition area in the dark it was really quite orderly and I put on shades first (even with shades on you don’t look cool in yellow and black Lycra!), then socks and shoes, clipped on the helmet and I was away. It was still another couple of hundred metres until I reached the mount line but at least the swim was done.


I clipped in straight away and having set quite a high gear for the flat start got on my feet to get underway. The first couple of miles were really congested with shouts of “on your left” echoing up and down the beachfront. The pan flat terrain gave me an opportunity to reflect on the Race Directors briefing.

“Within the second mile of the bike course you are climbing. This course is hilly and technical.

There is 1200 feet of climbing and descending on the bike course as well as ten left hand turns and ten right hand turns over the 18 miles so be advised that you will be either turning or shifting every few minutes on this bike course. By mile 2.5 you have climbed from sea level to 300 feet.

Stay in control as you descend downhill by the Lincoln Park Golf Course. Maintain control as you descend 0.8 miles from the VA hospital to the Great Highway. Use caution and stay in control.”

I love it when the word control is used three times in three sentences. The message wasn’t wasted on me. Last time I went fast down a hill I broke my shoulder and turned my leg into mince so I considered myself proper warned.

I have heard the term technical in reference to cycling before but I didn’t really know what it meant and I was too embarrassed too ask. Having now biked a technical course I am very clear on the meaning – in my words “a course that involves a high probability of dying”. This was either going to come from the lung busting climbs or from the perilous downhills where I kept my brakes on full and felt my back wheel lifting off the ground they were so steep. You could sense ass cheeks clenching tight through a thin veneer of lycra all over the place.


The course was fast out through the Presidio and then, as warned by M.andel, it switched back and started to climb steeply through the trees. A San Franciscan lady that I spoke to on the Belle had talked me through the course and warned me that it was all about the gearing and “don’t think you are at the top of the hill until you are heading downhill”. That proved to be excellent advice. In my lowest gear I started to grind up the hill and I instantly spotted the difference between a European event and a West coast US one. In Europe there are really, really strong bike/runners so I spend all day going backwards after the swim. In California I found myself overtaking as many people as overtook me. As I am no Lance this is clearly a region where a lot of triathletes have their background in swimming. Not skinny-assed cycling.


The first climb was ominous for one reason. I had been told it wasn’t the hardest! We climbed with a number of switchbacks, ass in the saddle, quads burning and breathing coming heavily. I could feel the streams of sweat start to flow down the sides of my head and down the back of my neck. A similarly cuddly triathlete who was ascending shoulder to shoulder with me did shout “skinny bastard” as some malnourished bikist shot past us as if he had been threatened with a Sunday morning croissant. Mid way up the climb the pro men were coming down the hill like rockets seemingly untroubled by the “technical” nature of the course. As we topped the first climb there was a short downhill and then a glorious climb up through trees to the Legion of Honour. The one and only aid station was on the summit, the highest point of the ride. As we took the last bend we had Superman and Wonder Woman run alongside and I took the opportunity to high 5 the Cookie Monster! I took a cup of water at the start of the station and a cup of Cytomax at the end. About 6ml went in my mouth and I wore the rest for the remainder of the race.

Then came the technical bit. From the Legion of Honour we went straight down a road that wouldn’t have been out of place at the Somme with a sharp right hand turn at the end. We then continued to descend through a residential area and then the world in front of me disappeared. As I hurtled towards the edge with sweaty fingers cramping on the brakes I could only look at the exceptionally good cyclists struggling to get climb back on to the earth in the opposite direction. I would love to have taken a better look at the stunning Cliff House on the descent but, to be honest, I would rather have had my eyes closed. The headwind became strong and icy as we continued down towards Ocean Beach and onto the Great Highway.

We turned left into Golden Gate Park and as we gently climbed MLK Drive away from the Pacific it warmed and I actually overtook other riders on a climb. The park was stunning, with roads in perfect condition, having recently had a makeover for the 75th anniversary celebrations of the Golden Gate Bridge. As I switched back to JFK Drive for the descent back out of the park I pushed my rental bike a little hard on the gear change and slipped my chain. It was only a momentary unplanned stop to put the chain on but where do you wipe your oily hands when you are wearing a yellow suit??

The ascent at Cliff House was everything I had anticipated on the way down. The lady on the Belle had tipped me off well – turn right out of the park, bear left and then be in the right gear when you start to go right again. Oh, and never anticipate the top. It hurt like you wouldn’t believe with my quads filling with lactate and taking the opportunity to get on my feet every couple of minutes. I couldn’t pull on the handlebars for extra power as my hands were black and greasy with oil after my unplanned mechanical repairs. The road was strewn with people walking the hill, or taking a long zig-zag route up it with little consideration for anyone coming from behind. Eventually, I pushed my ass really far back on my saddle, pushed hard and rocketed forward and over the last hump. The locals were all outside their houses cheering us on and then almost as soon as it had started it was over and we approached the aid station again. This time I just smiled at the Cookie Monster, saving the effort of a high 5 with a Sesame Street character and managed a whole cup of Cytomax.

As I descended down through the trees towards the Bay there were a couple of cop cars and a cyclist down on the right hand side of the road. A quick glimpse confirmed a lot of road rash and what looked like a pretty mucky facial injury and I was sure that was the race over. Later when she overtook me in the final stages of the run, head bandaged like a mummy and her Tri top in shreds I had the opportunity to consider what a tough bird she was!

In the final few miles I fought a personal battle with a bean pole who was about 20 feet tall and on a mountain bike. I am pleased to announce that in the final metres, in the race that he didn’t even know he was involved in, I triumphed over the bean pole.

With my legs absolutely drained and my quads aching I free wheeled to the dismount line and walked into T2. I was momentarily paralysed when I realised that some cad had racked his bike in my space but with a bit of shoogling I got mine racked. Bike shoes off, run shoes on – it was time to run! From memory the run was flat – doh!





The Alcatraz Test Swim

Escape Complete

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Swim

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Bike

My Escape From Alcatraz – Some Pictures

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Run

Final Thoughts on Escape


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