Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Tyler Stewart scores fastest women's iron-distance bike split

By: Melaina Juntti

While most of long-course triathlon's elite garage the time-trial and call it a season once the Ironman world championship in Kona is in the books, first-year professional Tyler Stewart saved her best stuff for November. This past Saturday, Stewart had one helluva day in the sun, scoring a third-place finish with a blistering 4:47:59 bike split, which erased the previous Ironman Florida course record by almost 11 minutes. But even more importantly, from what we've discerned after some serious digging, this is the fastest women's bike time ever logged on an iron-distance course. Yes, the Ironman Florida course is flat and traditionally fast and conditions are warm and conducive to racing, but a sub-4:48 anywhere, anytime deserves some serious props. Here's the lofty list of female tri stars that Stewart now tops:

Top Ten Women's Iron-Distance Bike Splits

Tyler Stewart (USA) Ironman Florida 2007 4:47:59
Karin Thürig (SUI) Ironman Switzerland 2005 4:48:08
Paula Newby-Fraser (ZIM) Ironman Hawaii 1993 4:48:30
Robin Roocke (AUS) Almere 1999 4:49:30
Paula Newby-Fraser (ZIM) Ironman Europe 1994 4:49:48
Erin Baker (NZL) Ironman Hawaii 1993 4:50:16
Karin Thürig (SUI) Ironman Hawaii 2005 4:50:16
Karin Thürig (SUI) Ironman Hawaii 2003 4:50:41
Lisbeth Kristensen (DEN) Ironman Western Australia 2006 4:50:49
Yvonne Van Vlerken (NDL) Quelle Challenge Roth 2007 4:51:48

We caught up with the Novato, California-based record-breaker to ask about her big day in Florida, her experiences as a new professional and those mad skills on two wheels.

How did you feel coming into Ironman Florida? Rested? Confident?

Tyler Stewart: Coming into Florida, I was a little worried. I did not taper as much as I had for [Ironman] Lake Placid. But at the same time I felt seriously horrible with the amount of taper I did for Lake Placid. When I got to Florida, I went for a couple of short rides and my legs did not feel great. But this year I have learned that that does not mean I am not ready. It just means I need to get the oven burning a little bit again before I start the race.

The bike course is flat and traditionally fast-how does this suit you?

You know, typically the harder the bike course the better. Of the three sports, I am the strongest on the bike. Since I am a horrible swimmer, the longer time everyone has to spend on the bike, the better chance I have of catching up.

Do you prefer a flat course to a hilly or tricky one?

As I have only been riding a bike for about four years, I am not that technically skilled, so I prefer not to ride a tricky course. As for hilly versus flat, I do prefer hilly just because you get to move around on the bike more. But my last two races have been on flat courses and I am surprised at how much I liked those as well. Both Cancun [Ironman 70.3] and Florida were flat, which I think makes people think they can go even harder. I learned on these last two races that flat means you get no down time. You have to be constantly pedaling. You never get a break. I ride religiously with my Powertap whether I am on a flat or hilly course and I really believe that the ability to monitor my power consistently has taught me to ride all types of courses.

How does Florida's climate affect your racing?

The weather race day was perfect. A couple of days before the race, I was a little nervous because there was a ton of wind as a result of the hurricane in western Florida. But as the week went on, the winds calmed and the temperature stayed around 70 to 75. It could not have been better weather to race in.

Who did you think your biggest competition would be in Florida?

To be honest with you, I thought everyone was my biggest competition. As I am very new to this sport, I am very insecure with my abilities. I have only done about 10 races in my life, so I see myself as my own worst enemy. But on another note, I honestly try not to look at the roster of women competing before the race. What good is it going to do me? I can only do what I can do that day. It doesn't matter who is there, only that I do everything I can do that day.

Who turned out to be your biggest competition?

Everyone. My favorite thing about Ironman-distance races is that you never do know what is going to happen. Anyone can win; anyone can lose.

If your bike split was not the fastest, it's definitely up there. How does it feel to have your name among the best ever?

That gets me excited! I love to ride my bike. So being able to be good at something that I really enjoy doing is a win-win situation.

Can you improve on this time?

I don't know about the time because that can depend on conditions, but I do believe that I can hold a higher power output for the ride without it affecting my run. My coach, Matt Dixon, ran a series of physiological tests going into the race with the last being 10 days before the race. It was, by far, the best test I have ever had and allowed us to pinpoint the wattage I was capable of holding for the course. We decided to be a little conservative on actual race-day watts as I had not run much, but the goal for the next Ironman race will be to hold 15 to 20 watts higher than in Florida, without it damaging run performance.

Do you rely on your awesome bike skills to give you an advantage in a race?

No, I just hope it allows me to get myself back into the race after getting out of the water 10 to15 minutes (typically) behind the leader. Nina Kraft got out of the water almost 14 minutes ahead of me on Saturday [at Ironman Florida]. Yikes!

What bike are you riding? Wheels, saddle, tires, bars, etc.

Right now I am riding a BMC TT02. It's a phenomenal time-trial bike and I really love it. My riding has gotten a lot stronger this year, but I also think that riding such a high-level machine hasn't hurt either. In terms of the other bike accessories, I changed most of it all a week before the race in Florida. I know, I know ... it's what not to do. But working as much as I do at my job, I tend to leave things to the last minute and then do a last-ditch effort to get everything together. I needed a new frame two weeks before the race, and I figured if I was getting a new frame I should upgrade some of my components as well. I borrowed some Zipp 1080Z wheels from my sponsor at Powertap. Super fast! I also just switched my handlebars to the new Zipp Vuka bars. I definitely tried to make a couple of upgrades. I wanted to make my bike more aerodynamic for the flat, fast course.

You've scored some awesome finishes this year-second at Lake Placid, first at Cancun 70.3. Did you think you would/could do so well your first year as a pro?

No way. I honeslty could not be happier with how this year went. More important than results, I was really happy with everything I learned while racing against such strong women this year.

Have you enjoyed yourself since you've turned professional? Any doubts or regrets?

Yeah, it's really no different. I always get nervous and I always used to get nervous. I think my first pro race was a little intimidating but after that first plunge I realized it's really no different. I'm out there to have fun and to stay fit. I have not a single regret in turning pro. You always have to face your fears in order to grow as a person and I did that, so I can have no regret.

Is the training way more intense?

You know, training is maybe a little more intense, but more than anything, it's just smarter. My husband, Johnny, and I still own Wags, our dog walking, grooming and boarding business, and are not planning on changing that anytime soon. I would say I trained the same amount as I did last year but the only things I did differently were take three weeks in the season where I went away with friends to watch them race and I took my bike and trained for the week as they rested and tapered. One hundred percent of that week was about my training. I didn't have to worry about Wags or teaching cycling classes. It was a week about me.

What's the plan for the rest of 2007 and for 2008? What races do you plan on competing in? What are your goals?

My 2007 season is over. I hope to do some fun, different races this winter and early spring; maybe a marathon, maybe some track race or some skate skiing race. As for 2008, my coach Matt and I have not figured out what I will do except that I will take the slot and go to Hawaii for the 2008 Ironman world championship. My goal for my triathlon career is to keep smiling. When it's not fun anymore, I will find some other way of getting out my extra energy.

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