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#MyTri: My Wife, the Boss Cyclist

A husband/mechanic shares what his wife went through to get 5th at U.S. Cycling TT Nationals.

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We’re bringing back #MyTri—where we’ll be letting triathletes tell their stories in their own words. To submit your triathlon story email with “My Tri” in the subject line.

Today, Alex Harrison is telling the story of his wife, Michelle Howe. 

Michelle started her 2019 U.S. Pro Cycling Road Nationals experience with a dropped chain and 19th place in the time trial. As her husband, and her bike mechanic, it stung. In a triathlon, the bike leg is a little less than half the race by time. In a cycling time trial, it’s just biking against the clock and every second counts.

In 2018, Michelle underwent hip surgery, forcing her away from running and out of triathlon, the sport she so dearly loved, and onto the bike for a year. She spent the year road racing around the western half of the U.S., and eventually landed at nationals for the time trial and the road race.

For her, the dropped chain in a race against the clock inspired anything but confidence in her bike or in her husband-mechanic, yours truly.

The next two years were a journey through COVID, Everesting, moving full-time into an RV, re-engaging in triathlon training after the surgery that took her out of the sport she loved most. Oh, and me, her bike mechanic, husband, and nutritionist, going all-in to learn how to make bikes fast and, more importantly, reliable.

Her training methodology during the fateful 2020 could be described as “more.” More of everything. More hours training. More disciplines (XC mountain biking, anyone?). More running. More swimming. A LOT more riding. Most importantly: More fun. That is, if “fun” includes multiple 20-hour rides, including overnight ascents of Mount Lemmon on both a road bike and a mountain bike.

Upon returning to Knoxville for the 2021 U.S. Pro Cycling TT Championships, she was still aboard the same 2013 Cervelo P5.

Rotor cranks had been replaced by a 52-34 Ultegra crankset (not a typo, it’s a mash-up of 50-34 and 52-36, and it shifts well enough to make it worth it.) A new Hambini BB replaced the Rotor BB, after a bit of dremeling to the carbon frame. An 11-30 Ultegra cassette and Ultegra chain with NFS lube replaced the old chain and worn 11-28 cassette. There’s a serious hill in the TT after all.

For safety, POC Tempor replaced Giro Aerohead, but let’s be honest that decision was based primarily on how well each helmet might deflect air around her head and body.

Zipp 808 NSW replaced 858. Zipp Super9 stayed in the rear. Both rim-brake clincher rims adorned with Vittoria Corsa Speed G+ 2.0 with Silca latex tubes (yes, I drank the koolaid). 25mm tire in front at 88psi. 23mm in rear at 93psi.

This time, with a K-Edge chain-catcher installed, her husband-mechanic stayed up all night working on the bike, making sure everything was perfect. Tweaking, wrenching, taping, rerouting cables, zip-tying, and taping some more. Testing and retesting shifting performance both in the stand and under my own load outside.

When she crossed the line she was in first, with about 10 more riders left to finish. Among them: Chloe Dygert, Amber Neben, Leah Thomas (the trio now make up the 2021 Olympic team), and Tayler Wiles. Those four were the ones who managed to best Michelle’s time. Fifth on the day in her second-ever U.S. Pro TT.

I celebrated by going to bed at 5 p.m.

Lessons learned here

  • Hire a good mechanic. Details matter.
  • Enjoy your training first. Train hard, second. It’s a lot easier to train hundreds of hours per year when you’re loving what you’re doing.

What did she do the day after the road race on Sunday? A six-mile run and 3K swim. After all, she races Oceanside 70.3 in October.