Words by Gary Erickson I have Jobst Brandt to thank for my discovery of the Passo di Gavia, one of the most revere…
Sometimes, It’s Better To Go It Alone
Rolling hills lined by lush vineyards and the occasional bubbling stream. Life moves at a gentle pace in Sonoma County, a region renowned for its world class wines and artisanal farm to table cuisine. Pro triathlete, Holly Lawrence, did not get the message. Clad in a red bathing suit and hunkered down in the aero bars of her triathlon bike, Lawrence is speeding along the narrow Sonoma roads at almost 25 miles per hour. She has no time to absorb the bucolic scenery in her peripheral view, as her focus is limited to the power meter attached to her bike, recording her energy output, and the road immediately ahead. On this occasion, she’s powered her bike to establish an almost unassailable lead on the rest of the women’s field at IRONMAN 70.3 Santa Rosa, enough to coast the run and still retain a 6-minute margin of victory.
Lawrence credits much of her success in triathlon — she’s the reigning world champion over the IRONMAN 70.3 distance — to her ability to “totally switch off my thinking” during challenging workouts and execute the race plan prescribed by her coach. That was not the case several years ago when Lawrence was participating on the short-course, draft-legal triathlon circuit where team tactics overruled any individual race plan and her ferocious cycling skills were effectively neutralized. Fellow competitors could latch on to her wheel; preserve their own energy, only to sprint away from Lawrence during the final run leg of the race. Her frustration with the format and team politics led her to non-drafting triathlon: “I love that in non-drafting triathlon you get out what you put in, you can’t hide and it’s all you,” she explains, “I’m no longer giving everyone a free ride on the bike and getting out-run at the end!"
In this individualized version of triathlon, Lawrence knows she needs to continue to weaponize her bike skills and power against the rest of the women’s field. For this she relies on her cycling coach, Eliot Lipski. He choreographs all of her bike workouts down to the last watt, and she loves this approach, as it eliminates all the guesswork on her end. “It’s scientific, based purely on the numbers from training and testing,” she explains. “Sometimes the numbers come easily and sometimes it’s more of a struggle, but I don’t focus on feelings, I just ‘do.’”
It was an interesting conundrum for Lawrence to solve: going it alone works better for her than being part of a team and triathlon includes enough variety for everyone, including Lawrence, to find their niche. “I love that triathlon brings people together from all walks of life, all economic backgrounds and all shapes and sizes.” While there’s no denying that triathlon can be an expensive sport — and she trains with a group that includes some “high powered business executives” — it also includes amateurs that are die-hard fans, scrimping together every penny for a basic triathlon bike that can get the job done.
As one of the best in the world, Lawrence does not want for equipment, and she currently rides a Trek Speed Concept triathlon bike. The bike design, as well as Lawrence’s position on the bike, is designed to minimize aerodynamic drag; she’s looking to pierce the air with minimal resistance in order to go as fast as physically possible over the 56 miles of the triathlon bike course. The bike even includes components that have been 3-D printed just for her, allowing Lawrence to optimize the placement of hydration and nutrition to support her energy expenditure over the course of the race without increasing drag.
Given the technology invested in every detail of her triathlon bike, it’s no surprise that Lawrence’s ride draws attention when rolling through town en route to her training grounds in the Santa Monica hills: “people will wind down car windows to ask about my bike and tell me how cool it looks.” And they’re not just noticing the high visibility yellow and red paint job. Drivers quiz her on the seamless handlebars and aero bars of the bike’s cockpit, the integrated storage box on the back of the frame, and the deep rims of the super light wheels. In Lawrence’s words, “my bike is pimped out… and scary fast!”
Lawrence has come a long way from the backyard bike races that her father refereed, between herself and her triplet siblings during their toddler years. The stabilizers have definitely come off the bike for Lawrence these days, but there’s no mistaking the fierce competitor: “even back then, it was a race to be first!”