Picture this. You are humming along nicely on the bike leg of your 70.3, nutrition is going well, pacing is on track, legs are feeling strong then all of a sudden, pssshhhhhh. Flat tyre. What do you do?
What exactly is your spares strategy in a race? Have you practised it? Do you know whether you can execute it?
This morning I was taking a squad bike session and an interesting thing happened, one of the people in the squad got a flat tyre and they didn't know how to change it. It wasn't a problem, there were plenty of people to change it for them, but it raised the question of what they would do in the coming Busselton 70.3 if they got that puncture on race day.
The best advice I ever got with regard to punctures on race day was simple - don't have them. Now that may seem a little like stating the obvious, but the advice isn't quite as pointless as it sounds. There are numerous things that can be done to minimise your chances of getting a puncture. Making sure your tyres and tubes are in good condition goes a long way. They don't have to be brand new, but as tyres wear out the chances of puncture starts to increase, which means you want to make sure yours are in good nick. Good nick in this case means no cuts or nicks, excessive wear etc.
Another preventive measure that can be taken is riding smart. This means staying out of gutters and away from road edges and anywhere else that road debris gathers. It also pays to watch the road for potholes or stones/rocks, particularly if you are riding on clinchers. The only flat tyre I got in a race was a pinch flat that I got by hitting a rock that was in the middle of the road. Tubular tyres don't pinch flat, hence why this is particularly relevant for clinchers.
If the worst does happen and you get a flat tyre you need to know what you are going to do. This means having a strategy and practising it. When I used to ride tubulars my strategy for 70.3 was literally nothing. If I got a flat it was day over. I was racing for results and the logic was that if I got a flat I would lose to much time, so I didn't carry spares. The strategy for Ironman was to carry spares and attempt a repair.
When I switched to clinchers it became easier to carry a tube and so my strategy became one of repair. I had the tools I needed on the bike and carried two CO2 canisters, one to stuff up and one for pumping up my tyre. I have to say though that when I got my flat I still hadn't actually practised changing a tyre under race conditions. I have changed lots of tyres in my time and so I got it done, but it took me way too long. I could have improved the tyre change significantly simply by having practised changing race tyres on race rims using race tools at home. Tyre on, tyre off and repeat. All I had to have done was that over and over and it would have been a better result. A missed opportunity that would have been simple to avoid.
When it comes to practising repairs under race conditions, one of the most important things to practise is using a CO2 canister. CO2 canisters feature prominently in many people's repair strategy because they are compact, however, it always amazing me how many people carry them in a race without ever having used one. They aren't particularly complicated devices, but it is not uncommon for people to stuff it up the first time they use one. Once again the remedy for this is simple, just practise. CO2 is not that expensive, buy a handful of canisters, let your tyre down and pump it up again. Do that a few times and you will quickly get a feel for how a CO2 inflator works. Once you have that then you can be confident that you will be able to rescue yourself come race day.
In the end, making sure you have a plan to fix a flat tyre on race day can mean the difference between a result and a DNF. Developing that plan doesn't have to be complicated, it is is simply a case of thinking it through and then practise, practise, practise.