Cyclists call the time trial the race of truth because it gives a true indication of a person's speed and grit. There is no one to draft off, no pack to hide in. Just the biker against the clock.
Sometimes, the truth is obvious. Tuesday night's Moose Run time trial told us something we already know: Sheryl Loan is phenomenal.
Loan, 59, capitalized on perfect conditions to break the Arctic Bike Club's oldest road racing record set 30 years ago.
Loan completed the 10-mile Moose Run time trial in 24 minutes, 22 seconds. The Eagle River woman shaved two seconds off the record set in 1988 by Heather Grahame and tied in 2011 by Shannon Donley. Grahame established the record the same summer she competed in the U.S. Olympic cycling trials.
"It does mean a lot," Loan said Wednesday evening before heading to a mountain bike race at Kincaid Park. "If you look at the records, I actually have a lot of them, but Moose Run — it's the gold standard. The race of truth."
In a time trial, racers go out one at a time in 30-second increments, with the faster riders going last.
The Moose Run time trial starts near the JBER shooting range and goes 5 miles to a turnaround point about a quarter-mile past the Moose Run Golf Course driving range on Arctic Valley Road.
Tuesday's race was part of the four-race Pocketful of Posies women's race series. Loan started 30 seconds behind Amber Stull, one of Alaska's premier cyclists who was coming off a victory in Sunday's Tri the Kenai triathlon.
"It was a good night. You always have to have decent conditions (to set a record). When I got there it was pretty windy but by the time we raced it was pretty still," Loan said.
"Amber Stull was my 30-second person, so I had the preferred place to be — the one chasing. She's strong. She just won a triathlon down on the Kenai this past weekend, so I was thinking she has to be kind of tired. So I did catch her right before the turnaround."
The two raced side by side for the next 2.5 miles before Loan broke away on her way to her record time of 24:22. Stull finished second in 25:01.
"I took a picture of the results before I left and thought, oh, that's a pretty good time," Loan said. "Then I got home, and I have this scratch paper (with a list of previous results), and I said, huh, that's a really good time."
Loan said she came within 15 seconds of the Moose Run record a couple of years ago. The race is held two or three times each season so cyclists can gauge their progress over the course of the summer, and in the first Moose Run time trial this season, Loan was 30 seconds off the record.
"I'm really surprised, actually," she said.
Though Loan deflects talk about her age, she is widely regarded as an ageless wonder. In 2012, she made her Mount Marathon debut at age 53 and finished seventh among women in 59:23, a time that sliced more than two minutes off the 50-59 age-group record, set in 1996 by four-time race champion Carmen Young.
Loan has won the Tour of Anchorage bicycle stage race and the Bike for Women multiple times, often beating women half her age and younger.
"I don't use age-group markers," she said. Nor should she — she is the standard by which most bikers measure themselves. The Arctic Bike Club keeps records in 17 events, and Loan owns 13 of the women's records.
Loan says she begins every season wondering if the previous season marked her peak in the sport, if her days of personal-bests are behind her.
"Because it's gonna happen," she said. "Every season I wonder if that was my last PR year."
That thought revisited Loan after Tuesday night's time trial when she and her 26-year-old daughter, Kinsey Loan, went to Kincaid Park to ride the course for Wednesday's mountain bike race. Kinsey is an accomplished athlete herself and is training for next month's Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon (she placed fourth in Tuesday's time trial in 25:34).
"We were just having fun, but we were going fast," Sheryl Loan said. "And I wondered, 'How long will I be able to do this?' I can ride with her now — she isn't waiting for me at the top of a hill — so when we got done, I said, 'I wonder how long I can keep doing this?' ''
Loan laughed when asked how Kinsey answered the question. "She said, 'I think you'll just keep on going.' ''