Table of Contents
A time-trial, referred to here onwards, as a “TT”, is from an external perspective, competitive cycling in its easiest form. It’s just you, your bike and the clock. Theoretically, you could stay in your small crank, settle into a granny-gear and enjoy the scenery.
Alternatively, you could attempt to go anaerobic for the entire duration, which in a ‘distance’ TT, is a recipe for implosion and a very long day.
A long TT is far more challenging than simply going from point A to point B as fast as you can. It appears simple, yet it is far from easy.
It incorporates a variety of influencing metrics, including; discipline, mindset, pacing, visualization,nutrition,course knowledge and experience to name but a few of many factors that determine success.
For those that train in groups, or like to hide in the draft behind your mate in front, or who are not used to riding alone, it is an entirely new experience.
There are no other wheels to follow, no pack to hide in, and it hurts like hell from the start until the finish line.
TT events could be used by university students to write theses on pacing, strategy and mental toughness. A successful TT cyclist possesses not only endurance and strength, but is intelligent about their strengths, weaknesses, fitness metrics and limitations.
To successfully pace a TT and execute at an athlete’s full potential, is indisputably an art and mastery of a discipline.
A TT is first and foremost, you against you, regardless of the distance.
Success and failure has been summarized as follows:
A well-paced TT – you are barely holding target wattage, or slightly more at the finish.
An under-paced TT – you are able to substantially increase wattage and increase effort over the last few kms.
An over-paced TT – you implode and lose time anywhere from 2 minutes or more from the finish.
Over the years, numerous technological advances in the form of cycling computers and power meters, highlighting wattage, heart rate, cadence,etc. have enabled athletes to better gauge effort, and therefore smoothen their effort over the event.
A 180 km TT is likely gauged at the extreme end of a TT for most cyclists.
Many cyclists have never ridden the distance in their cycling career and may have only seen this number reflected in their training diary as ‘weekly mileage’ !
Regardless of the distance of a TT, a base level of cycling fitness is required.
For the purpose of this article and its audience, we will presume that most readers are experienced cyclists who have followed a balanced training program for at least one year, which
includes a weekly long ride of at least four hours, and two or more sessions where at least one includes high intensity work.
Cycling-specific strength is a key TT performance determinant, as the power you can sustain over long periods will be underpinned by your peak power.
A very BRIEF overview of what a minimum training week should include;
This ride should be at least fours and eventually increase to at least six, if not seven. The session should be executed on the time trial bike, in its geometric set-up, and using the exact electrolyte and calorie strategy as will be used in the event, enabling future tweaking if required.
This means a solo ride, unless you have fellow riders who are comfortable with you in a TT set-up (if you are using aerobars). It is recommended that the entire ride be executed alone, so that specific intervals may be executed and to better mimic race conditions.
If at all possible, practice on the TT course if the venue is local and conditions permit.
This topography and environmental conditions should as best as possible, mirror that of the event.
Endurance intervals which include working against a very hard resistance over long periods, is key to TT success. Effective intervals may be as follows:
- 15 minute warm up
- 4-5 x 30 minutes at TT pace, increasing interval duration every week or two by a few minutes until intervals are 60 minutes in duration.
- 15-30 minutes to cool down.
- For triathletes, this should be followed by a 30-45 minute run commencing at marathon pace and including 2-3 x 5 mins at 10km race pace.
All relevant data from these sessions and nutrition/hydration used, should be accurately recorded, reviewed and used in planning for next week’s long ride. Every 3rd or 4th long ride may be simply an enjoyable, non-structured ride, a recovery ride per se.
The goal is for all intervals to have similar metrics, so that an even distribution of energy and stress is measured across all disciplines. This will assist athletes in gauging their ability, power output, nutritional requirements in addition to strengths and weaknesses,leading to accurate pacing and performing optimally.
Gym-based strength work in the off-season helps to minimize overuse injuries.
HIGH INTENSITY INTERVALS
There are a variety of intervals that may be incorporated into preparation for a TT that may be conducted on a stationary bike at home if so desired.
Examples after a 15 minute warmup may be as follows:
- 60 mins including 10-20 x 30-60 second sprints and 2 mins flat out.
- 2 x (6 x 30 seconds) flat-out with 30 seconds recovery between intervals.
- Five minutes of easy spinning between sets, followed by 5 x 1-minute at TT pace with 1-minute recoveries in between.
- Warm down: 10 minutes
- These sessions improve our ability to manage lactic acid and enhance our mindset and visualization.
High Cadence intervals
Cadence is crucial in producing optimal power in terms of both economy at submaximal speeds as well as peak power at maximum.
These sessions assist us in creating a fast cadence as economically as possible.
Warm-up: 10 minutes including five spin-ups to max cadence
Intervals: 10 x 1-minute efforts with 1-minute recovery;
- 5 x 1-minute @120rpm
- 3 x 1-min increasing to 140 rpm+ for final 10 seconds
- 1 x 1-minute increasing to 140 rpm+ for final 15 seconds and
- 1 x 1-minute increasing to 140 rpm+ for final 20 seconds
It is fair to say that we have all seen great riders on garbage bikes and the opposite as well.
I do not ever recall seeing a great rider being mocked quietly (or publicly) for doing well on a retro bike with shifters on the down tube ! I have however, seen many,individuals who have deep pockets and “poser” mentalities with top of the line bikes, with the all of the latest gear and TT set-ups, yet they have not done their homework, and either spend 80% of the ride sitting up or in aero and pushing low wattage.
Bike selection and gear is personal, but best to own a Ferrari if you have extensive driving expertise and capabilities.
The smallest of tweaks in aero-position, can mean a lot. Personally, I have been dialed in whilst being less fit for a TT and had better finishing times and felt better throughout, as opposed to being in optimal shape but poorly dialed in.
It is well worth visiting your local bike shop(LBS), tip, buy them a pizza or coffee on occasion, they can help in your journey A LOT, and get them to dial in your TT position.
You can have the most expensive frame, wheels, aerobars, gearing, etc. available, but if you are not optimally fit, you are throwing away time.
To summarize; buy what you are comfortable with and can afford. Do not believe in the hype of a lower weight frame being worth USD$ 1000 more unless you are at optimal race weight. If you don’t know what that weight is, you are probably over race weight and would save yourself considerable cash by eating and training better.
Attached to bike fit as earlier mentioned is to be properly geometrically fit to your bike so you can optimally transfer your power through the bike to the road.
Resistance to the wind is our biggest enemy. We make up 80% of our resistance moving forward !
90% of our energy produced goes into overcoming wind resistance. Logically, minimize that resistance and you’ll be faster.
By reducing a frontal surface area reduces drag, as do aerobars and lowering our body.
There is a sweet spot however. The lower you go on the front becomes substantially harder on the neck and back, especially over 180 kms. Also the opening and closing of the hips is altered which, depending on the geometry of the body on the bike, could easily lower the ability to generate wattage sustainably in that position.
A shorter head tube makes dialing-in your aerodynamic position easier as the front end is lower which reduces wind surface area.
Additionally, changing the stem or using a downward angle and removing spacers and adding clip-on bars will lower and narrow the front reducing frontal surface area.
Aero wheels and an aero helmet may also make a big difference to your speed.
After these changes have been made, athletes could further refine their TT set-up with skinsuits, overshoes, and aero bottles (bidons).
Some extra advice – gained through years of post ride coffee sessions !
- In the day(s) prior to a TT you need intensity, otherwise you’re flat on race day. Rest days should be taken early in the week and get your legs back into race mode in the 2 or 3 days before race/ TT day. 1600
- Never sprint out of the gates, you will pay for this eagerness later. “Ease” into the TT as opposed to ‘pedal to the metal’ and trying to hang on at the end.
- Acutely monitor your effort in the first few minutes,this is where adrenaline misinterprets our rate of perceived exertion(RPE) making an unsustainable pace seem sustainable.
- Assuming a flat course for simplicity’s sake, a strategy may be to execute the first 100km at RPE 6.5-7 (1 being easiest and 10 being the hardest) and then every 20 km adding 0.5 RPE.
- In other words;
- 100 km RPE 6.5
- 100 – 120 km RPE 7.0
- 120 – 140 km RPE 7.5
- 140 – 160 km RPE 8.0
- 160 – 180 km RPE 8.5+
(For Ironman triathletes, these RPE levels, it is probably advisable to commence at RPE 5.5 and never exceed RPE 7.5).
- Know the course as intricately as possible. This means, if it is a closed course as it should be, knowing if the road is well manicured and ‘swept’ to avoid glass on the shoulder, potholes that may have been missed by road crews and race directors,etc. Knowing the topography of inclines and declines,rollers,etc. To help yourself better manage effort.
- On hilly courses power through the final phase of the climb, the crest and resist the impulse to relax, keep the effort on and catch a breather on the descent.
- Use optimal gearing. Make sure you have the best gearing for the course. This goes the same for aero set up. If it is a very hilly TT, it may be better suited to use a road bike with clip-on aero bars as opposed to an aggressive TT set up.
- If the race is in dry conditions and the road lines are well maintained, ride the paint as it is flatter and has lower rolling resistance provided it does not lie far from the inner radius in curves making the distance longer. Avoid it however in wet conditions.
- Practice stretching your lower back, glutes and hamstrings. Ride in your TT position as often as possible to become more and more comfortable in your dialed-in position.1958
To encapsulate all of the training methodologies and strategies to successfully complete a time-trial of any distance, could easily be made into a 20 chapter training book.
Hopefully, the included knowledge and experience here has provided some added value and motivation for readers to sign up for an upcoming time-trial, or adapt a different approach in the event.
Either way, be proud of yourself if you complete a time trial, with relatively even pacing and feel you gave everything you had on the course (except triathletes !).
Safe riding to you all !