The peleton has its standard characters and if you are like me, you like to identify yourselves with one of them. The sprinter, the climber, the domestique, the rolleur, the GC rider. And then there is the time trialist. I think I am multiple personality because I like to be all of them at different times – but the time trialist holds a special place in my heart.
There is something undeniably cool about the time trial. Unlike much of road cycling, the time trial is pure and free from tactics, drafting, positioning and team mates. The race of truth is cycling simplicity. Go there and back, as fast as you can. You and your legs and your lungs. And don’t forget to pack your courage because these things when done right are the epitome of hurt. Sound good? Want to join me?
What does it take to be a good time trialist?
Well, first of all there is the advantage nature gave us. Generally speaking, bigger cyclists go well with TTs (which are more often than not fairly flat) as they tend toward greater power outputs. And those naturally blessed with great threshold power and extraordinary physiology stand tall. Excellent. Completely obvious, and completely useless information as most of this is something we can’t control.
If you are not a hulk with a race horse heart and lungs headed for the ranks of the professionals – don’t despair! If you have neither of these attributes you can still TT well enough. At 54kg there is no good reason why I should TT well – but I still punch above my TT weight, and I am going to tell you how.
- TT bikes do actually make a big difference. If you want to be a specialist get one. And ask if it is UCI legal.
- TT helmets are cool, but don’t get caught training in one – that’s just embarrassing. The only time this is acceptable is if you are doing team time trial training and need to practice speaking and hearing in these things. Harder than it seems. Actually, one test ride before you race is a good idea, just so you can claim adherence to the rule, nothing new on race day!
- Skinsuits are the pick of the day. Longer sleeves are generally more aero, but make sure the fabric is breathable enough or overheating will steal your speed gains and then some.
- Booties and gloves – smooth all those aero bumps and get extra pro points.
- Single bottle cages are where it’s at (unless you are TTing for hours, and then RESPECT!!!!) and note that a cage is faster with a bottle in it than without.
- Body position is one of the biggest contributors to overall aerodynamics. In fact, it is much more important than say being able to own and race a disc wheel.
- 90% of our power is focused on wind resistance, and generally 80% of our wind resistant area is made up of us!
- Somewhere to start –
- Aim for 90’ bend at the shoulder and elbow.
- Back as close to horizontal as you can.
- The ideal position is to also have your elbows in as close together as possible.
- If you are racing something other than laid back club races, remember you need to be UCI legal in your position…. Start by making sure your saddle is 5mm behind the centre of your BB, and that the bike from the BB to the end of your extensions is not greater than 80mm. We could do a whole other post on what the regulations are, but this will get most of you in the ball park.
- Personally for the weekend warrior who doesn’t get to train and race their TT bike a lot, I believe position perfection is overridden by your ability to be comfortable. If you are in the perfect aero position, but you are in agony in your shoulders and neck before you so much as turn a pedal I guarantee you will not ride to your capacity. Back it off a few mm. Be comfortable. And generate your pain from the thing that counts – WATTS.
- I hope you like interval training because you are going to be doing lots of these to be a TTer.
- Most TT specialists look to ride an interval based program targeted towards increasing their threshold power.
- These would usually be something like sets of intervals; for example 3 x 8 minutes with 3 min recoveries at E1. As you get stronger you can do multiple sets, or extend the interval.
- TT specialists might look to do these 3 times a week, with good aerobic recovery rides in between.
The Warm Up
- Because TTs are all out from the gun, a good warm up is essential.
- A minimum of 30 minutes would be recommended and I have seen some riders going closer to an hour.
- Something with 10 -15 minutes of warm up E1, followed by some short (10 second) high cadence accelerations and some 1 min 75/85% HR thresholds a couple of minutes apart would be a good place to start.
- It’s a good idea to sip something caffeinated and/or take a gel at least 15 minutes before.
- Give yourself 10 minutes to get over and line up for your start time – don’t miss it!
- If you are being held for the start and this is new, don’t panic. Here’s the basics
- Check your gear selection is correct for the start.
- Clip one foot in and wait for them to grip your bike by the seat tube
- Clip the other foot in.
- Pedals to about 2 and 10’oclock, hold your brakes on.
- Use left or right hand signals or words for the holder to straighten you up – for example if you feel like you are leaning to the right, give a left hand signal and/or say ‘left left left’.
- As they count down take a big deep breath – on zero look forward and stomp it, and don’t even think about the holder – they know what to do.
- Try and relax your hands while you are racing and don’t grip tight. You are wasting energy and focus which could be channeled to the pedals.
- Open up your chest and remember to use your lungs. Think about forcibly breathing OUT. Don’t worry, if you are doing it right I guarantee the IN will take care of itself.
- Pacing is a topic of much mystery and black magic! Some people believe in riding to an exact heart rate or power number. Some ride to perceived exertion. Some to an overall average.
- You know you are onto something important when people often get cagey on the subject, and the better TTers might not even want to share their secrets.
How about we start with the Science.
Latest research is suggesting the best time trialists are not just those that have the highest average power but those that can handle variations either side of that average.
So practically what does that mean for you? Set your Power display to average and then smash those pedals. Variations of up to 10% are a-ok. If you have to hammer over a hill, or through a cross wind do it. Back off a touch down the hill to manage yourself. Overall the research is clear. This method is faster than looking at instant power and trying to make sure the number never changes. Particularly if there are hills or wind.
What about cadence?
Strictly speaking the single biggest physiological determinant of TT performance is not lactate threshold or any cardiovascular ability – it is power output, pure and simple.
Power = force X #revolutions per minute.
If you are able to change down a gear and spin at a high enough cadence, it is possible to have a greater power output. It may even feel easier. Learning to ride with a higher cadence takes time and is generally a neuromuscular adaption. Worthwhile if you are good TTer. There are of course individual variations. I know personally I TT at a relatively low (poor) cadence. I know this is because I spend my time on mountain bikes mashing single speed gears. I get away with it because MTBing requires peak forces to be generated over and over as we clear obstacles on the trail. So while my revolutions per minute might be lower, the force is compensating to create the same power and my muscles are conditioned to work in this way. My advice is here is aim for high cadence, but know yourself and race what you train.
Time Trials are a great way for people to cross over into road racing. They are gaining popularity as people can begin to experience and enjoy competitive road riding without having to be ready to face the challenge of close group riding in Crits or Road Racing. Most local clubs run TTs a couple of times a year and of course there are always the State and National level Masters and Elite events on the calendar. No experience necessary – hope to see you soon!
Photos supplied by ESI Sports Photography