What's Cool In Road Cycling

Toolbox: Time Trial Basics – Part II

In Part I of our time trial series we wrote about how time trialing can be beneficial to your overall training. We also looked at some information to get you started and understand what it requires to be successful in the “race of truth.” In this article we will focus more on the time trial itself and offer up some helpful tips to improve your efforts.

The importance of preparation. Solid, deliberate preparation is necessary to be a good time trialist. As we wrote about in Part I, it takes an immense amount of practice to excel in this discipline. The event itself is only the tip of the iceberg. Good time trialists spend an immense amount of time understanding what they are capable of achieving over courses of different length and terrain types. Realize this and understand that the more you prepare and execute to gain experience, the more you will improve over time.

Warming up and the start. Warm ups are always important but probably most important for a time trial. In general, the shorter the race, the more intense the warm up. Don’t be afraid of over warming up. It’s hard to do. Think about when you do other types of intense repetitions and how the second or third effort usually feels better than the first. The same can be applied in a warm up scenario as it applies to the race itself. Of course, determining the exact warm up process depends on your fitness level. There is no standard warm up, as athletes have to learn what works optimally for them. Create a schedule based on your start time and work backwards to finish your warm up as close to your start time as possible. Most importantly, make sure your clock matches the race clock!

Starts and turnarounds. I am not putting these any order of importance. But what happened at Master’s Nationals this year prompted me to put this one pretty much at the top of the list. Two races were decided by about .5 seconds! There are obviously many ways to analyze a loss or gain that small, but the first things that came to mind were the start and turnaround. Do not hesitate to practice this rather trivial component. Practice the complete process, starting with standing away from the start line and someone calling you up and then holding you before the start. Do this within 30 seconds to go through the “rushed” process that happens on race day. A lot of events these days send riders off in 30-second increments so practice the whole routine. From a turnaround perspective, practice turnaround in different width areas. Some roads are wider while others are narrow. Also, although it’s not common, practice a right turn turnaround, versus the traditional left turn version we are all familiar with.

The first kilos. In terms of effort the pacing of the first few kilometers are key, mainly to prevent blowing up when you’re pumped up, fresh and have a major surge of adrenaline. Of course, if the race is short, follow what George Hincapie said after the prologue of this year’s Tour of California. When asked how he gauged his effort, he replied, “I just went as hard as I could.” Design a schedule that you can follow that best mirrors your riding style. Perhaps it’s as simple as taking the first minute at 90%, the second minute at 95% and by the third you are firing on all cylinders. Remember also, that a good warm-up complements this process.

Managing your effort. Riders have to choose how they are going to monitor their progress along the course. It’s a myth that good time trialists just go out there and produce a good time because they have a natural ability for the event. Good time trialists are always monitoring their progress, through the use of time, power, HR, speed or a combination of any of these. This links directly to your preparation. Although power, HR and speed are important, ultimately, it’s the time you are competing against. Prepare time splits to monitor progress. Depending on the course terrain and length, you can create your own schedule through practice. Obviously, this will require pre-riding the course before the event if possible. When you cannot ride the course or it’s the first time you are attempting it (like at a stage race 1000 miles from your home,) you can use your experience of power, HR and speed to gauge your effort.

Cadence. Always a tricky topic and there is no optimal cadence, as it can change based on terrain, weather, speed, and intensity. The key is not to experiment with a new cadence the day of the event. Use the cadence that allows you go the fastest at any given time (this sounds easier than it is in reality). In our experience working with athletes, we emphasize relatively higher cadences (95+) versus lower cadences (85-90.) An interesting statistic here. Back in the 1993-1996 timeframe, when Boardman, Rominger, Indurain and Obree were going after each other trying to set the world hour record, the cadences these guys were doing were all in the 95-105 range, with the last three records all over 102+ rpms. Boardman’s final attempt and current record is at 104 rpm and 445 watts. Amazing! The important thing to take home is that in order to go fast, cadence is generally higher, not lower.

Taking the shortest line. Again, this conjures up thoughts of those .5 seconds lost or gained. The main idea here is to shorten the course and thus shorten your overall time. Also, work on high speed cornering in the TT position to save more time and become more comfortable. It’s a whole different animal to take a corner at high speed in the aero position than on a standard bike setup.

The “sprint.” The sprint in a time trial doesn’t start from 200 meters out. It starts well before that, sometimes 5-10K out from the finish line. Practice and experience will teach you when it’s the best time to do this. The key is to know your body and how hard you can push from how far out that allows maximal effort over the course of the race.

Other riders on the course. Most importantly, you have to ride your own race, but using other riders that you may pass to increase intensity can be a good thing if done properly. Use them as carrots to push a bit harder and see if you can handle the increases in intensity. If another rider passes you, don’t be discouraged. Perhaps it may be what you need to motivate yourself to go a bit faster.

Tire pressure. The conventional wisdom has changed over the past years. It used to be that we pumped our super narrow 19mm tires as high as they would go with the idea of decreasing rolling resistance. Now, tires are chosen that complement the rim widths and tire pressures are kept more civilized to prevent bouncing around. Pressures of 105-115 allow the tire to grip the road surface better, thus allowing you to propel forward, which of course is the goal here.

Time trialing is a great discipline and should be utilized by racers that would like to improve their overall fitness and skills in the sport. It is so important that we spend a good deal of time at our www.athleticamps.com AthletiCamps Race School going over the technical skills needed to be successful. It would be interesting if race promoters and clubs would experiment more with using a standard road bikes (Eddy Merckx division) for time trials, as this would allow more riders to come out and try their hand at time trialing, knowing they are going against other riders that haven’t purchased the equipment.

Ride safe, ride strong,


About Bruce
Bruce Hendler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at www.athleticamps.com and check out the AthletiCamps Blog.

Like PEZ? Why not subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive updates and reminders on what's cool in road cycling?

Comments are closed.