I found this fantastic three part Time Trial training article from Sandy Scott and got his permission to republish it here. It’s a great read…
By Sandy Scott
WARNING: The information you are about to read will make you a faster time trial racer. If you are a cyclist who likes to race simply to participate, if you enjoy paying money to race with no hope of winning, or if racing is just a social event for you, this article may or may not be of interest to you. Prior to giving up on the article, however, please read at least the next paragraph for a different perspective by Dave Viney, an elite-class time trial competitor. If, however, you are a hardcore racer (or want to be) who comes to win and believes as I do that the only winner in a race is the guy on the top step of the podium, and that the other two guys on the podium are the first and second losers, then this article will definitely be of interest to you.
Part 1 – General Information
Dave Viney is the finest time trial rider I have ever known. He is a multiple Canadian national masters time trial champion, and multiple North American Masters time trial champion riding the fastest time in the meet for anyone over 30 while he was in his 50s! He is currently 59 years old, and, in most time trial events, he turns in the top time overall beating even the Pro, 1, 2 groups. A month before his planned, peak form for the Canadian and North American Masters championships, Dave rode a 40 kilometer time trial at the USCF Florida State Time Trial Championships in 52:55 at the age of 58 that’s an incredible 28.2 mph average for almost 25 miles! Upon completion of this article, I sent it to Dave for comments. Here is his take on time trialling: Not too quibble but I kind of like the TT because you are competing against yourself so everyone can be a winner by improving on previous performances on the same course hence the popularity of the thousands of weekly club-run TTs. In that Dave is my time trial hero, our differing philosophical outlook notwithstanding, in deference to him, I invite those of you who are casual racers to read on. You will find other comments by Dave highlighted in red throughout the text.
Time trialling is called the Race of Truth for good reason. There are no wheels to suck, and there are no excuses you are on your own, you are in the wind, and there is no place to hide! If you listen to the chatter at the end of the typical road race, you will hear many of the following statements: I got boxed in; I didn’t know someone was off the front; I was driven wide in the last turn; Someone sat up in front of me; My lead out man went too early; My lead out man went too late; etc., etc., etc.. There are no excuses in a time trial you either cover the distance faster than everyone else or you lose.
There is admittedly an element of luck, and certainly, a lot of strategy in road racing and, hence, the strongest rider does not necessarily win. In time trial races, assuming equal equipment, preparation, technique, and the ability and willingness to experience pain, the strongest rider will almost always win. I love that! In a TT the strongest rider who does the best job at pacing and maximizing his effort, and who has done his homework in equipment preparation and course review, will win.
To be a good time trialist, you need not only a strong engine, but you must be willing and able to withstand rather intense pain. To me, that kind of pain is delightful pain I embrace it! You must also be able to concentrate otherwise, if you let your mind wander, you will assuredly allow your speed (or power) to fall off leading to a result below your potential. Time trial riding is hard work and you have a lot of tasks in addition to just riding your bike fast!
While on the subject of pain, I have never forgotten a statement made by Olympic swimming champion, Don Schollander, who set three world records en route to winning four (4) gold medals at the 1964 Olympics. When asked by a reporter what separates a champion from the rest of the pack he said, The difference between a champion and a non-champion is, that when the body is screaming out in pain, the champion pushes his body even harder while the others do not.
If you are still reading this, let’s deal with specifics. I will assume that you are serious enough about time trial racing that you have equipped yourself properly for optimal performance:
1. You have a dedicated time trial bicycle with aero wheels that have been properly fitted to you.
2. You plan to wear a skin suit, aerodynamic helmet, booties over your shoes, and no gloves.
3. You will run with a water bottle on the seat tube.
Part 2 – Race Preparation
It is the day before a time trial race at which you plan to compete. I suggest that you prepare a checklist of the things you wish to bring with you that can be printed out and used every time you race. Check off each item prior to leaving home so you have no surprises the next morning.
Some of the things that I bring in addition to the obvious are: Extra wheels so that I don’t need to struggle with tire/wheel issues when I should be warming up or thinking about the race, spray adhesive (I use Duro All-Purpose or Elmers Craft Bond spray adhesives) for affixing the racing number to my jersey (numbers that are pinned tend to flap in the breeze which is distracting and not aerodynamic), a tool kit with everything I might need for minor repairs, a pump, a bike stand on which to prop my bicycle, pre-race meal items and energy gel(s) and bars, sunblock, water and/or other fluids, etc.
Clean your bike thoroughly a clean bike is a fast bike. Check your tires carefully for any chards of glass or anything else that might later cause a flat. Inflate your tires prior to leaving home. You don’t need the surprise and aggravation of a presta valve failure or any other tire issues the morning of the race. I vary pressures depending on road surface- 150-160 psi for a hard, smooth surface, down to 120 on a chip-and- seal-type surface. Although this is probably stating the obvious, do not run 150 pounds of pressure in a tire designed for a maximum of 125 pounds! I use tubular tires which typically have much higher inflation limits than clinchers.
If the race is the next morning and far enough from your home to require a hotel stay, arrive during daylight hours to leave yourself enough time to familiarize yourself with the course. Drive or ride the course noting turns, landmarks, condition of the road, hazards, etc. I’m a firm believer in the process of visualization prior to an athletic event. With the course in mind, you can envision yourself successfully racing the course.
Try to get a good nights sleep the night before the race, but, if you find yourself nervous and unable to readily sleep, remember that the two nights previous to that night are the important nights to sleep well.
Arise early enough to allow at least three (3) hours between your pre-race meal and the actual race. Eat a very light pre-race meal even a light feeding will feel like a five (5) course dinner on a nervous stomach, but a light meal will feel digested by race time. Experiment with your pre-race meal to see what works best for you. Even though I drink a glass of orange juice every morning prior to my workout, I don’t do well with it on a nervous, pre-race stomach.
Through experimentation, my pre-race meal has evolved to the following: A Clif bar, banana, and water to drink. As a competitive runner, I got into the habit of taking two pre-race aspirins as both a blood thinner (controversial) and to mask the various aches and pains that I seemed to chronically suffer while pursuing that sport. I have continued the habit with my cycling races, and if nothing else, I benefit from the placebo effect in the belief that my performance will be enhanced! Out of curiosity, I contacted a physician friend of mine who happens to also be an avid time trial competitor to get his perspective on the use of aspirin pre-competition. He told me that commencing at the age of 50, he began a regimen of taking a daily low dose aspirin of 81 mg. On race day, he ups his dose to two 350 mg aspirins as a heart attack/stroke preventative. Each of us is unique; you have to experiment and find out what works for you. For some people, a little caffeine (coffee, coke, or tablet) helps with especially short TTs early in the day.
Many time, trial events will post start times either on the Internet or at the official event hotel the night prior to the race. If possible, ascertain your start time the night before the race, and pick up your race packet if available. Place your number on your skin suit that night. It saves valuable time and effort in the morning when you need to concentrate on the race and warming up. If you do not have a start time and/or race packet in advance, plan to arrive at the race venue at least one and one-half hours prior to the start time of the first racer. Register immediately and affix your race number to your skin suit, and if a transponder is used, install it or have it installed on your bike. Check your start time, and sync your watch with the official race clock. Cruise by the start periodically to see that they are keeping to a published schedule – your time starts when they say go for your number regardless of whether you are there or not there is NO excuse for missing your start time.
Prior to commencing your warm-up, check your bicycle for any obvious issues. Make sure that your wheels are spinning freely, and not pressing against a brake pad from lying in your car. Plan to warm up for at least an hour for a time trial event. Even a long time trial requires a very warm engine at the start so that you can achieve your goal pace immediately without feeling either physical or nervous system distress. The first half-hour of your warm-up should be comprised of easy spinning. In the second half-hour you should commence doing race pace pickups allowing some lactic acid to build up and dissipate. Finally, finish your workout with a couple of brief sprints. Your legs and system will be now ready for battle. Some competitors use trainers for their warm-up. Ideally, I warm up on the racecourse – I would rather feel the road as I will experience it in the race. Here is Dave Vineys warm-up routine:
I warm-up for the first 45 min or so on my road bike – more comfortable, less worry about punctures, got spare with me in case etc, then for last 45 min move to TT bike and TT helmet, booties etc. and do several hard efforts getting up to race wattage for extended periods-3-5 min- I have found that doing a warm-up on a trainer was not good for me – I have to feel the road and the power of the wind and how it will affect me in TT position- I’ve got to get comfortable with wind buffeting me and how a bike will handle at 30mph in that wind on that road. The shorter the TT the longer and harder the warm-up ambient temperature also needs to be considered but maybe that is whole other article.
It is 10 minutes prior to your start time. Look for Part 3 of this series dealing with actual racing techniques.
Part 3 – The Race
You have completed a thorough warm-up, and it is 10 minutes until your start time. Earlier, you have checked to make sure that the start times are going as scheduled. Prior to getting to your place in line, put your bicycle in the gear with which you will start the race. I typically start in 53-14 assuming no wind and a flat roadway at the starting line. If you start in too low a gear, you will spin out too quickly leading to unnecessary early shifting. If you start in too high a gear, your legs will be forced to make a harder effort than needed to efficiently get off the line. You need to try this in practice to find your own best starting gear and then consider start conditions. Some of the variables include an up or downslope, tailwind, fast, sharp turn just off the line, ramp start, holder or foot-down start.
I have had the experience of my chain coming off while being held for the start and pedaling backwards to position my cranks to clip in with my second foot. Because bar-end shifters are constantly variable, it is easy to not be precisely in gear with them. Upon completion of shifting into your starting gear, roll your cranks backwards for a few repetitions to assure yourself that the chain will not come off at the starting line.
There is a tendency for competitors to line up for a time trial much too early a time that would be better spent completing a thorough warm-up. You will find many of them casually chatting as they await their turn to start. You, on the other hand, will take your starting place minutes before your scheduled start. Your engine will be well warmed up, and you will be ready to immediately commence a hard effort without shocking your body and getting needless lactic acid buildup. You will have time to chat when you collect your gold medal.
When you are number one in line, pull your bike up to the starting line, clip in with one foot, apply your brake(s), and confirm with your holder that he or she has you securely held prior to clipping in with your second foot. Some competitors do not feel comfortable being clipped in and balanced by a holder. If you do not wish to be held, inform the starters of that fact as you pull up to the start position. Place the pedal of your power leg at the 2 o’clock position in preparation for coming off the line with a powerful downstroke. Reset your computer to zero so you have an independent measure of your time and accurate distance. You don’t want to be manipulating anything but your pedals when you are given the go signal. If you are using a heart-rate monitor, start it with five (5) seconds to go in the countdown, and get out of the seat in preparation for the release by your holder. When the starter finishes your countdown, accelerate very briskly to get up to race pace. A fast start is particularly important in a short time trial such as one contested over 5K. Remember, often fractions of a second separate the finishers and you don’t want to lose the race due to poor start.
As an aside, a study of running milers showed that coming off the line very fast in the first 10 seconds led to no more of an anaerobic state than coming off the line slower. The same holds true for a cycling start. Let’s assume that your planned average speed for a 5K race is 25 mph. Remember, you are not only starting from zero, but most time trial races have a 180-degree turn at the halfway point where you can lose most of your momentum. This means that when you are looking at your computer, you had better be looking at more than 25 mph in order to achieve your planned average.
Continue your acceleration, look down the road, and when you have reached your race pace, settle back into your seat and on to your aero bars. Often times, your adrenalin will carry you to speeds much too fast to sustain. I, for example, am often surprised when I first check my computer to discover that I am doing over 30 mph. Slowly let your speed bleed off to your planned race pace. Understand that speed can be VERY misleading in that there might be a head/tailwind and/or down or upslope. For those of you who use power meters, wattage is the ultimate gauge of effort.
There are many conflicting philosophies and techniques as to how to properly race a time trial. Some coaches advise to treat the first half of the race as if it were the whole race, and then use everything that you have left to race the second half. I don’t always agree with this. Assuming no wind, I have found that I can achieve the best times by racing a negative split; i.e., racing the second half of the race faster than the first half. The danger with the opposite strategy is blowing up prior to the finish.
My philosophy of racing on windy days is a bit different. Many racers are quite conservative when the starting leg is into the wind. They try to conserve energy reasoning that they will make it up by going very fast on the downwind leg. In these conditions, especially in a short race like the commonly-contested 5K at Senior Games events, I treat the headwind portion of the race as if the turnaround point is the finish line. I know through experience that once I turn around, I will be able to still go fast on the downwind leg. Using that technique at the 2007 Florida State Senior Games, I was able to break both the 5 & 10K state records on a day in which there was a very brisk headwind on the outbound leg, and many racers performed well under their potential. I believe in putting an extra effort into the slowest part of the course where for example there are headwinds, hills, etc. This is where you spend and gain the most time. You might be saying to yourself, Great theory pal, but it just doesn’t make sense to me. As a retired airline pilot whose degree is in engineering, let me demonstrate my thesis using an aeroplane and a simple mathematical problem.
Assume that a 100 mile east/west (200 mile total) course has been marked out in the sky. Assume that there is no wind. An aeroplane flying at 100 mph enters the course flying in an easterly direction, traverses the course, makes a 180 degree turn, re-enters the course and flies the course in a westerly direction. According to the formula of D=RT (distance equals rate of speed multiplied by time), solving the equation for T (time) reveals that the aeroplane took a total of 2 hours flying the 200 mile round trip. Note that we are only counting the time on the course. Now assume that the wind conditions change, and there is a 10 mph wind from the east. The aeroplane again enters the course flying at an indicated speed of 100 mph and flies the eastbound section of the course with a 10 mph headwind (groundspeed would be 90 mph). The aircraft reverses direction now flying the westerly portion of the course with a 10 mph tailwind (groundspeed would be 110 mph). The question is, did it A) Take the same amount of time in both examples to fly the round trip? B) Less time with the wind added? Or C) More time when the wind was added?
The answer is not as important as the reason for the answer. The answer of course is C: It takes longer to fly the course when the wind becomes a factor. The reason for that result is that the aircraft spends more time flying at a slower ground speed in the headwind than it does when it is flying faster due to the tailwind of equal intensity. In other words, you are flying for a longer period of time while being bogged down by the headwind than you are when being helped by the tailwind. Hence, the headwind has more of a negative effect than the tailwind has a positive effect. There is no way of making that time up unless speed is increased. If you do not expend an extra effort in the headwind, the same phenomenon will be the cause of you riding a slower time trial. Admittedly, it is a painful, albeit effective, technique!
So, there you are racing the course: You have settled into your aero position, you are riding at your planned race pace (or power goal), and the pain is getting a bit uncomfortable. What often separates the winners from the losers is a mental attitude and mental work. The poor time trial rider often deals with the pain by disassociation the rider thinks of pleasant, distracting things to get his or her mind off of the incessant pain. The good time trial rider embraces the pain and works at testing the limits of that pain. You don’t have to slow down simply because you are experiencing lactic acid build up in your legs. Perhaps you can even increase your speed without suffering additional pain. And if you do suffer additional pain, embrace it!
You must constantly be aware of your effort, speed (and/or power when using a power meter) and focus on the race. It is vital that you constantly run checks on your position and your body. Make sure that your speed has not slowed ever so slightly and, if it has, increase your effort to regain your planned pace (or power). Check that your body is relaxed and that you do not have a death grip on the bars. Remember, you have a fuel tank with a finite amount of fuel to use in the race. The ideal expenditure of fuel is to empty the tank as you cross the finish line.
Excessive gripping of the bar, grimacing of the face, tightness in the shoulders, etc., all use fuel unnecessarily. Check your knee position they should be very close to the top tube in your pedal stroke. The more you let your knees wander from the optimal position, the less efficiently you will be able to cut through the air. Check your shoulder position make sure you are not bringing them up towards your ears. Push your abdomen towards the top tube to be more aerodynamic. You must constantly monitor these things throughout the duration of the race. Be sure you are belly breathing rather than inefficient and enervating chest breathing. Relax!
If the course is a technical course, be aware of your surroundings. I personally seem to lose a lot of my cognitive skills when I am performing at a maximal effort. As an example, at the Senior Olympics in 2007, I was sure that I was en route to a winning effort based on my pace, and the closure with other racers well known to me. I rounded a turn at about 30 mph, turned down a steep roadway only to be confronted by barricades at the end. I had gone off course! I had to make a 180 degree turn, climb a steep grade only to arrive 30 seconds later at a spot that I had been doing 30 mph rather than almost zero. Needless to say, I lost that important race. Last year at our USCF state road race championships, I was the lead cyclist following a police motorcycle escort. I was so intense and focused on racing fast, that when the motorcycle made a 90 degree right turn on the actual course, I kept going straight and off course. I, fortunately, caught up and won the race. I plan to attempt to think more clearly in the future!
When you reach the turnaround point, get up out of the saddle and accelerate back to race pace prior to settling back into your aero position. It is particularly vital to make an efficient, SAFE (I have fractured my neck in a turn on a time trial course) turn in a short time trial. As an aside, practising turns as part of your training will be time well spent. The barriers in the turn, officials, and cones can be quite intimidating and distracting so practice a few times on the course by rounding them before the race. When you do practise your turns, try to simulate race conditions by approaching at race pace, not braking too soon, and losing as little momentum as possible in the turn. This will also give you an opportunity to choose your optimal braking point for the race.
Focus on riders that started before you try to close on them. A technique that some successfully use is to focus on a road sign or other landmark and make-believe that it is a very strong magnet pulling you towards it.
Continue to check your pace, position on the bike, hands, face and shoulders for relaxation. As you tire, there is a tendency to mash down on the pedals. Check your pedal stroke for smoothness and symmetry. By now, you are probably seriously hurting, but allow yourself a brief moment away from the business at hand to envision that championship medal and jersey that you are about to win. Last year at the Florida State USCF time trial championships contested at 20K for my age group, the second half of the race was into the wind. The pain was so intense that I promised my body that if it let me not blow up and win the state championship, I would never subject it to that kind of punishment again! It did, but, of course, I broke my promise!
Here is what Dave Viney is thinking towards the end of a time trial effort: Over the last few km I keep repeating the mantra I am not going to lose this damn race by a few seconds after all this pain keeps the pressure on don’t put yourself in the position to be saying-If I had known he was 3 seconds ahead of me I could have caught him but I didn’t know – just assume somebody out there is within a sec of you so every second does matter – don’t give it away at the end!
As they get tired, many racers make the mistake of looking down at the road. If you are wearing an aero helmet, that simply places a big windcatcher (the long pointed end of the helmet) into the airstream. Maintain your position on the bike. Many riders make the mistake of continuously searching for a gear that feels better. Find that gear that enables you to run at a very efficient time trial cadence of around 85-95 rpm, and stick with it!
At last, the finish line is in sight! You have nothing different to do than you have been doing. If you are able to speed up or sprint at this point, you have not held a fast enough pace. You should have nothing left in your tank as you approach the finish line which means you were running on fumes.
As you can see, there are a lot of things to consider and think about in order to ride an efficient, fast time trial. You have no time to spare to disassociate yourself from the task at hand. If you have practised the above techniques in your interval training, they will become second nature when you race. You race as you train.
Do a nice warm down on your bicycle, and ideally arrive at the awards ceremony in time to take your place on the top step of the podium.
If you are competing in the typical Senior Games events, there will be both 5K & 10K time trials. Continue to ride your bike between the events to keep your legs loose. I consume an athletic gel such as Clif Shots between races, hydrate myself, and start thinking about the next race. If you put forth the maximal effort that you should have in the first race, you might entertain thoughts of scratching from the second race. You will find as you warm down that you will finally stop feeling like you are sick to your stomach and your lungs are on fire as many often do at the end of a hard-run time trial especially an early season effort.
Train, plan, and race hard, and enjoy one of the most self-satisfying experiences in our sport a well run, gold-medal-winning time trial race!