“A Time Trial isn’t always won by the rider who produces the highest watts per kilogram figure”
By Anthony Walsh, BL
Time Trialling is often referred to as the race of truth. On the surface it would appear that the race of truth is the purest measure of a riders’ ability to generate power, maintain focus and endure pain. However, a number of subtle elements often combine to determine the eventual outcome.
Preparation for the event
The demands of road racing are dynamic. Different races require different skill sets. By and large, we can prepare with a degree of certainty for the demands we will face on race day in a Time Trial. Two of the most popular distances are 16km and 40km. In both these events, threshold power will be a massive limiting factor. The ability to withstand lactic build up at a higher wattage level is the main contributing factor in success or failure.
Training for a target event we move from the general to the specific. The closer we get to the event the more focused training should become and as we approach ‘peak’ training, stresses should mirror race demands. For brevity sake we will focus on the period eight weeks out from our target race and leave the intricacies of base period training for another day.
What sessions should I do?
The period seven weeks before the race is our key training phase. The last week is not the time to build any fitness. During the last week, our goal is to restore Training Stress Balance to a figure approaching zero. A 20 – 30% reduction in training volume and intensity will enable us to reduce fatigue while the inclusion of some short efforts will allow us to retain sharpness. This period is of fundamental importance and the quality of these sessions will go a long way to determining one’s result. The focus during this period should be on threshold efforts – efforts at or just below race pace.
A typical workout would be between 2 – 4 efforts of 12 – 20 minutes in duration, depending on how advanced in the training block one is. You need to be fully recovered from the previous session before attempting the next. I would advise three of these sessions per week which should be separated by a reduced intensity or recovery day
A structured warm-up is a crucial part of our preparation to optimise performance. It serves a dual purpose of preparing the body for the rigours of competition and allows time to mentally prepare for the battle ahead. The physiological and mental effects of the warm-up include but are not limited to:
1. Elevating body temperature
2. Raising the metabolic rate and heart rate – priming the body to release more fuel and stimulate increased oxygen/blood flow
3. Increasing nervous and hormonal activity
4. Increases mental awareness and serves as a time to focus on the task at hand
The shorter warm-up is shown to produce less muscle fatigue and a higher peak power. A warm-up that is performed at too high of an intensity, for longer than necessary, can result in fatigue and impair subsequent athletic performance (New findings challenge conventional wisdom and find shorter warm-ups of lower intensity are better for boosting cycling performance, Krupa, American Physiology Society, 2013)
The following is a suggested warm-up routine for events ranging from 16-40km:
10 minutes Zone 1
2 x 5 minute ramps (ramping power from Z1-Z5, 5 min recovery interval)
3 x 7 second all out cadence drills (aiming to hit peak cadence in the last second)
5 minutes easy
How do you pace a TT?
There has been a lot of research carried out on optimum pacing strategies. Most of us likely fall into the category of hitting the start ramp over amped and thus starting too hard. The hard start takes a massive toll and leads to a below threshold segment approaching the half way mark. The realisation that the finish line is in sight brings fresh optimism and an upping of the pace approaching the finish. If you fall into this category you need to rethink your pacing strategy.
The best strategy to employ is a dynamic one based on terrain and wind conditions. One should target areas of the course with the goal to gain the greatest benefit for any extra watts invested. More wattage is needed to overcome wind resistance at higher speeds – the faster we travel the more turbulence we create. To maximise the return on your wattage investment, it’s best to ride hills and headwinds slightly above your target wattage and take advantage of gravity and tailwinds with a lower than goal wattage.
A problem for professional and amateur testers alike is the restrictive aerodynamic position of the Time Trial bike. Attempts have been made by bicycle manufactures to minimise the frontal drag produced by both bike and rider. This means these bikes can be very uncomfortable. The restrictive hip angle often yields big drop offs in power at threshold when compared to a standard road setup. The only way to minimise your drop off rate is to adapt to this restrictive position. Ride the bike frequently. I would advise riding the Time Trial bike at least twice a week in the seven week period leading up to your A-priority event. It is a good habit to ride in the aerodynamic position for the entirety of your recovery ride.
A Time Trial isn’t always won by the rider who produces the highest watts per kilogram figure. Focusing on efficiency, pacing and preparation can yield a massive benefit in an event where small margins separate winners and losers.