Fast, furious… and the sort of ride where you vow ‘never again’, until the endorphins kick in and you’re already looking up dates for the next one. Time trialling is a great way to test yourself against the clock and experience the sense of freedom that comes with riding your bike as fast as you can. In the final of our Tour Inspired Tips series, we’ve got a few top tips to help you ride faster, finish stronger and nail your next TT.
HOW TO NAIL YOUR NEXT CYCLING TIME TRIAL
Train how you race: Bring in some intensity
Depending on the length of the time trial, it’s likely you’ll be riding at (or even above) your threshold. To be able to perform at high intensity, you’ve got to add some higher intensity work into your training so that your body (and your mind) are prepared for what you’re going to ask of them on TT day.
It’s important that you don’t do too much of your weekly training volume on the bike at high intensity. But an example would be to do one high intensity interval session a week, alongside a tempo session and then one or two easier Zone 2 endurance rides. For those higher intensity intervals, you could try a session such as 6 x 3 minutes at VO2 max with 3 minutes easy recovery in between. For the intervals, you want to be riding above your threshold power (approx. 110% of FTP), at Zone 6 heart rate, or at around an 8 or 9/10 if you work to perceived exertion rather than power and heart rate numbers. Not only will this type of session help to supercharge your top end pace and power. It also gets both your body and mind used to being in “the pain cave”. Time trials are a bit of a war of attrition and often your mind will want to quit before your body actually needs to. Interval sessions will help to build up your mental resilience that allows you to grit your teeth and say “I can keep going”. Just make sure you’re really taking care of your recovery after these sessions – rehydrate, refuel and for the love of Goats don’t neglect your stretching and mobility work!
A tempo session will usually see you taking on longer interval blocks where you’ll be working in Zone 4 (approx. 10-15% lower than your functional threshold power or around a 6-7/10 perceived exertion). This could start out at something like 4 x 10 minutes with 2-3 minutes easy recovery in between, eventually progressing to 2 x 20 minutes as your body adapts to the intensity. These tempo rides will help you to develop your speed-endurance and expand your capacity to sit in that ‘uncomfortable but not impossible’ sweet spot. This sort of effort is also useful to practice if you tend to ride longer distance time trials, where you’ll be riding hard but not ‘eyeballs out’.
A few weeks of performing these sessions alongside your easier Zone 2 rides (which will help to boost your aerobic fitness) and you’ll be feeling super strong on the bike. You can add in a bit of progression every few weeks by either increasing the intensity or slightly reducing the rest periods. You can also find plenty of pre-built workouts on training platforms such as Zwift.
One key thing specific to time trialling is to ensure you’re doing your efforts in your TT position. Particularly when we’re riding on the indoor trainer, where you don’t get the ‘real feel’ benefits of being in an aero position because you’re static, it can be tempting to sit upright for the tough intervals because it’s more comfortable and makes it easier to push the power. But come race day, you’ll need to be adapted to pushing the watts down in your aerobars, so best to get practicing!
Get dialled into your aero position
It’s really important to spend some quality time getting used to your TT position, especially if you’re planning to race on a time trial bike. It’s all fun and games having a super aggressive, aero set up – but if you can’t stay in the position or you can’t push the power… you’re going to end up riding slower.
Getting dialled into your TT position is vital not only to get used to putting out power in that tighter, more cramped position. It’ll also help you to get used to how the bike handles when you’re riding down on the bars (or on the drops if you’re using your road bike) and gives you time to focus on holding a good position with your head and shoulders so it comes naturally to you without having to think about it when you’re riding at race effort.
Alongside doing your interval sessions down in your aero bars, a great way to get dialled is to do some of your easy rides in your TT position too. This gives you a chance to get used to things like cornering and handling the bike in a crosswind so that you can focus on your effort on race day. To really take your TT riding to the next level, try adding in some “intervals” to your easy rides where instead of efforts, you’re using the time to focus in on some of the finer details that will really help you to maximise the aero gains. For example you could include 3 x 10 minutes, focusing on your head position in the first interval, your shoulder squeeze in the second interval and your hand position in the final interval. Nail these details and you’ll be an aero machine. No one likes being that goat who turns up to the café ride on a TT bike, but sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.
Know the course
While the majority of TT courses don’t tend to be wildly technical, it’s still worth doing a recce of the course if you can. That way you’ll be fully aware of any tight corners, false flats (those subtle but soul destroying long uphill drags which can trick you into thinking you’re whacking out the watts and going nowhere!) and any climbs, so there’s no surprises when you’re going full gas. It’s also worth keeping an eye on the wind speed and direction so you can make the most of the tail wind, make sure you leave yourself enough beans to tackle any headwind you might have in the latter stages and be prepared for any gusty crosswinds.
Great things come to those who can pace. At the start of a time trial, your adrenaline is running wild and excitement levels are through the roof. That makes it very easy to go off way too fast. Which feels great, until you blow up halfway through and end up having a death-crawl to the finish line. It can be hard to hold yourself back, but failing to manage your pacing can end up with a much slower result overall. Your precise pacing plan is going to come down to a number of factors including the distance of the time trial, the course profile and the wind direction. For example, if you know you’re going to have a head wind and some climbing in the second half of the course – you’re definitely going to want to make sure you save some energy to avoid taking a huge hit to your overall average speed.
It takes a bit of experience (or diving into the data and having a precise power and heart rate-based pacing plan) to know exactly what pacing plan works best for you, but a good rule of thumb is to go out at around an 8.5 out of 10 effort, build to a 9 out of 10 by the half way point and then go full gas – 10/10 – to the finish. If you’re into the red and struggling to hold down the chunder-sprinkles within the first 3 minutes… you’ve probably overcooked it.
Aero kit can be a bit of a rabbit hole. From helmets that make you look like you’re ready to blast off into outer space, to Pippy Longstocking-esque shoe covers and calf guards. There are plenty of gains to be made through your kit, but if you’re just getting into time trialling and you’re not quite at the stage of wanting to invest in a full skinsuit and aero helmet quite yet, the main thing is to opt for cycling kit which offers a close fit and aerodynamic features. This is where the Stolen Goat Epic range is great – it’s ultra-comfortable and not so aggressive-looking that you can’t wear it for your everyday rides, but it’s packed full of aero design features and fabrics that’ll help you to push the pace when the heat is on.
It’s also worth noting if you’re new to the wonderful world of time trialling that – in the UK at least – there’s a requirement to have both a working front white light and rear red light on your bike. ‘No light, no ride’ is a firm and fast rule, so don’t get caught out!
Practice makes perfect
The great thing about sport is that there’s always something to learn and something you can improve on to keep progressing. The more time trials you do, the better you’ll get! Plenty of cycling clubs will have a weekly 10 mile club TT throughout the summer months where you can just show up, sign on and ride out. Go along as often as your schedule (and your quads) can manage and make a point of having a little debrief with yourself afterwards. What went well? What could have been better? What have you learned which you can implement next time? Not only will you see some awesome improvements to your riding, chances are you’ll also get to know a bunch of likeminded people in the process which is never a bad thing.
Happy time trialling, Herd! Have fun out there and above all – stay safe. No PB is worth putting yourself in harm’s way for.