Time Trial Strategies
Before we get
into the details of time trial strategies, I'll suppose that you've
prepared well through the winter, eaten the right things in the right
amounts, have taken sufficient pre-event rest and have planned a proper
warm-up routine. If you haven't, feel free to check out the other
factsheets in this section of the website.
To realise your
potential in a time trial, let alone get a personal best or a win, you
need to have a plan and a fancy word for a plan is a strategy. So here
we will discuss just that.
For clients that have done
MAP Ramp or
tests, you'll know exactly what you are capable of. For those that
haven't, this could be a step into the unknown. But don't let that put
you off; there's still a lot to play for.
A typical time trial
If you want to see how a typical
cyclist approaches a typical time trial all you have to do is stand in
an appropriate place on a typical course. About two miles in is the
best place because on an out and back course you get a better
perspective of what's happening. At one mile in, the results may be a
little skewed, I'll explain why later.
Three, two, one,
go! BANG, 53x14 and a two hundred yard sprint to get up to speed.
Slump back into the saddle, legs filling with acid, and it's straight
into crisis management as reality and oxygen debt begin to take hold. A
mile in and you're already thinking "should I change down?"
diagram shows how a typical cyclist approaches a typical time trial.
The rider being tested was asked to complete a simulated ten mile time
trial as fast as they could. Being a typical cyclist, this was their
response. In the first mile, our cyclist got up to a high speed very
quickly then, very quickly, began to pay the price. They either
overestimated their abilities or underestimated the task; either way the
result was the same. A lesson learned.
We can see our
test rider averaged 230 watts for the whole ride, effectively this is
their 10 mile TT threshold. However, their initial peak resulted in the first mile
and a half being ridden at 40 watts above their overall average. This
caused the following two and a half miles to be ridden at 50 watts below
So at the four mile point, they were far more under average in
both time and watts than they were over it! You can see from the blue
line that this pattern was repeated for the rest of the ride. There is
little to suggest that the pattern would not be repeated to a greater
extent in a 25 mile time trial.
So the exam
question for this section is; "Would their overall average power output,
and obviously speed, have been higher if they had not gone over their
threshold in the first section of the ride?" Why not reflect on one of
your recent time trials and ask yourself the same question.
A strategic time trial
In a subsequent retest, just a week later, our rider was coached in the
virtues of using a formulated pacing strategy. They were paced using
the average power output of their first ride and asked to stay close to
this for the first ten minutes. They were then allowed to gently ramp
up their performance to levels at which they were comfortably stretched!
We now get to see a completely different outcome.
You don't need a
power meter to see this ride was undertaken with far less stress than
the first. You can see how heart rate peaked later, a mile and a half
in rather than three quarters of a mile. This obviously created less
lactic stress, no oxygen debt and allowed the rider to develop a smooth
powerful rhythm. A rhythm sustainable to the end of the ride.
You will also
see the average power for the second test was 10 watts higher than the
first. This has nothing to do with the rider being fitter or stronger,
it was purely down to better management of the physiological resources
A measured ride, staying within limits at all times.
Actually that last sentence isn't true. With a mile to go you give it
everything you've got. Ignore averages, heart rates and aching legs.
You should cross the line with nothing in the tank.
The Scores on the Doors
The black line below shows the benchmark of the first ride. The
red line represents the second test and shows where the rider was, in
time, in relation to the first.
So at a mile in, our rider was four
seconds down, at a mile and a half, six seconds down. At three miles
they've closed the gap and we now see the effects of our pacing strategy
begin to pay off.
In the last
seven miles a gap of 85 seconds opens up. That's 12 seconds a mile!
How good is that? Bloody good is the answer, and it was all for free!
No sweat, no intervals, no extra training, it's there within all of us.
Maybe not to the same extent but I bet we could all go at least 30
seconds quicker if we controlled our emotions and instincts and just
applied a little bit of science to our riding.
Okay, the above all seems pretty
clear but I'll sum it up in one sentence.
Exceeding threshold power then recovering, is not conducive to optimum
time trial performance. This really is an undisputable fact
not an opinion. If you don't want to experiment in a real live event,
come and try a test in
If someone could
guarantee you could go quicker in a ten mile time trial without
supplementation, training or spending a fortune on aero stuff wouldn't
you take notice?
Why not fight all
of your natural instincts to go like a bullet from a gun and give this
strategy thingy a go? If you do you will, without doubt, be rewarded.
It would be a
shame if a lack of a strategy stopped you making full use of all your
hard training and even more frustrating if you didn't realise your true
potential for the day. So, good luck in your next time trial, and
remember less is more.
Try it, what's the worst that could happen?
watch at two miles in?
Standing one mile in to a time trial course
gives a false impression because on the way out most people are still
hanging on to their initial speed. On the way back they're winding it
up for a big finish. So you get a skewed impression of their overall
Standing at one mile most riders appear to be going better
than they actually are. At the two mile marker you get a more measured
reflection of true performance.
I would like to thank Senior Coach Malcolm Firth for the use of
the graphics supporting this factsheet.