training: time trialing

crankpunk loves time trialing and being in a two or three man break, loves the burn in the thighs and the constant, steady beat of the pedals. i actually dislike riding on the flat though, for one reason – i find it mind-numbing – it just so happens that this is the terrain that suits my abilities best. 78kg when fighting fit, i’m not exactly built for the hills and haven’t got a sprint to speak of, truth be told. tactics also aren’t my strong point – i’m more of a diesel and happiest when racing anything between 5 and 40km against the clock.

part of the reason for this is my DNA, the rest is the fact that i started riding in England, where time trialing has traditionally been hugely popular amongst the many cycling clubs. every wednesday night from  April to early September, all over the UK you can find local 10 mile TTs that are open to all, and on the weekend longer TTs are held, anything from 25 milers up to 100+. time trialing flourished in the 50s in the UK largely in part to the cycling authorities’ opposition to massed road racing, which was considered unsafe and even ‘selfish’, as it angered many motorists and was felt to tarnish all cyclists, irrespective of whether they raced or not.

Graeme Obree in acton
Graeme Obree in action

hence you have a tradition in the UK and also Ireland of young riders getting their first taste of riding on roads by competing in their club’s wednesday 10 mile events. you only need look at the likes of Graeme Obree, Chris Boardman, Sean Yates and of course Bradley Wiggins to see the fruits of this tradition. time trials might be considered a little dull and unglamorous to many cyclists, but they offer a great way for a rider to increase his raw power and base speed, which transfers directly to road racing. there’s not much point training exclusively for explosive power – the kind needed to jump away or to get round tight corners – if you haven’t got that base speed that allows you to stay away once you’ve attacked. it’s also necessary for beginners, time trial training, as sitting in the pack can be challenging at first. finally, it should be a part of any climber’s training too, as they also often have trouble staying with a break on flat terrain and putting in steady turns when chasing down escapees.

i’m not going to suggest you need to go out and buy a TT bike and helmet, as time trial events aren’t common in most parts of the world. you can though begin to include personal TTs in your training. if done correctly, you’ll see improvements in all aspects of your riding.

World Champ Chris Boardman
World Champ Chris Boardman

first of all, look at what kind of races you are doing. are they 50km long on average? 150km? bear in mind that if you are a beginner, you’ll need to start with shorter distances. if you are a seasoned racer, efforts of up to 80km might be possible. as with everything, use common sense and build up slowly. first off you’ll need to find a good stretch of road, preferably a loop, where you can ride uninterrupted. in my case i have three different loops. one is 10km long, another is 25km, and the last is 70km. at different times of the season i use different routes. for example, around february i’ll be doing the longer loop at tempo, pushing at about 85% on the climbs. then i’ll switch to the 25km loop as the season nears, and the 10km when i’m also doing hard indoor intervals and specific hill climb training.

when doing the longer loop it’s a good idea to imagine a scooter ahead of you and to keep a steady speed. more important though is the PRE – Perceived Rate of Exertion. on a scale of 1-10, TT efforts as long as this should be around 7.5 or 8. with the shorter distances the rate should increase, up to 9-9.5 (and even 10 if you throw sprints in) for the 10km loop, as you are fitter by that time. the mental aspect of TT training is very important as you have to battle not only the pain but also the monotony. for this reason it’s a good idea to imagine you’re in a break, or that you’re chasing someone. concentrate also on your body – keep the upper body still, the head level, and feel that deep throb in the thighs. harness it rather than allowing it to take over. that’s the lactate acid build up and if you want to go fast on the flats, you’d better get used to that feeling: it never really goes away, you just go faster.

positioning is critical when riding a TT or doing TT training. keep the shoulders as low and relaxed as possible and sit as still as possible. you need to harness the power of the lower back, the buttocks and the thighs. tense shoulders will drain away power and lead to a tightness of style. you should feel fairly comfortable but not too comfortable, or you’re not doing it right!

choosing the correct gearing is also critical. think of yourself as a car – on hills you need 2nd or even 1st gear, on downhills 4th, on flats 5th. it’s about fluidity and the economy of movement. on the hills change to an easier gear, push hard on the downhills and get that ‘flow’ on the flats. get on top of the gear, be sure to remember to keep as fluid as possible, and experiment with different cadences. Cancellara is famous for his high cadence, which requires a cardio-vascular system in tip-top condition. Contador is another who favors a high cadence, and it transformed his times against the clock, taking him from a good time trialist to one of the best in the world amongst the Grand Tour experts. Wiggins has always been a great trialist but, shocked at getting so spanked by Tony Martin in last years World TT event, he actually decreased his cadence this year and promptly won the Tour de France on the back of his TT domination, and won the Olympic TT to boot.

pacing is also hugely important when doing time trial training. set off too fast and you’ll blow, too slow and you’ll have too much left at the end. if you’re facing a 20km effort, breaking the route up into 5km sections is a good idea. if doing a hilly TT (which i recommend as it improves all aspects of your riding), save a little on the climbs, remembering to use a gear that you can get on top of, and push a little harder on the downhills. also, feel your way into the effort. be sure to get a good warm up and use the first km or two to let the heart rate rise steadily rather than making it jump.

be sure to time your efforts too, and try to remember to do time checks at specific points on the route. you’ll be amazed by how quickly you set new personal bests. and you needn’t do TT training alone all the time. if in a group of three or four, you can send one guy up the road, then the next after 30 seconds, and then yourself after that. decide whether it’s to be a 5km or 10km effort or whatever, and chase each other. it’s a lot of fun and hurts like mad – funny how ego can often bring out the best performances in us!

TT training is not easy. it requires a certain level of motivation and an ability to endure a steady chunk of suffering from the rider. however, the benefits can be very rewarding. simply put, if you want to be a monster, you have to train like one – there is no (legal) shortcut.

may the flow be with you, and crank on.

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

One thought

Leave a Reply