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TT Tips – How to Pace a Time Trial

With 13 EGCC riders taking part in Open Time Trials this Sunday, some taking part in their very first event, we thought it was time to share some tips and tricks from some of our experienced Time Trialists within the club, on going from point A to point B, as fast as you possibly can.

As an extra special added bonus we also got some great advice to share from some even faster, current and ex professional, friends of the Club, Joss Lowden, and Blake Pond.

This is the beauty of Time Trialling, in no other sport can first time novices potentially line up in the same evening 10s as world tour elite pros.

Pacing is key for a time trial, if you head out too fast and go into the red you’ll slow down as you tire and lose time later on.

British Cyclist, Joss Lowden of Uno-X Pro Cycling Team, who set the 2021 Women’s Hour Record, tells us the race day pacing strategy starts before the race line. “It is absolutely key to have a good warm up. You want to take your heart rate and/or power (or just perceived exertion) up above race pace, so essentially vo2 in your warm up to get your body ready for the hard effort. You ideally want to finish your warm up about 10minutes before the start.”

The ideal pacing strategy is the ‘Negative split’. This is where you divide the course into sections mentally.

  • For the first quarter you want this to feel relatively Comfortable after a sprint off the line to get up to speed.  “Generally, don’t go out too fast in the first mile or two.” Colin advises.  “The effort will find you in the early part of the race, keep a good, maintainable tempo rhythm and avoid burning matches too early in events over 10miles” says Chris.
  • The middle section should start to bite, and will feel like a Hard effort. “Ask yourself if you could keep this up for the whole distance. If the answer is ‘yes’, you’re not trying hard enough. If the answer is ‘no’ then you’re going too hard. If the answer is ‘I’m not sure’ then you’re spot on.” Says Cass.
  • The final section is about going All out and hanging on. “In the last couple of miles push it to the line. It will all soon be over.” Colin advises.  “When you finish a TT the aim is to have absolutely nothing left in the tank at the finish line, the dark art is burning that very last match just as you cross the line!” said Chris.

As well as ‘feel’, you can use technology to help you pace your effort such as Power Meters and Heart Rate Monitors.  You’ll need to know how long you’re expecting to complete the event in as well as your best (recent) performance metrics for that duration.

Know the Terrain

Steve Dennis recognises that there is slightly more to the simplicity of any TT race, he tells us: “Set off quickly to get up to speed but go hardest when you’re going slowest to minimise losing time on climbs”. This is a strategy Colin echoed. “Big effort over the top of any rises and a bit of recovery on the down hills.  Put a bit more effort into the uphills and into the wind, it’s not how fast you go, it’s how slow you don’t go.”

Joss Lowden, who started her racing with her fathers club, Lewes Wanderers CC, entering their evening 10s, is familiar with the lumpy roads of Sussex.  “It’s worth checking out the course beforehand so you know the fast sections and the slow sections. Essentially your speed is affected by gradients, wind and road surface and when these variables are making you slower, you want to ride harder. So push more when going slow to essentially get the slow bit done quicker and take your recoveries when going fast. Check out the weather before on ‘my windsock’ so you can see where the headwinds/tails are coming from so you know how to pace it. If there’s a headwind on the way out, push more then and come back hanging on. But if the tailwind is on the first section, be sure to keep something in the tank for the way back!”

Have a Plan and Stick to it

Having set an Hour Record and winning British Nationals Time Trials, Joss plans her race efforts well.  “Be realistic – if you have never done more than 250w for a 10m TT don’t go off at 300w and hope for the best, it won’t end well. Be brave but have a plan and stick to it (and of course give it everything you can to beat your PB).”

Mental Strength

Mental fortitude also plays a large part in being good at time trialling. “I think a TT is very much a mental challenge. One has to learn to ignore a certain amount of pain and just push on.  Try to focus on clocking up the next mile. Or focus on getting to the turn or half way point.” Says Colin.

Joss agrees, “Time trials are hard, there’s nowhere to hide and unless you soft tap it round, which no one ever does, it is going to hurt!  But try and get a kick out of it.  Try and find it exciting and relish the opportunity to go really hard and see what you are capable of. The human body is amazing and you get to push it to the max which is horribly painful but also hugely satisfying so focus on that feel good feeling after and visualise how good you will feel when you are done!”

Position on the Bike

You as a rider will typically account for around 80% of the drag from the air, with the bike accounting for the rest, because of this an Aerodynamic position on the bike will make you significantly faster.

“If you are on a road bike, the fastest position is holding the brake hoods with your arms parallel to the ground.  It is, however, hard to hold for long. If you can’t, then use that position for fast parts of the course, and move to the drops uphill. On a TT bike, shrug your shoulders. Again, use when going fastest if you can’t maintain it throughout” advises Roger.

Colin agreed, adding: “Try to maintain an aero position as much as possible to keep your head out of the wind if you can, but make sure you can still see enough ahead to be safe from potholes and traffic etc.”

Mark, EGCC serial silverware winner, advises “Keep your upper body nice and stable. Cadence 80+ RPM should help with that. You’d be surprised how many riders are spotted wrestling with their bikes along the course.”

How can you go faster?

For those new to the sport, the single most effective purchase you can make to go faster is clip on aero bars. The bike only accounts for a small proportion of the drag compared to the rider, so lowering your front-on profile, whilst also being more narrow, will save huge watts!! Says Chris

Blake Pond agrees, “When cycling the rider accounts for 65-80% of the aerodynamic drag so it stands to reason that if you want to go faster (for the same effort level) then position and clothing choices are a huge factor that can be utilised to help achieve this.”

Clothing

Blake Pond, Nopinz founder and former Elite level Cyclist took the time to share some of his in-depth knowledge and expertise on the topic of aero clothing: “Once your position is dialled in if you want to further reduce aero drag then opting for aero fit clothing is a must. On average an aero fit jersey and shorts will save you two minutes per 25 miles over a looser ‘club fit’ jersey.

This is why over the last decade we’ve seen the shift in professional cycling from looser more comfortable clothing to riders racing in one piece skin suits nearly all of the time. When you think about it its no wonder, over a 200k race the rider will be looking at 10 mins saved just by wearing clothing that fits well. Over a Grand Tour it becomes hours or 1000s of Kilojoule’s of energy expenditure saved.

Over recent years clothing technology has continued to develop and now as well as clothing fitting well riders benefit from optimised fabrics that help cheat the wind. This is generally achieved through the use of textures in the right places and fabrics which are of a tighter knit to prevent air penetrating between the yarns.

It’s no wonder with all this tech and the advancements in training, nutrition and bikes that at the Pro level we are seeing faster and faster race times.  But aero isn’t just for the Pros!  They may utilise it to win races and make money but the average rider actually stands to benefit more in terms of performance than the Pros do.

To understand what I mean; I always think about it as watts saved relative to your engine size.  Obviously Pro’s have huge engines and nearly all of them are producing over 400w at threshold, so if they can save 10w with a pair of aero socks that’s a 2.5% improvement. Whereas your average, very good club cyclist would produce 300w at threshold, so that 10w saving becomes a 3.33% saving.

As the rider gets less powerful the savings increase dramatically so less powerful Men, Women and Children often see a bigger percentage  improvement by making these small changes.

So if you are looking to improve your performance clothing is a great place to save watts wasted and therefore go faster. Its usually one of the cheapest ways too with an aero jersey costing £100 and saving you 10-15 w (£6.60 per watt saved) That’s infinitely cheaper than investing in a new £1000 deep section wheel-set that might save you the same at £66.66 per watt!”

Colin agrees completely, even if you don’t have a fancy wind cutting suit yet, tight fitting kit is a must. “Make sure you have no baggy clothing that catches the wind as this will only slow you down.”

You’ll warm up quickly during the race effort, so you’ll not want to wear too much and overheat, Gemma’s tip for overcoming this is: “Take a warm jersey to warm up in and leave on the side of the road by the time keepers (probs not your favourite one just in case it went missing!”

Corners

Two of our EGCC riders who had trophy winning seasons last year had some tips on smooth junction transitions. “Try to maintain speed everywhere and judge roundabouts so that you don’t have to come to a standstill if possible.” Said Colin, while Mark states “Ride as much as possible in a straight line.”

Joss Lowden tells us, “If you can recon the course before so you know the turns and corners that will also really help, you lose a lot of time in braking on corners and a lot of energy in accelerating out to get back up to speed, so the more confidently you can take the corners and hold speed, the faster you will be.”

Chris adds, “Riding the route in advance is ideal but even driving it or using google street maps can help de-stress race day.”

Nutrition

Fuelling your effort is imperative say Joss, “Have a gel or energy drink before you start. Time your nutrition and anything extra like caffeine so you know it will hit you at the right time. If you are doing a longer TT, like a 50 or a hard 25 then think about whether you need to take a gel with you.”

Whether to take a water bottle is very much a personal choice and you should consider how long you expect to take to complete the event.

“On a 25mile I tend to carry a water bottle about a third full.  I’d sooner lose a few seconds having a quick drink than be gagging for water and lose a longer time.  On a 10 I don’t carry a bottle.” Says Colin.

Roger however prioritises aerodynamics and saving weight, “I don’t eat or drink in 25’s, unless it’s very hot. Drink before you start, that will kick in about 30 minutes into it and that should see you through.”

Bike Maintenance

Being prepared in advance will certainly make race day run smoother.  You bike should be clean and in good working order. Check over your tyres and pick out any stones or glass that are just waiting to work their way through to the inner tubes!

“Check your bike over the day before”. “arrive at HQ with plenty of time before your start and get to the start line with approx. 5 mins to spare.” Said Gemma

Your Bike Computer

Joss identifies another area of optimisation overlooked by many Time Trialists. “Have useful data on your Garmin/Wahoo screen to help you. The most important thing is the measure of your effort for the duration of the race so if you ride to power.  Have your lap power on display as well as your current 3 second power. This will help you control your effort and limit the chances of blowing, or worse, finishing with loads in the tank. Time is useful and if you don’t know the course well you may want distance too.  Think about what is useful to you and if you aren’t going to use the metric, get rid of it off your race screen. You want to be able to glance down and quickly see how you are doing and not have lots of numbers clouding the screen.”

While Chris is a lot slower than Joss on a bike he totally agrees! “Know the route!  Sure, you can load it on your head unit but knowing exactly where you’re going on the day without the stress of navigating makes a huge difference. Your head unit can then show you useful data instead!”

Pre Race Nerves

Joss believes we should embrace the pre-race butterflies, “Let yourself be nervous. Nerves are good, they give you the extra bit in racing you don’t get so much in training, so don’t try to squash them!”

Enjoy It!

Most importantly though Gemma added “Enjoy it!  Have a nice time and say thanks to all the Marshalls along the way”

“The human body is amazing and you get to push it to the max which is horribly painful but also hugely satisfying, so focus on that feel good feeling after and visualise how good you will feel when you are done!” – Joss Lowden