The Gentle Fury: TT’s as your into to racing

The “race of truth” is a great way to get started

[content_box type=”with-header” title=”StartConfident Summary” text_color=”dark” color=”default” animation=”fade-in”]
  • Racing against the clock is a safer alternative to mass-start racing
  • Just because it’s a solo affair doesn’t make it any easier
  • You don’t have to have special equipment
  • Time trial racing can be a life-long activity
[/content_box] [dropcap style=”default”]My very first race[/dropcap]

was a time trial. It was also one of the first big racing events in my part of the country for the season, which meant it was darned cold at the start. It was early March, and that brought out all the most earnest and dedicated racers.

For me, that added to the excitement — as well as the sheer nerves. It didn’t matter that I’d ridden with racers at club rides and shop rides all my life, I was still averse to the idea of elbow-to-elbow competition at speed. But this was a real, genuine race, managed by a company that famously sponsored more than one US continental pro team. I found myself surrounded by all the trappings of a Real Bike Race: announcers, banners, timing systems — and riders on very, very expensive dedicated time trial bikes.

But because it was a time trial, and not a race where I’d be rolling to the start line with dozens of others, I felt calmer. This would be me, the course, and my time as I rolled across the finish line.

“I can so do this.”

I didn’t know if I’d do it well, because…I didn’t know the first thing about training, then. I didn’t know about time trial pacing, lactic threshold, aero positioning, or what my FTP was. All I knew was that I’d mustered the hutzpah to sign up, pay my fee, and get to the parking lot with my turbo trainer early enough to work up a bit of a sweat before it was my time to start.

I felt all growed-up, even if I was a noob.


No Special Bike — or license — Required

Another pair of reasons I found myself shivering on my trainer behind my parked car on this early March morning was that this race had a “standard bike” category and offered “one day licenses.”

Anyone who wanted to race the time trial course on a bike without zillion-dollar carbon aero wheels could do so. In fact, the Standard Bike class demanded that you had standard drop handlebars, and no aero anything, including aero helmets. It was the “Come As You Are” bike race, and I loved that. Also, since I was completely unsure if I was up to the challenge of pack riding at speed, I hadn’t purchased an annual USA Cycling license. This race provided a one-day license with your registration.

Go ahead. Give it a go. Tip your toes in. You might like it…

I had no idea. The experience ultimately surpassed my expectations. It tipped this Humpty over the race wall.

[callout icon=”hb-moon-bike”]A time trial will give you all of the components of bicycle road racing except the mass-start, pack-riding experience. But it’s still very much a race.[/callout]


Try it. You’ll Probably Love it.

I made all the newbie mistakes during my first time trial: I didn’t know what chainring – cassette combination to be in up in the starthouse. I was nearly late getting to the starthouse. I took off way too hard, causing me to have to use the middle of the course to semi-recover. But by the end of the course, I retook 4 of the riders that had started out ahead of me on aero bikes, and ended up finishing 6th out of the 15 who competed in the Standard Class. I was less than 30 seconds off the podium on a 10-mile course. I was inspired. I had skills to acquire, mistakes marked to not make again, and could imagine doing much, much better.

Ultimately, it inspired me to become a mass start road racer, as well.

If you’d like to compete in your first time trial, here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare:

  • Pick a race date that is at least 10 weeks out. Then give yourself 3 weeks of “cruise intervals,” just over your threshold, followed by a week of recovery riding, then a second set of 3 weeks with slightly longer time goals, followed by a week of recovery, then a taper week, then race week.
  • Each work week, get in at least 2 of the following Cruise Interval workouts:
    • Cruise intervals are workouts where, after a warmup of about 15 minutes of easy spinning with a few 60-second all-out efforts to “blow out the carbon” in the legs, you settle in for several minutes just over threshold.
      • 15 minutes easy gear at 90+ RPMS
      • Include 2 OR 3 60-second all-out efforts to raise heart rate and loosen the legs
      • On flat to gently rolling terrain, start with 4 minutes where your goal is between Zones 4.2 and 4.5. Hold that speed, with 95–105 RPM cadence. Recover with easy spinning at 90RPMs for 4 minutes. That’s one set. Do 4 sets.
      • Recover with easy spinning on the way home.
      • Your intention is to slightly increase the time you’re in those intervals throughout your two 3-week blocks. Start with 4 minute work intervals. Your goal is to increase the interval time until your entire time in intervals is just a couple minutes longer than your expected finishing time. For example, if you expect to average 21 mph over a 10-mile course, that’s about 28.5 minutes. You’ll want to aim, as an example, 6, 5-minute intervals where each interval is at the prescribed power above, and you have 5 minutes of recovery. That’s 15 minutes warm-up, 30 minutes of “work time,” and 25 minutes of recovery, for a very solid 70 minutes.
  • During your recovery and taper weeks, ride several times at Zone 2 power or heart rate, for at least double the length of your expected race. Do one “fast ride” of your choosing.
  • Work on staying as relaxed as possible during the intervals
  • Try to be within 4.2 and 4.5. No need to blow way over it.
  • If you find that you’re getting to your last couple of intervals with plenty of gas in the tank, next time, increase the time by 30 seconds per interval.
  • If you’re curious about how to pace your time trial, let me know in the comments below, of hit me up on Twitter. I’ll be glad to give you my advice.


It’s an Art

Learning to calm the mind and release tension while riding on your limit is an art. A specialty. Watching the likes of Bradley Wiggins or Tony Martin in the big European races is inspiring; they’re fluid, with high cadences, slicing through the wind with incredible power and machine-like consistency.

That’s the wonder of time trialing. It’s you, your limits, your mind, your bike, and the road. Simple. The race of truth, indeed.

Find one near you. Prepare for it. Do it. And see if you’re not as hooked by the discipline as I was.

[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”] Question: What do you think your very first time trial experience will be like, once you sign up? Let’s chat! [/icon_box]

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Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.

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