Time trials are ridden at a hard, but sustainable pace. To improve your physical performance, you need to increase the power you can sustain. A well-paced time trial is a skill that can be learnt but it requires practice, go out too hard and you will fade toward the end, take it too easy at the start and you won’t achieve the best time you are capable of.
Your speed however is not just about training and the power you can produce - speed is influenced by many factors, some of which you won’t be able to control such as the weather, the course, road surface, air temperature and other traffic. Whilst getting a PB is nice your speed doesn’t always represent the quality of the physical performance.
There are factors affecting your speed that you can influence, many of which are expensive. Firstly, your position on the bike as the rider has the single biggest impact on aerodynamics, next your clothing and helmet, finally your bike and wheels. Most people can improve their time trial position without huge expense and certainly without resorting to wind tunnel testing.
Money can buy you speed with a fancy helmet , speed suit and fast wheels but whilst this may give you a big improvement, it’s a one hit injection of speed, for long term development and to keep racking up the PB’s it is your training that will make the difference.
How to train for time trials
Sustainable output is really the key for time trials, known as maximal lactate steady state (MLSS) it is the highest blood concentration of lactate that can be maintained over time, it is the point at which your body is able to recycle the lactate for energy as quickly as it produces it. More simply it is your ‘red line’, above this point your breathing gets ragged, your muscles start to feel painful and you quickly reach a point where you need to ease off or stop. A successful time trial tight-rope walks the line but never crosses it.
There are two main ways of increasing your power at MLSS, pushing it up from beneath and pulling it up from above. The indispensable session for every aspiring time trial rider is simple; 2 x 20 minute blocks at zone 4, if you know it, or your 25-mile race pace with ten minutes’ recovery in between. If you look at the Wattbike Hub, the endurance session ‘building blocks’ is very similar. This session teaches you about how to pace an effort, what it should ‘feel’ like and if you do it in your time trial position, it can also help improve your posture when racing.
If you don’t have a Wattbike, power meter or heart rate monitor the easiest way to monitor your effort is through your breathing. Research has shown maximum lactate steady state occurs at the mid-point where you are breathing normally and your breathing becoming fast and ragged. When time-trialing your breath should be deep, regular and controlled but you will be unable to talk.
A second session to add in works slightly above your time trial pace, pulling it up from above. The key with this is to allow a little bit of recovery, to enable you to ride harder than usual, but not enough for total recovery. Start with four minutes at the lower end of Zone 5 and take one-minute recovery before repeating six times. With such limited recovery this feels more like a continuous 30-minute block so is a tough session and will require you to work on your pacing skills.
Written by Hannah Reynolds
Hannah is proof that you don’t need to be good at racing to pin on a number, just enthusiastic. She has ridden some of the world’s toughest sportives including the Haute Route Alps, La Marmotte and Megavalanche – the famous downhill mountain bike race.
When she’s not on the bike, Hannah is a freelance writer and journalist and former Editor of Cycling Weekly and Cycling Active. She is co-authour of France en Velo and Bloomsbury publications Fitter, Faster, Further and Get on Your Bike.