time-trial

Position and Pacing For Time Trials

 

Time Trialing (Part 2 of 4 – Aaron Buggle)

We hear it all the time, ‘if I could only put out more power’… Let’s make one thing very clear – power, FTP, average power or normalized power don’t win you time trials – speed does! The highest average speed wins the time trial not the highest power. Position and pacing are two aspects of time trialing that are key to success as they both directly affect speed and are relatively quick fixes. They are also areas in which a lot of riders have difficulty with.

Pacing

Pacing a time trial is a subject of much debate in the cycling community; everyone seems to have their own ideas as to what pacing strategy is best but there’s no set template. Your pacing strategy should be decided well before race day along with your pre race schedule and warm up – on race day you want to control as much variables as you possibly can and if need be alterations can be made depending on weather conditions. Pacing strategies will differ on each course and a TT is not simply go out and smash out a power figure for the full duration. There are various pacing strategies out there. I have detailed some below.

Negative Split

A negative split is a pacing strategy where you ride the first half of the time trial slightly below your target pace, and then ride the second half of the TT slightly above your target pace. This strategy proves successful with a lot of riders, and many TT specialists in the pro peloton use this technique to great effect. One major advantage of this method is it stops riders from going out too hard, which is a major issue with many riders, especially those new to TT’s.

Variable Pacing

Another pacing strategy is to ride certain sections of the course above threshold, such as climbs and other sections below threshold, such as descents. The thinking behind this method is that the extra power on the climbs will get you more extra speed than using that power on the descents. You probably notice this yourself out on a spin, pedaling hard down a descent does not make you go a whole lot quicker, whereas pedaling harder on a climb gives noticeable increases in speed. Out and back courses may require unorthodox pacing strategies, if there is a strong headwind on the way out, it may be advantageous to put in a greater effort on the outward leg, and then try and hang on for the return. With the aid of the tailwind you won’t lose too much time, and the extra power used on the headwind section will give greater returns than any loss of time on the return leg.

Positioning

An optimal position for time trials varies hugely between each rider. What is a fast and effective position for one rider may leave another unable to produce power, and a lot less aerodynamic. There are however some universal tips that will benefit all riders. Number one is adapting to your position, because looking super fast is pointless if you are producing no power.  Many riders get on their TT bike, or TT bars, and find they’re losing huge amounts of power in comparison to their road position. Many think this loss of power is part and parcel of the new position, but these losses can be minimised.

Training to Optimise your Position

To reduce the loss of power from their road position, riders must spend as much time as possible training in their TT position. This allows their body to adapt to the more restrictive hip angles and different muscle recruitment. The more time spent training in this position the less dramatic the loss of power will be, and the more comfort a rider will have in that position. Many riders are also unrealistic about their own flexibility levels. An office worker who spends all day sitting behind a desk will not be able to mimic the position of a World tour pro on a TT bike but flexibility can be enhanced. It is however better to try and find a compromise between aerodynamics and power production. If your position is too low for you to produce adequate power, perhaps move the bars up a few cm. The loss in aerodynamics can be offset by an increase in power; so don’t be afraid of making your position ‘less aero’ if it allows you to produce significantly more power.

Learn from the Best

That being said, studying pros, or fast domestic time trialists, who have a similar body-type to you, can be an simple and free source of information for finding a starting point to achieving your optimal position. An area where all riders can make instant gains is to tuck in their shoulders and lower their head. Maintaining this position can be painful, but it is an easy way to get faster, and can provide noticeable increases in speed. If I were to take a photograph of you in full TT mode would there be much difference in a photograph in the first five minutes and one in the last five minutes in 25 mile TT? I bet there would, this is because you’re muscles are not adapted to holding that position under stressful conditions or prolonged periods of time.

Some simple tips to combat this is using your recovery rides to ride your TT for a positional session – if you’re training for a local 25 mile TT you might go out and practice holding that position for an hour or even better break holding the position into 10 minute segments as follows; 10 minutes really focusing on tucking your head down and making yourself as small as possible – really squeeze everything in! Then relax for a few minutes out of the TT position before going again. The great thing about these efforts is they don’t have to be completed at a high intensity so they can be completed on recovery days! Remember time trialing is a combination of many elements and the guys willing to turn each stone will go faster –these tips can help you to shave seconds or even minutes off of your times, and give you that edge in your next TT.  

You have to get a bit freaky with it!