Making The Transition: From Road Racing to Time Trialling

I started road racing in 2015 with about a year's worth experience of cycling in my legs. Without mentioning the dreaded T-word, my bike experience up until that point was often sandwiched in between a swim and a run, with a few costume changes. I’d conquered the world of multisport (well, the regional world) and it was time to discriminate. Obviously I picked bikes.

All of a sudden I found myself on a strange quest to find my one true cycling discipline. I was certain that I would definitely-possibly-maybe be good at road racing. But then again, I’m more of a sprinter so perhaps I’d be better at track? Although, I do quite like cross-country running so there’s potential in cyclocross, right?! Sigh.

Much as I would have loved to test out all the aviable disciplines, I had to consider the diminishing free space in the garage. And so, In typical fashion, I picked none of the above and opted to go for time trialling - a discipline which I am not particularly suited to, but one that I was curious about.

Where I come from (Essex), time trialling is a pretty big deal. We may only have one hill, but we boast quite a few of the fastest and flattest courses in the country. I was especially motivated to find out more about the event affectionately referred to as ‘The Race of Truth’. Was there more to time trialling than donning a strange pointy hat, and contorting yourself into as aero a position as your hips and back will allow, I wondered?

Image: Davey Jones

In those early days, I made a lot of mistakes. And in the hope to help others avoid those mistakes, here a re a list of things I wish I’d known before I began my obsession with aero-position and Watt output:

BE PREPARED TO SPEND A LOT OF TIME IN YOUR OWN HEAD

In a road race scenario, there’s a lot of concentration involved, so it’s quite nice that there are other people around who you can chat to and a race that changes pace so often. Switch to a time trial and there’s no one. In fact, you actively hope you don’t see anyone else (particularly coming past you) for the entire race. Not just that but by definition your pace will hopefully stay constant, leaving time to contemplate the meaning of life or what you’re going to do for the rest of the weekend. Time trialling is more than just a physical discipline - keep your mind on task and you’re bound to go far.

DON'T TRY ANYTHING FOR A FIRST TIME IN THE RACE

Namely new saddles, tweaked positions and dodgy overshoes. This is something that most people won’t need to be told, but occasionally some of us need a gentle reminder. A great cyclist once said that time trialling is both an exact science and an art form - which means that every new item of clothing or minor change to your setup should really be tested several times (with all wattage gains meticulously recorded in your spreadsheet of aero-ness).

And a race is not the place to try out the effectiveness of new shoe covers, because Murphy’s Law dictates that one of them will undo itself regularly over the 25 miles despite numerous attempts at re-zipping.

Image: Davey Jones

GET TO THE START ON TIME

This is completely self-explanatory, but coming from a road racing background, I was spoilt. We usually have an entire convoy and a lead car to follow, right from outside the race headquarters to the start of the race. This ensures: 1) You don’t get lost; and 2) You all get there at the same time or at least on time. 

Time trials aren’t like that and whilst most of them start quite close to the HQ, others are several miles away. When you factor in a decreased ability to function at the unsociable hour time trials tend to start, then you may be left with 20 minutes to ride 7 miles before you realise that you haven’t pinned on your number or gulped down your gel. And there is not only the embarrassment of turning up late to contend with… they actually add this margin of tardiness onto your official course time! There is quite an obvious moral to that story.

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

Learn everything you can about the course you’re riding. If you’re the kind of rider whose idea of a road race recon is the first lap, you’ll soon discover that time trials aren’t as forgiving.

Everything that can save seconds will do, which means that knowing every lump, bump and turn of the course is super important. Not only will you become obsessed with gradients, but your knowledge of all things weather and wind direction will become second to only a meteorological expert. Websites like mywindsock.com are brilliant at taking some of the stress away, and they link in with Strava!

All this knowledge helps you work out when you can afford a quick recovery and when you need to be putting in a bit more effort. 

POWER IS ALSO... POWER

At the end of the day, time trialing comes down to whether you have the ability to exert more power than the next person consistently over a certain distance, taking into account a few variables. Or, if you’re measuring your performance against your previous results, whether you are stronger than you were last week.

The best thing about time trialling – apart from going as fast as you can - is that you can compete against the top cyclists in the country or you can simply compete against yourself.

As you progress in the time trialling world and become more experienced, you will naturally want to upgrade all your equipment. But if you’re trying it out for the first time there’s nothing stopping you from turning up on your road bike, with no assistance from the God of all things aero. That way, you can add to your arsenal slowly and watch your times tumble gradually as you gain that elusive freespeed!

Article written by Time-Trial expert in residence, Lauren Kirchel

Image: Davey Jones

September 06, 2017 by Anna McNuff