Three Secrets to Faster Time Trialing
By Hunter Allen, PCG CEO/Founder and Master Coach
2011, 2012, 2013 World Time Trial Champion Tony Martin
A time trial is an important event, and like all aspects of cycling, you only get better at time trialing through practice. I’ve found that at the highest level time trialing is a component of three major things: practice (which I mentioned already), comfort, and focus.
If you practice enough in your time trial position, you’ll get stronger, learn to recruit all of your leg muscles, and be able to push yourself farther and farther. Practice time trials once a week if you really want to improve; this feeling of pushing yourself at your edge will become familiar to you. It’s very important that you don’t start out too fast. Most athletes start out too fast and then end up riding slower and slower toward the end. You should start out the first ten minutes at a pace that’s just a little bit slower than you know you can do and then gradually pour on the power throughout the time trial. That is the correct pace. You see, since you’re so excited about the time trial, your perceived exertion is lower than normal for your workload in the beginning. Your adrenalin is pumping, you’re ready to go, and you just launch out of the starting gate, only to have the reality of your too-high workload hit you about ten minutes down the road. Keep telling yourself to hold back in the beginning stage of the time trial. A power meter really comes in handy here to help you hold a certain wattage.
Once you’ve been practicing and become familiar with pushing yourself at the edge of your workload, you become comfortable. Comfort has a lot to do with your position on your bike; as you practice more, you refine your position further so that you are more comfortable. Comfort in this position is very important. Too many people think they can slap on the tri bars, slam the saddle forward, and lower the stem the day before a time trial and be ready to produce a peak performance. Good luck with that! Only through practicing your time trialing IN your time trial position will you be ready for a peak performance. You must feel that your time trial position is like an old pair of jeans; you just fit into that comfortable space that has become routine for you. Why? Because you’ll be comfortable there.
And that leads to the third and most important component of time trialing: focus. If you can stay focused on pushing your body to the edge and recruiting all the muscles in your legs (not just the hamstrings and quads), you can produce a peak performance. But this is incredibly tough, and you have to be physically and mentally ready to push yourself at your highest level for a fairly long period of time. If you can produce the same feelings in your entire legs as you can in your quads, you’ll be focused on recruiting all muscles and turning that into speed on the bike. Focus means staying in the present, in the moment, where nothing else matters. This is not an easy thing to do in a time trial; it's easier in a tough criterium when you’re on the front and attacking or in a breakaway with others. Concentrate on your breathing rhythm and the sensations in the legs; nothing else. If you find yourself looking at the trees, the cars going by, or the pretty houses on the side of the road, you’re not focused. This is just a trick of your mind to get you out of your limit, away from that edge: "Hey, this is tough! It hurts. I don't know if I can do this." And then you ease off the edge and start to lose your focus. That's when you let go of your potential for a peak performance. Focus is the most important part of the experience and allows you to push yourself to a winning time. It doesn't happen every time, but if you work on the first two components (practice and comfort), razor sharp focus will be easier to achieve for the entire effort.
Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of Training and Racing with a Power Meter and Cutting-Edge Cycling, co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes. Hunter can be contacted directly through PeaksCoachingGroup.com.