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Time Trial Training, Preparation and
Race-Day Strategy

By Hunter Allen

Peaks Coaching Group

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Cycling's 50 Craziest Stories

Les Woodland's book Cycling's 50 Craziest Stories is available as an audiobook here. For the print and Kindle eBook versions, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

Dr. Lisa Colvin's Five Commandments for Time Trialing

Hunter Allen writes:

The local district time trial is always a good test of your fitness level and your ability to really put the hammer down. No one can hide in a time trial, so what you have got on that day is there for everyone to see. There are a few thoughts and strategies for a time trial that might help you.

Training for a Time Trial

To start with you need to do some specific training for a time trial, so that your mind and body is ready for the event. One of the most important factors is that you practice in your time trial position. You have to be familiar and comfortable with your position and that will allow you to produce the most power for your given effort. If you change your position on your current bike, or if you have a time trial bike, it can take a while to get used to a new position, so make sure that you have been allowing your body the time it needs to adjust to this NEW power position. One of the major parts of a time trial is that you have to be comfortable on the bike, so you can flat -out hammer the entire time. If your position is not right, you won’t be able to go at your fastest speed.

Secondly, you need to do the correct training for a time trial. The best training for time trials are ‘mini’ time trials. In my opinion, there are 3 time periods that you should work on to develop your time trial. These are 15-minute, 6-minute and 2- minute efforts. Start out working on your 15-minute effort, then the 6-minute, then finally the 2-minute. The 15-minute effort gives you a solid chance to work your muscles at your time trial pace for 12-minutes or so. The first 3-minutes of the effort is spent building up to speed and getting into a rhythm, then that allows for a solid 12-minutes of training at your Lactate Threshold in order to improve. You are working on your ability to increase a steady workload to near maximal heart rate while still remaining in an aerobic state. When doing these workouts, be sure to give yourself adequate rest between efforts and build up to more efforts as you get stronger. Start out with 2 x 15 minutes with 15minutes easy spinning between each, and build up to 4 x 15 minutes or the anticipated time interval of your time trial. Once you have completed 6-8 workouts in this range, then move on to the 6-minute effort.

The 6-minute effort is the perfect microcosm of a time trial. The first 2-minutes are spent trying to get over the shock of the hard effort, the next 2-minutes are spent trying to find a rhythm and then the final 2-minutes are spent winding out the pace and leaving it all out there on the course. In 6-minutes, your body is able to produce a huge effort, and this is working on improving your Vo2 max and lactate system and allowing your muscles to carry an increased capacity of oxygen rich blood. These workouts should be done on a day in which you are relatively fresh and can do near maximal efforts. Start out with 3x 6 minutes with 6-minutes rest between each and build to half the time period of your anticipated time trial time. So, if you think you are going to ride a 60-minutes time trial, then build up to 5x 6 minutes, and hold there. Once you have completed 3-4 workouts in this range, and then move to the 2-minute range.

Finally the 2-minute effort is an effective way to increase your speed in the time trial. By doing short hard efforts that last for only a short period of time, you are able increase your overall speed for your anticipated time trial, working strictly on your improving your Vo2 max. This interval is not so short that you make the mistake of working on your sprint, as you know you cannot do an all out sprint for 2 minutes. You will have to choose a hard pace to start out, but not so hard that you blow in the first 45 seconds. Do these intervals in the preceding 10 days of your time trial so you can really hone your top end speed and leave time for a small rest period before your actual race. You should try to complete 3-4 of these workouts before your event, being sure to give yourself enough recovery between sessions. Start out with 4 x 2 minutes, and build to about 25% of your time trial time. So for a 60minute time trial, try to be able to do 8 x 2 minutes in your last session before resting for the event. Make sure to rest for 4 minutes between each effort, as these are very intense efforts and require more recovery time.

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Day before time trial

The day before a time trial, it is very important that you “blow out” your legs to a certain extent. The best and most efficient way to do this is by doing some hard intervals. There should be at least one effort in the 12-15 minute range at your maximum sustainable pace for that length of time. You should also include at least 3 intervals in the 2-minute range. These are much more intense than your longer effort, and they are intended to help “open up” your legs to a super intense effort. Give yourself adequate recovery between efforts and be very sure of staying hydrated today and also eating plenty of carbohydrates. Having a recovery drink after your ride today will be critical.

Day of a Time Trial

Once at the time trial- Make sure you are there 2 hours in advance and preferably NO more than 2 hours in advance. If you get there at 9:00 a.m. then, you want to be ready to race at 11. But, don’t get there at 11 a.m. if you are going to race at 3p.m. By the time 3 o’clock rolls around you are not going to be psyched and you are just going to want the whole thing to be over with and as a consequence, you are not going to ride a very good time trial...


This is absolutely crucial to a good performance. You have to get your body ready for the “shock” of the hard effort that you are about to do. This “shock” will come in the warm-up and NOT in the first 5 miles of the TT. So, Go and do some hard intervals. Push yourself in warm-up! Do some 2-4 minute efforts and sprint in the last 15 seconds of each one. Blow out the “gook” and get those legs ready and going for the start. Your goal in the warm-up is to get your body so ready that when you get on the line, and you take off, it is just like your warm-up and you can immediately get into a rhythm. Be sure to drink a sports drink during warm-up and stay well hydrated. Time your warm-up, so that you have 5 minutes to come back to your car, drop off the spare tube and pump and get a fresh bottle for the event. Then you should have another 5minutes to roll around the start line and be sure not to miss your start time.

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It’s absolutely critical that you ‘hold back’ in the first 5 minutes of the time trial !!! Your perceived exertion will be very low as you are excited and ready to go! BUT, this is a trap!!! In 5 minutes, if you continue this pace, you will blow up! So, it’s better to start out and gradually build up to your Time Trial HR and hit this HR at about 4-5minutes into the race. If you are using a power meter, than once you are up to speed, nail it on your threshold power and hold it there despite the fact that you’ll want to push faster. A properly paced time trial is like a carpet un-rolling. At first it starts un-rolling slowly, then picks up speed as it further unrolls and finally it slaps on the ground. This is what your Time Trial should be!!! 

During - Focus, Focus, Focus! 

This is the key to achieving your best performance. Concentrate solely on the feeling in your legs and keeping that feeling strong and consistent. Keep that level of pain going for the entire race. Push yourself to withstand the burn. Keep repeating in your head, “ Power in (inhales) feeling strong (on exhales)” A strong positive statement like that will really help you to keep motoring throughout the race. Recognize that the burn in the legs is a good thing and lets you know that you are doing a peak performance. Be sure to meter your effort in the beginning of the time trial so you don’t overdo it and have nothing left at the end. You have 30 gallons of gas in your tank to use, don’t burn off 20 gallons in the first 10 minutes, and then have to get pushed home because you ran out of gas before the finish. Hold back in that first 10 minutes or so!

Make sure to drink at the turn -around and at least get some water into your mouth. You can do this in the last 75 yards before the TT. Make sure to stretch also at this point, as it is better to do this here, then out on the main course. Make sure to get back up to speed as soon as possible, without going so fast that you blow up or destroy your rhythm.

Final miles

These are crucial and it is very important to keep your pace as high as possible in the final miles. You should try to gradually bring your speed a notch higher throughout those last miles. At the end of the TT, you should be riding faster than you have ridden the entire time! You should totally blow right at the finish line! You should be SOO maxed at the end that it is impossible to get out of the saddle and go faster. IF you can sprint at the end, then you haven’t pushed yourself hard enough in the last miles.

Make sure to cool- down properly and get that acid OUT of the legs, so that you won’t be so sore the next day. Also, take your recovery drink immediately after your cool-down to further prevent soreness and also to help the rebuilding process. 

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Nutrition before and during and after a time trial

Beforehand, you need to eat good foods that are light, and easy to digest. Foods that are high in carbos are desirable over high protein at this point. However you want to make sure to eat low glycemic carbohydrates 3 hours before, in order to keep the liver and muscle glycogen topped off. Make sure to eat at least 2.5 -3 hours ahead of your TT start time. You need to be light and ready to go!

Make sure that you sip on a carbo drink, or eat some high glycemic foods while you are warming up. If you like, take a weaker solution (4-5%)of carbo drink with you on your TT. Recently, there was a study done in the Netherlands that found if cyclists drank a carbo drink (high glycemic) during a very high intensity effort (like a TT), and drank a carbo/electrolyte drink, they performed on the avg. of 20-40 seconds better than riders who just drank water. 

After, make sure to refuel with a recovery drink that contains Carbos and Proteins, in order to maximize your recovery and rebuilding of muscles. It is absolutely essential that you do this within 15-45 minutes of finishing your TT. That will REALLY make a difference in whether you get better from this effort or it just tears you down...

Hunter Allen, owner and founder of Peaks Coaching Group is an Elite Coach and ex-professional cyclist

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