Cyclists Under a Time Crunch: How to Train with Limited Time

In today’s busy world many of us struggle to schedule regular training rides that will lead to consistent improvements.  At first we manage to train well for a while and then life happens with work pressures and family commitments breaking the training pattern.  As a result we train less and only infrequently which causes us to lose fitness. This cycle seems to repeat itself which can lead to feelings of frustration.

What if you could maintain and even improve your fitness with 3-4 short rides each week that are designed specifically to maximize your training time available? I know you can as this is what I have done for many years training just 4-5 hours each week. By training in a highly specific way I am able to stay competitive on local group rides and keep my threshold power at high levels.

Another challenge many cyclists have is knowing what type of training is going to lead to real improvements. Many cyclists are still unfamiliar with the concept of interval training and how it can benefit their cycling ability. I often see cyclists go out with the intention of holding a certain speed or pace. Although this type of training is good, a plan that will lead to real improvements must include specific interval training that addresses different energy systems. 

The concept of interval training involves a series of high intensity efforts (intervals) interspersed with easy pedaling. Interval training is typically performed at a high intensity to improve speed and cardiovascular fitness, or with a strength focus (big gear) to improve leg strength. 

So how do you incorporate specific interval training in to your weekly training schedule? Let’s presume you are starting from an average fitness level, have no health issues, and, can train 3-4 days in an average week, your training over a 3-week block will look something like this:

Week 1

Monday – Rest day

Tuesday – 3-4 x 8 minute Big Gear (65-75rpm) strength intervals (feels “somewhat hard”) with 2-3 minutes of easy spinning between intervals. Total ride time: 60-90 minutes (45 minutes for Trainer).

Wednesday – Rest day or swap with a scheduled training day.

Thursday – 2 sets of 4 x 90 second VO2 or Breakaway intervals (feels “very hard”) with 2-3 minutes of easy spinning between intervals and 10 minutes of easy spinning between sets. Total ride time: 60-90 minutes (45 minutes for Trainer).

Friday – Rest day or swap with a scheduled training day. 

Saturday – 2 hour Tempo ride (feels “somewhat hard”) or alternatively a Group Ride “On Feel”

Sunday – Rest day or 1.5-2.5 hours Endurance ride. 

Week 1 is designed to build strength in your legs and work on improving your base fitness with lots of “somewhat hard” or Tempo riding. The 90 sec VO2 intervals will boost your high intensity fitness. This will help you to dig deep on your local group rides when there is a hard acceleration or attack.  

On Week 2 the goal is to build on Week 1 and address other areas like your ability to accelerate and sprint.  

Week 2

Monday – Rest day

Tuesday – 2 x 12-15 minutes Threshold Zone 4 intervals (feels “hard”) with 10 minutes of easy spinning between intervals. Total ride time: 60-90 minutes (45 minutes for Trainer).

Wednesday – Rest day or swap with a scheduled training day.

Thursday – Perform 20-30 second acceleration simulating an attack or long sprint (feels very, very hard) followed by 2.5 minutes of easy spinning, repeated for a total of 30 minutes. Total ride time: 60-90 minutes (45 minutes for Trainer).

Friday – Rest day or swap with a scheduled training day. 

Saturday – 2 hour Tempo ride (feels “somewhat hard”) or alternatively a Group Ride “On Feel”

Sunday – Rest day or 1.5-2.5 hours Endurance ride. 

Remember you can perform the training on any day of the week which will give you flexibility should you be unable to train on Sundays, for example. For each session a minimum of 15 minutes of warm-up is always recommended. 

Time Crunch Cyclist Training Plan image

Click Image to View details of 12 Week Training Plan for Cyclists Under a Time Crunch 4-6 hours/week

On Week 3 I recommend cutting back a little on the intensity by performing an easier ride at the start of the week followed by a strength ride. Weekends can look very similar to week 1 and 2. This completes a 3-week block of training with the third week being more of a low intensity/recovery week. 

By following the training outlined over 3 weeks and then repeating it, you will not only improve your fitness but you can also make some significant improvements in speed and strength. If you repeat the 3-week block then you have the option to extend some of the intervals in duration.

I have designed a 12 week training plan based around this training concept which can be purchased through Training Peaks called “Cyclists under a Time Crunch, 4-6 hours/week”. It comes with a more detailed training plan that builds over the 12 weeks and also includes a training zones calculator for training with heart rate, power or perceived exertion. To view the training plan details, click here

Even just 45 minute rides performed consistently each week can do wonders for your fitness! The right training sessions with specific interval training will maximize your training time available which will lead to a gratifying experience of improved fitness, strength and the feeling of training with a purpose! 

An Epic Ride up Mont Ventoux

Mont Ventoux, or the “Giant of Provence” is a mountain in the Provence region of Southern France located some 20 kilometers (12 miles) northeast of Carpentras. Although Ventoux is geologically part of the Alps, it is considered separate due to the lack of mountains nearby. 

Mont Ventoux is a legendary mountain in the Tour de France. It has been ascended 14 times since 1951 and has been witness to dramatic scenes like the death of British cyclist Tom Simpson in 1967 who collapsed from exhaustion near the summit. In recent years it has been the stage for battles between Armstrong and Pantani and legendary solo breakaway wins of Richard Virenque and non-climber Eros Poli.

On an unusually cold and rainy July morning, I headed out as lead guide for Gourmet Cycling Travel to tackle this epic mountain.
There are three ways to climb this monster of a mountain. On this day we would climb from the Bedoin side, the hardest and most popular for amateur cyclists and the Tour de France.
Starting in the beautiful Provence village of Bedoin, the total ascent is 1617 meters (5300 feet) over 21.8 kilometers (13.5 miles) of relentless uphill. The total climb starting from Bedoin has an average gradient of 7.5%. The first 5-6 kilometers (3-4 miles) are quite gentle at only a 3.9% average gradient. The road then kicks up with the remaining 16 kilometers (10 miles) at an average grade of 8.9%!
As we started the climb a torrential down pour of cold, icy rain greeted us. My goal was to ride within myself and take care of the group. I am always surprised at how hard the majority of the climb is with no breaks in gradient. The first few “easy” kilometers tricks one in to believing the climb is not that hard. 
The middle third of the climb is through wooded vegetation. As one approaches the final 6 kilometers (3.7 miles), a left turn takes one to the barren final kilometers to the summit. Originally forested, the barren final part to the climb was systematically stripped of trees from the 12th century onwards to serve the demands of the shipbuilders of the naval port of Toulon.
In the final kilometers and in view of the lighthouse, a strong head wind was blowing, typical for Ventoux whose name is said to originate from the French word Venteux or windy. The temperature had now dropped to 4 degrees C (40 F), a huge drop in temperature from the earlier slopes. Gary Stern and I battled towards the summit, passing the Tom Simpson memorial which singled we were almost there.
The final switchback is incredibly steep and required every last bit of strength from weary legs. We regrouped at the summit, took photos as evidence then descended back down the mountain, a nice reward for the sweat and pain over the last 2 hours of climbing the Giant!
Today’s climb would take us 1 hour 48 minutes. Most amateur cyclists will be able to conquer the mountain in 1h30m-2h30m. Professional riders take between 1h-1h15m on average. The fastest time so far recorded has been that of Iban Mayo in the individual climbing time trial of the 2004 Dauphine Libere in 55' 51"!

Six Gap Century Training Tips and Strategy

Six Gap Century is just a few weeks away. Here are some training tips and strategy that will help you ride your best Six Gap – 

1. Training – in the weeks leading up to the event, perform a simulation ride over a distance similar in time and distance to Six Gap. A good time for a simulation ride is 14 days and again 7 days before the event. If you live in an area with no long climbs, simulate climbing by riding in a big gear (low cadence) for extended periods of time, similar to the time you will spend climbing at Six Gap.

2. Taper- in the final days before the event it’s important to cut back significantly on your ride time. If your last hard ride is 7 days before the event, you can fill the days that follow with short, recovery rides where the focus is on leg speed and a few short bursts to add some snap back to your legs. If a long drive is required to get to the event, try and spin your legs out when you arrive. Also remember to wear your compression socks for the long drive.

3. Pre Ride Recon – if you have never ridden Six Gap before, or are tentative when descending, it’s a good idea before the event to go over the Gaps and especially the descents that follow. Pre ride recon will give you greater confidence as you will know what to expect.

4. Pre Race Meals – already 2 nights before the event, eat a meal rich in carbohydrates. The night before should also include lots of carbohydrates. In the 24 hours before the event, drink lots of fluids, both water and sports drinks with extra electrolytes. Avoid drinking only water as this can result in increased fluid loss. Being an early start event, avoid eating too heavy a meal for breakfast. Rather get your big meal the night before and some carbs like oat meal, toast with honey, or cereal in the morning of the event.

5. Pacing Strategy – to achieve your best Six Gap time, you should try to hang on to the strongest group you can follow up the climbs so that you can take advantage of drafting a pack on the downhills, flat sections and on some of the lesser steep climbs. To achieve this be prepared to go deep on the first two climbs of Neels and Jacks, knowing that once a natural selection has formed, your group will ride at a steadier pace up until Hog Pen where it’s every man for himself.

6. Feeding strategy – A good strategy is to eat one energy bar (200+ calories) at the top of each Gap. Also fill both bottles with a good sports drink. You want to aim for 300+ calories/hour or 70-90 grams of carbohydrates. Force yourself to eat in the first 2-3 hours knowing that this will give you the reserves necessary to be able to finish strong. The hotter it is the more you will have to drink. Start the day with a big bottle of your favorite sports drink before the event start. Once the ride has begun, take large sips of your cycling bottle every 20-30 minutes throughout the ride.

7. The Final Gaps – up and after Hogpen, you are better off working with another rider or a small group of cyclists than going it alone. If you are alone after Hogpen and there is a group not far behind you or just in front of you, rather join up with the group than go it alone for the final Gaps and rolling hills towards Suches where riding alone will be more fatiguing and usually slower.

Wishing you a Great Ride!

To see the Six Gap elevation file, click here

Six Gap Cycling Challenge

Each September cyclists from around the country test their endurance and climbing legs at Six Gap, a well known 100 mile century ride that starts and finishes in Dahlonega, north Georgia, and loops  through the surrounding Appalachian Mountains. The Six Gaps, or mountains, make for a very challenging ride with over 10,000 feet of climbing.

Every year I organize a cycling camp in this area; one of my favorites for cycling with its quiet, scenic and challenging roads in the Appalachian Mountains. This area is also a favorite for hikers with the Appalachian Trail running along the summits of the Gaps.

During our camp this early June, it was only fitting therefore that we stayed at the Hiker Hostel, about 6 miles north of Dahlonega and a perfect launch pad to do some epic cycling.

As our group rolled out to conquer the Six Gaps we knew a hot day was ahead of us. This area had been experiencing a heat wave recently and temperatures were expected to soar to over 95 F (35 C) on the road.

As we descended towards Turners Corner, I savored the last bit of freshness in the morning air. At Turner’s Corner a left turn on road 129 would take us immediately on to the first Gap of the day, Neels Gap.  

Neels Gap is the longest of the Six Gaps at over 7 miles (12 kms). The good quality road surface and steady grade of around 4% makes Neels quite manageable despite its length. Our group tackled the climb at a manageable pace, holding some strength back for later challenges.

A regroup at the summit to fill up on some cold water and then it was down the descent of Neels, a fun reward for climbing the mountain before Jacks Gap, our next challenge of the day.

The climb of Jacks Gap is 4 miles (6.5km) on a quiet country road with a rough road surface. The climb has some steep sections of between 7-10%. These steep sections are divided by short downhill sections, a welcome break from the challenging grade.

At the Summit of Jacks the road to Brasstown Bald forks to the left. Brasstown Bald mountain was made famous in the Tour of Georgia pro race as the climb that often decided the race overall. Brasstown is an incredibly steep climb with an average gradient of well over 12% and parts as steep as 22%! We would save this incredibly challenging mountain for another day.

The descent of Jacks is mostly straight before turning right on to Road 75 / 17 towards Unicoi Gap. This part of the ride is one of my favorite with mountain rivers and picturesque landscapes feeding the eyes.

Once we turned towards Unicoi Gap in the direction of the German village lookalike of Helen, the road became smoother again which also meant a road more traveled by cars. The climb of Unicoi Gap is one of the least challenging at an average gradient of just over 5% for 3.4 miles (5.4 km).

The descent down Unicoi is exhilarating  with sweeping turns on a smooth road surface. The better descenders of our group would be dropping even the motor cycles down Unicoi.

Three Gaps down and still three to go. Next up was Hogpen Gap, which is by far the most challenging of the route. Once we turned off road 75 / 17 on to road 75, a few “rollers” would warm-up the legs after the descent, something of an “aperitif” before the “main meal” of Hogpen.

At the 45 mile mark a road sign for road 348 “scenic highway” meant we had arrived at the toughest Gap of the ride, Hogpen Gap. Hogpen is about 7 miles (11 km) with an average gradient of 6%, not a true indicator of the severity of the climb and due to a few downhill sections falsifying the average.

What makes Hogpen so tough is that it pitches up at a constant 9-12% gradient for a good 3 miles. Combined with 95F (35 C) on the road, it was survival of the fittest to get to the summit. Some of our group could not make it on this day; the heat combined with the steepness was just too much.  

The descent of Hogpen is one of the scariest I have ever done where speeds of over 55 miles (88km) an hour are easily achieved.

Wolfpen Gap, the fifth Gap of the ride, is one of my favorite climbs with its many turns shaded by trees. The road surface being rough indicated that we were back on quiet, country roads.

Wolfpen is just over 3 miles (5kms). Some sections are quite steep at 7-10% but overall it is quite gradual with an average gradient of 3.5%.  Wolfpen is the last real challenging climb of the Six Gap route. After a fun descent a few more “rollers’ would sting our tired legs on the road to Suches. Once we arrived in Suches, a left turn on to road 60 meant we were very close to the final Gap of the day, Woody’s Gap.

After all the tough climbing of the day, Woody’s Gap, by comparison, is a little bump in the road at less than 2 miles in length and at a gentle gradient. The descent off of Woody’s is another fun descent and offers stunning views of the Appalachian mountains. A huge pile of rocks at the bottom of Woody’s indicates the bottom of the descent. Legend has it that a Cherokee princess is buried under the “rock pile” and dropping a stone on her gravesite will bring good fortune. 

From the Rock Pile, it was only one mile to our base camp at the Hiker Hostel. This challenging ride would take the majority of the group well over 6 hours to complete and included a total of over 9,300 feet of climbing. Epic! 

To see the Garmin File, click here

Climbing the Tour Legend Alpe d’Huez

I have been fortunate to climb Alpe d’Huez many times while guiding bike tour groups at the Tour de France. This July I am excited to test my NeilPryde Alize on Alpe d’Huez and on some of the alpine descents. NeilPryde Bikes have partnered with Gourmet Cycling Travel for their Tour de France final week bike tour and will be supplying their Alize and Diablo model bikes to all participants during the tour. Guest will be able to test their ability using a Diablo or Alize model bike up Mont Ventoux, Col du Galibier and of course Alpe d’Huez. 

Alpe d’Huez has been the stage for incredible race action and intense emotion over many years of Tour de France history. Tour fans will remember fondly epic battles between Lemond and Hinault in the 80s, Bugno and Indurain in the 90s, and dominating performances by Pantani and Armstrong more recently.
This year’s Tour edition includes a finish at Alpe d’Huez in the final week of the race. There is nothing quite like experiencing the mountain on race day with thousands of tour fans from across the world turning the roadside into a carnival like atmosphere.
Riding up the mountain before the pros arrive is a thrilling experience for an everyday cyclist. Tour fans cheer you on as if you were in the race. This year on the Gourmet Cycling Travel final week tour, we’ll be camped out at 4 kilometers to go in a prime location overlooking the course.
The climb of Alpe d’Huez has a total elevation gain of 1071 meters or 3513 feet. This is less than some of the longer climbs like Mont Ventoux or the Col du Tourmalet, yet it is the most famous and attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators who camp on the roadside for weeks ahead of the race.
The total length of the climb is 13.2 kilometers or 8.25 miles with an average gradient of 8.1% and a max of 10.6%; a challenge for any level of cyclist. Last year I saw gradients maxing at 14% displayed on my Garmin computer.
The climb’s initial impression is one of a very steep grade on a wide, straight road. Cyclists attempting the climb for the first time will do well to remind themselves that the later slopes are far less steep.
Tour de France racers, both super stars and lesser known names, have their names painted on the road. Some names are still quite clear while other names have faded over the years.
There are 21 switchbacks in total on the mountain. Each switchback has a sign counting down from 21 on the first switchback, to 1 on the last turn before the summit. Past stage winners like Hampsten, Bugno, and Pantani have their names displayed with each switchback number, sparking memories of past tour battles and race emotion.

It’s a good idea not to pay too close attention to the countdown as this can crack one mentally. I prefer to get in the “zone” by staying focused on the effort and looking only every couple of switchbacks at my current progress.
The climb initially zigzags at mostly 10% gradient in a serpentine fashion lined with trees, rocks and a protective wall. A welcome break from the steep gradient comes only briefly on the almost flat switchback turns before the road pitches back up to 10%.
Cyclists with a good base of fitness will be able to climb Alpe d’Huez using a compact crank and a 25-27 easiest tooth rear cog at the back. The first year I rode the Alpe back in 1992 I used a 39X23. More recently I have had the luxury of a triple chainring to keep a relatively high cadence up the climb.
In my role as a cycling coach, I recommend to cyclists who are going to ride Alpe d’Huez to perform specific training ahead of time to simulate the effort of the climb in the form of 60-90 minute big gear intervals at a cadence of 60-65rpms.
The surrounding scenery while climbing Alpe d’Huez changes from one of menacing, rock faced switchbacks in the first part of the climb, to one of green meadows and winding roads of milder gradient in the last few kilometers to the summit. In these final few kilometers one can see in the distance the finish goal up ahead, the ski station of Alpe d’Huez.
There is an incredible view on the final few turns of the climb just accomplished of the neighboring mountain ranges. A feeling of fatigue mixed with satisfaction and elation comes over one as the summit nears.
As one reaches the ski town lined with street cafes and souvenir shops, the amateur finish line together with a pretend podium is reached. If you are climbing with your buddy, this will be a natural sprint to claim bragging rights as the first one up. The pros continue on for another 1 kilometer through the town for the Tour stage finish line.
Many cyclists each year come and time themselves with the official timing system offered. At the Tour de France the climb has been timed since 1994. Pantani holds the current record in a time of 37 minutes and 35 seconds achieved back in 1997. Armstrong comes in a close second with 37 minutes and 36 seconds achieved during his time trial win back in 2004. On a good day I am happy to come within 20 minutes of the records to break the hour. This puts into perspective how good the top pros really are.
The Alpe d’Huez is a mythic climb to experience by bike and gives one a new found respect for what a Tour de France rider has to endure to make it to Paris!
For the Garmin file of Alpe d'Huez, click here

Which Crank Length is Right for You?

Longer or shorter? Does it really make a difference?

I have been cycling for over 23 years and have raced and trained with crank lengths ranging from 165mm in length on the track to 177.5mm on the road.

When I raced in France in the 90s, the trend was to use longer cranks. We saw relatively short cyclists like Hinault and Lemond using 175mm cranks. Mark Madiot won Paris Roubaix twice using a massive 180mm crank length. In Italy shorter cranks were in fashion. The tall Franco Chioccioli won the Giro on 170mm and Michele Bartoli, the great classic rider, raced 170mm cranks throughout his career.

In the early 90s I was fitted by the same bike fitters who set-up Lemond, Hinault and Indurain. They recommended I ride 177.5mm cranks. I tried them the following season but never felt efficient with such a long crank.
In recent years I have noticed a trend among some cycling experts to recommend shorter cranks. I personally now prefer a shorter crank of 172.5mm in length even though I am 6’1” tall.

In a recent webinar I attended with Andy Coggan, he presented scientific data showing that big changes in crank length did not significantly change performance. He also went on to say that the optimal length for most cyclists is probably under 170mm in length.

3 ways to determine your ideal crank length -

1) Your Height and Leg Length
A 170mm crank length for a shorter cyclist may feel the same as a 175mm crank for a taller cyclist with a longer leg length. Therefore, shorter cyclists usually feel more efficient riding shorter cranks compared to taller cyclists who often prefer a slightly longer crank. This may not always be the case however, as sometimes we see shorter cyclists who are able to spin longer cranks very efficiently. Some examples of this are Fabian Cancellara spinning 177.5mm cranks at a very cadence and Lance Armstrong spinning 175mm at 110rpm+ like a machine.

2) The Type of Cycling
For cycling that requires lots of accelerations, sprinting, and high cadence riding, a shorter crank is better. For most cyclists this will be between 170-172.5mm. For longer road riding with lots of hills, mtn biking where you need good leverage at a low cadence, and time trials (depending how extreme your position is), a longer crank length of 175-177.5mm is usually better. If your time trial position is very low then a shorter crank will give you less resistance at the top of the stroke and may work better.

3) Power & Feel
In my experience, your best crank length is the length of crank where you produce your best power while feeling very smooth, relaxed, and circular in your pedal stroke. This crank length will vary depending on the cadence requirements for the type of cycling you are doing (see #2). 

Possible Signs that a shorter crank will work better for you –

  • Feeling resistance at the top of the pedal stroke
  • Feeling like you your pedal stroke is choppy (not circular) at a higher cadence
  • Experiencing pain in the front of your knees
  • Lower back pain

Even though a correct bike fit is more important than having your optimal crank length, it is still good to be aware of the subtle difference crank length can make to your performance and pedaling efficiency. 

Staying Hydrated on Summer Rides

We are in the hottest time of year here in Florida and staying well hydrated during training rides is a big challenge.
Here are a few hydration tips that will help you stay hydrated on your next ride -

  • Drink a bottle of your preferred sports drink (not water) starting 1-2 hours before hard training sessions and rides longer than an hour.
  • Add electrolytes to your bottles filled with water (a pinch of salt works well or products like Nuun).
  • For rides over 1.5 hours, drink a sports drink that includes both carbohydrates and an adequate amount of electrolytes. Look for sports drinks that have 200mg of sodium per 8 ounces of fluid (the minimum amount recommended for endurance training).
  • During a ride drink every 15-20 minutes to ensure you stay topped-up with fluids.
  • Weight yourself before and immediately after a ride. For every pound lost drink a bottle (24 oz) of fluids with electrolytes starting immediately after the ride.
  • To keep your core temperature down during a ride in the heat bring an extra bottle filled with cold water that you can use to pour over your head a regular intervals.
  • Immediately after a long ride drink cold fluids and take a cold shower or swim to reduce your core temperature quickly.

If you stay well hydrated in the summer heat you will finish each ride feeling fresher and you will recover much faster for your next ride.



My favorite ride to get back on track after a break

If you have missed a few days of training and are not recovering from illness, here is a great ride to boost your fitness and get you back on track with your training. A tempo ride is my favorite ride to get me back on track when I miss 2-3 days of training.

A tempo ride is not so intense that you will load your legs with lactate. It is intense enough to boost your muscular endurance and fitness.

It is a mistake to ride hard when you resume training after a few days off. This will shock your body and you will most likely be unable to train well the next day.

How to perform a Tempo ride

A typical tempo ride is 1-2 hours long in a bigger gear so cadence between 70-80rpm. Allow for a 10-15 minute warm-up and a 5-10 minute cool down.

Feel = somewhat hard (you can still have a conversation comfortably).

Heart rate = 73-80% of your maximum heart rate.

Power = 67-87% of your threshold power (threshold power is 95% of your current best 20 minute power).

How to maintain fitness on limited time

When you have limited time to train, you can still maintain a good level of fitness with 4-6 hours of cycling each week. I have found that by combining 2-3 highly specific short rides in the work week plus a hard group ride on the weekend is enough to maintain a good level of fitness and strength.

If you have limited time to train and want to avoid losing fitness, avoid taking no more than 2 days off the bike without performing a ride on the third day. This is an easy way to maintain good fitness with limited riding time available.

When you miss 3 or 4 days of training you start to lose fitness more quickly. This does not apply to those cyclists who have been training hard with many hours of riding in their legs and need a few days of rest and recovery to boost their fitness.

How to win a group sprint, even if you are not a sprinter

Today I won the San Antonio group ride sprint putting out 300 watts less power than the rider who launched the sprint. This rider who I beat can on any given day cream me in a one on one sprint. He puts out over 1500 watts to my 1300 watts.

So how did I do it? I made sure I was in his wheel when the sprint launched, knowing that merely by drafting him I was saving over 300 watts. When he tired I kicked past him for the win. It only required 1000 watts to his 1300 watts.

You too can beat faster sprinters by using this strategy. Here is how -

Get your buddy to ramp the speed up very high coming towards the sprint. This will reduce the sting of the best sprinter’s kick. Starting the sprint from a slow speed will be much more favorable to pure sprinters.

Make sure you are in the wheel of the best sprinter, and wait for him to launch. If you have some more help then get your other buddy to attack the sprint with surprise from a far way out. This will force the best sprinter to start his sprint earlier than he would like. Jump on his wheel then kick past in the final 50 meters for the win. Easy!

What does it take to achieve a peak time trial performance?

There are riders who love time trials and there are riders who hate them. One thing is for sure, whether you love or hate them, time trials require a supreme effort and are not for the mentally weak.

A successful time trial is a combination of specific training, natural ability, mental strength and focus, and aerodynamics.

To be good at time trials you have to enjoy them on some level.  You might not enjoy the pain of the effort but there is something compelling about the event that attracts you.

There is a satisfaction to be found when one pushes deeply through a world of pain in the quest for a victory or personal success. If you are a time trial racer I know you can relate.

My best ever time trial performances resulted from a combination of great training, lots of visualization, and a real desire to win. Plus I enjoyed the challenge (even though I suffered while doing it).

Training for Time Trials

Training for time trials is very specific to the length of the time trial. A prologue time trial which resembles a track pursuit requires a much more intense effort compared to a 20 mile+ time trial and therefore the ideal training is different.

A prologue specialist like Chris Boardman trained only 10 hours/week leading up to the Tour de France prologue (which he won twice). His training sessions included super intense interval on the track and road.  A Tour de France overall contender who seeks to excel over three weeks, can’t afford to taper his training to that extent for risk of losing too much endurance.

As a coach I have had some great successes coaching my clients in the discipline of time trials. Applying my own experience and knowledge and studying the best time trial racers in the world, I have come up with a training formula that consistently works. Notable successes include a bronze medal at the World Time Trial U23 Championships and a US National Junior time trial champion.

To improve your time trial performance there are a few things you can do right away. Firstly, include one or two rides a week on your time trial bike or using aero bars. The goal is for you to become really comfortable and efficient in the aero time trial position.

Additionally, you can include a specific time trial workout each week with sustained intervals or participate in a monthly time trial series.  

Natural Ability

A time trial is a true test of a rider’s ability over a longer sustained effort. A great time trial specialist needs lots of natural talent and has to be willing to train consistently over many years to achieve his full potential.

In my years of coaching experience I have seen the best power numbers by in the men’s category as follows (based on 20 minutes at 150-165lbs): Cat 5s: 260-280W, Cat 3-4s: 300-320W, Cat 1-2s: 340-380W, international Pros: 400-450W.

Mental Strength and Focus

The key to a successful time trial is to be mentally prepared ahead of time. You want to achieve a state during the time trial where you are fully concentrated (“in the zone”). This is hard to achieve without mental preparation. You also need a lot of will power to go deep and give it your best effort.

How to get “in the zone” 

A time trial hurts a lot worse when you don’t prepare mentally. Preparing mentally for a time trial race includes lots of visualization in the days and weeks leading up to the race. Visualizing repeatedly your best effort will trick your brain to believe that it has raced the time trial many times before. If you visualize diligently, you will achieve a state on race day where it feels like you are on auto pilot, completely “in the zone”, with your body and mind knowing exactly what to do.

Will Power 

A great time trial racer has loads of will power. Strong will power can become a learned habit through regular actions of courage and discipline. A strong desire – something that really motivates you – will naturally increase your will power.  

Know what motivates you to give a super effort. Some of us are motivated by our own personal improvements, a specific event, or competing against other racers . We are all wired differently.

What motivates and inspires you to give your best effort? Figuring this out will help you tap in to your best performance.

Aerodynamic Equipment

Time trialists love to focus on improving their time trial bike and equipment. A fully set-up time trial bike is a big advantage over a regular road bike, especially at higher speed.

 The standard equipment these days for successful time trials is usually a front tri spoke or carbon deep section wheel, a rear disc wheel, an aero flat-back position (if you are flexible enough and can still put out good power), and a time trial bike.  Minor adjustments to the angle of the aero bars can save you a few seconds and result in the difference between first and second place. No wonder wind tunnels are more and more visited by serious racers each year.

In my experience there is a happy medium to be found between your best power output and the most aerodynamic position. When you start to drop the aero bars very low you begin to lose power (as you close the angle between your torso and your legs). Training regularly on your time trial bike can help limit this from happening.

A skin suit, aerodynamic helmet and aero shoe covers are standard time trial gear. These days most of the top riders have similar equipment so it is more or less a level playing field where athletic ability still shines through.

Whether you consider yourself a good or an average time trialist, one thing is for sure, you can always improve and go faster by improving the different areas related to peak time trial performance.