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

| Thursday, March 11th, 2010 | No Comments »

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.

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