John’s commandments of time trialling

I love time trials. Little wonder really as God gave me the short duration power of a yogurt and I’d really would struggle even beat myself in sprint for the line, I’m that bad!

He wasn’t all that generous when he handed out aerobic power either. My power to weight at FTP is pretty much that of a 4th cat and always has been but by being canny I’ve not done too badly in the race of truth. It’s one of the few things in life I feel qualified to talk about with some authority.

The season is nearly upon us and I’m excited for both my riders and myself as I’m hoping to do a good job for my new team, mostly on the roads of Cheshire which I love. On these courses you have bits of all sorts – fast roads, twists and turns, grippy sections and pot holes you could lose a bus in. To do well on those roads you need to know what you’re doing.

Anyone who says riding a time trial is just a case of getting your head and down and killing yourself would probably say that writing a great novel is just a case of sticking 1000s of words down on some pieces of paper. They’re not wrong but there is a hell of a lot more nuance to it than that. To really nail a time trial is a beautiful thing. It really is an art that can really only be perfected by doing.

But to give you a head start I’ll give you some holy rules not to break.

1. Thou shalt not arrive at the start line without having warmed up first.

A warm up for a time trial is critical and the more intense the time trial the more important the warm up is. If you’re riding a 12 hour TT your warm up could involve sniffing some embrocation and maybe a good coughing fit but for a 25 or especially a 10 that’s not an option. You need to take 15 to 20 minutes to gradually prepare your body for the intensity you will be riding at. Fail to do this and even if you start at the right power after a few minutes, you’ll be toast.

2. Thou shalt not start too hard

You can’t win a time trial in the first minute but you can lose it. When you’re pushed off you need to give it some beans for around 20 seconds just too quickly get the momentum going but then back off a little. If you’re riding with a power meter your first minute should be no more than 10% higher than what you envisage your overall average power to be. I’ve seen many riders go so much quicker just by toning down their start.

3. Thou shalt not be a big target for the wind

You can spend many thousands of pounds in the wind tunnel to optimise your position on the bike. If you can afford it go for it because the air is your enemy. The easier you can slice through it the better. If you don’t want to spend a fortune there are some basics you can tick off first.

Go turtle. Basically pull your head into your body and keep that aero helmet flush with your back – always.
If it doesn’t turn the pedals it doesn’t move.

Keep your body still. Anything that moves is a target for the wind.

Spend your money on these things in this order – aero front wheel, good skin suit and over shoes, aero rear wheel (ideally a disc), aero helmet, aero frame. If you have a road bike with clip on bars that cost you 200 quid off e-bay but your wheels, clothing and helmet are top notch the difference in time saved between that set up an 8 grand top of the range bike is minimal.

4. Thou shalt never ride too hard or too easy

I prefer to ride short distance time trials to feel and I use the Chris Boardman technique. Basically every minute ask yourself this question. Can I hold this pace to the end? If the answer is yes. You need to speed up. If it is No you need to ease up. The answer you want is MAYBE.

5. Thou shalt not go into the red unless it’s going to count

If you have the wind at your back or you are going downhill it takes less power to go the same speed as it does that going uphill or into the wind. Simple. Yet so many riders fail to grasp that simple concept. Let’s say you are riding with a power meter and you know you are going to average about 300 watts for a 25 mile TT. Set a window of 30 watts either side of that so 270-330 watts. Into the wind or uphill its worth going into the red a bit and riding over FTP. Then with the wind or downhill ride below FTP. A totally even paces strategy only works on a totally flat course on a totally still day. Good luck with that one!

6. Thou shalt never lose momentum

You’ve got to get out of those bends and junctions and roundabouts quickly. Like commandment 5 there are times when it is worth going into the red. When you come out of a situation where your speed has been knocked down give it some beans to get back up to speed but only for 10 to 20 seconds. A powerful, short anaerobic surge will get you back up to momentum without pushing you too far into the red. If you go a bit too hard and give it hell for a minute you’ll get back up to speed alright but after that you’ll be dying a death. It’s a fine line.

7. Thou shalt not ride at stupid cadences

Most people have an optimum cadence in the 80-90 rpm range. When I say optimum I mean most power out for least effort in. So when you ride a time trial don’t start riding at 100 rpm or try grinding a big gear at 70 rpm. It’s inefficient and will make you slower. I know this sounds obvious but if I had a penny for every data file I’ve seen where riders have done this I’d probably have enough for a packet of maltesers by now!

I’m sure I could think of another 3 commandments if I had too but I’d be breaking the law of ever diminishing returns wouldn’t I? Lots of extra effort for not much more reward!

John Morgan