Arguably the oldest form of racing on our British roads and one of the most accessible, time trialling was born in 1895 long before road racing was made legal. Still a popular discipline amongst road cyclists at all levels, as well stages in UCI World Tours, it’s a great way to get into competitive road cycling and measure improvements in your cycling fitness. So where should you begin?
Find a time trial
Unlike road racing, time trials (also referred to as TTs) are regulated by Cycling Time Trials, or the CTT. The season spans the summer months, typically from March to September, when the hill climb season begins. You can check the CTC website for upcoming events in your local area and nationwide, as well as view results from different courses and hill climbs. Equally it’s a good idea to ask your club mates or local TT enthusiasts about the selection of local TTs to enter, who’ll be likely to point you in the right direction, especially as some TTs are not listed on the CTT website.
There are different types of time trials, tending to be ‘out and back’ or circular courses over a range of standard distances such as 10, 25, 50 and 100 miles, as well as fixed times such as 12 or 24 hour races. As a novice, it’s a good idea to start with a 10 or 25-mile course. You can learn the ropes on these shorter courses before you choose to work your way up.
To enter an open TT, you’ll need to be a member of a CTT affiliated club and sign up in advance. Club TTs are more informal — you can turn up with a little loose change, as little as £3. Pin on a number and you’ll be officially timed from start to finish, with the option of being held clipped in at the start line. Riders are typically set off in one-minute intervals, so being prompt at the start line is key.
What you’ll need to focus on
Rather than an all-out anaerobic blast that’s impossible to maintain for a longer duration, time trialists seek to maintain a steady power output, heart rate and smooth pedal stroke for the majority of the course. Often beginners fall into the trap of setting off too quickly, soon to find out that their effort level is unsustainable for the whole ride, before speeding up again when approaching the end.
Aerodynamic efficiency is also key, which leads to the extreme kit and bicycles that you see at time trial events. Your position on the bike is the most crucial factor when it comes to being aero, with wind resistance reducing dramatically as you lower yourself over the handlebars and flatten your back into the ‘aero tuck’. TT bars, also known as aero or tri bars, will help with this, and having the discipline to train whilst remaining in this aero position will help significantly on the day of your TT.
Choose your kit wisely
It’s important not to underestimate the effect that your outerwear will have on your aerodynamic efficiency, and essentially those seconds on your finish time. Your frontal area also has a much larger impact on drag than your bike, so a few improvements in this area to make you more streamlined can be relatively cost-effective compared to a new TT bike, for example. You won’t need a skinsuit and sperm helmet to start competing in time trials, but they do make a big difference if it’s a discipline that you choose to take seriously.
A machine for the purpose
You don’t need to rush out and buy a custom-built TT bike for your first go — this is something that you can choose to invest in later on once you’ve learnt the basics! Starting on your road bike, you can then use clip-on aero or TT bars (also used for Triathlon) to get you into a better position. Ditch extra weight that you don’t need on the ride; bottles (for the shorter distances), extra layers, keys, and tools. On the start line you’ll see a range of high-tech specific equipment like carbon disc wheels for the most dedicated, but don’t let this put you off.
Benefits of Time Trialling
The beauty of time trialling is that you can be as competitive as you like with other people, but ultimately it’s a great measure of your own improvement if you choose to ride the same course regularly as part of a series. Test your fitness and technique week on week for the best results, and you’ll soon be hooked on this ideal introduction to road racing. Having this weekly session, sustaining a given time period at threshold will not only measure your fitness, but work on improving it, and you can use a weekly or regular event like a time trial to successfully build structure into your training regime.
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