A beginner’s guide to prepping for a time trial

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This is part two of a series on preparing for races of different disciplines. If you missed last week’s column on prepping for criteriums, catch up here.


Time Trials – you either love them or hate them. Although I’m no Linda Villumsen, I do love the burning lungs, legs on fire and the post race time trial cough. There is something special about the adrenaline you feel after finishing a TT; the strange satisfaction of mind overcoming body. Time trials are commonly referred to as “the race of truth,” for the fact that there is no hiding in the bunch or sucking wheel, it is just you and the road.

The time trials I have raced are usually part of a stage race or tour, where the time trial typically accompanies several road races and criteriums. In a tour, doing well in the TT is vital in the stakes for overall General Classification positioning.

Getting your prep right on the day will contribute to your overall result. You will be cool, calm and collected, and ready to lay it all out on the road. Here are some tips to ensure that you get on the start line on time and and raring to go.

| Related: How to get ready for a time trial with Ellen van Dijk

Gear

TT gear is a whole new level of a cyclist’s obsession with paraphernalia. For those who are serious about their time trials, they will have a specific TT bike, wheelset, helmet and skinsuit –all highly aerodynamic. Don’t be surprised if you roll up to a TT and most people are decked out in this gear.

If you’re a beginner or simply don’t race enough time trials to be able to justify all the extra (and expensive) gear, clip- on aero bars are a good, wallet-friendly option for your road bike. Clip-on bars will give you the advantage of adopting a more aerodynamic position on the bike, which can save you seconds to minutes depending on the length and terrain of the course.  However, if you are going to race using these, make sure you train on them and are comfortable using them prior to the race.

| Related: Biggest Bang For Your Buck In Time Trial Equipment

What gear to bring to the race:

  • Helmet (TT helmet or normal road helmet)
  • Sunglasses or visor
  • Disc wheel/aero wheelset and fiiting brake pads (if you have one)
  • Aero shoe covers
  • Skin suit (or knicks and a tight-fitting jersey)
  • Gloves
  • Garmin and heart rate strap

Make sure to double check your list before you leave home. I’ve forgotten my TT helmet before, and looked somewhat ridiculous with my full aero gear and regular road helmet!

At the race

A good warm-up is key to a good performance. Be sure to get to the race venue with enough time for a proper warm-up. Once at the venue,  set up your wind trainer/rollers ready to begin your warm up. Set them up as close to the start line as possible so you can go straight to the start with minimal fuss. Once you’ve set yourself up, go and register or sign-in, get your race number and double check your start time. Make sure you know exactly where the start line is, and sync your Garmin or watch with the start time clock. Your race time starts with or without you, so it’s very important to not miss your start time.

If you aren’t familiar with the course and you have time, do a course reccon. This is the best way to know the course and vital points. If it’s not possible t ride the course, spend some time studying the course profile so you know where any important corners are or if and where the turn around points are located. Knowing the course and terrain will take the stress out and allow you to focus on your performance.

Go over your bike. This is important, because it is likely that you have changed your wheels or built up your bike recently after travel. It is easy to forget to do your brakes up when in a hurry. Leave enough time to check if your brakes are done up and aren’t rubbing, if you are using the correct brake pads (only applicable if you switched between aluminium and carbon wheels), that your bars are screwed on tight, that your skewers are fastened, and that you are running the correct PSI.

Regulations. If you are riding a TT specific bike, there are certain UCI regulations that must be met. Make sure that you familiarse yourself with them, or at least get your trusted bike shop to double check.

What to bring to the race:

  • Safety pins or race dots for your number
  • Pump
  • Watch if you don’t use a cyclo computer

Warm up

Arguably the most important part of the TT is a good warm-up. To perform well, you need to get to the start line with your legs ready to fire. As soon as you roll down the start ramp, you want to get your heart rate high, where it will remain for the entire duration of the race. There are a multitude of warm ups you can do, most go between 20-35 mins and should leave you warm but with enough energy in your legs for your TT effort. Remember to leave enough time between the finish of your warm up to when you have to be on the start line to fit in a toilet stop, helmet/bike check, etc.

What gear to bring to the race:

  • Trainer and trainer wheel
  • Spare kit and towel for your warm up
  • Headphones

Nutrition

Timing is always important when planning your nutrition, and an important component of preparing for a TT as well. Have your meal (be it breakfast or lunch) around two hours before the race and then follow it up with a gel before the race. When you are going to have your gel —during warm-up or at the start line — is is an individual thing, something that you should practice and figure out what it best for your nutritional needs and energy levels. Also be sure to have your recovery drink within 30 minutes after you finish racing.

What to bring to the race:

  • Water
  • Electolyte drink
  • Gel or other pre-race food
  • Recovery drink

Cool down

You may have only done a relatively short effort, but you have (hopefully) gone hard and ridden at maximum capacity. You will need to spend a good 20 minutes spinning the legs out to warm down. This is especially important if the TT is part of a stage race. You may also like to have an ice bath and get on the foam roller to loosen the legs up later that day. Even though cooling down is probably the last thing on your mind after a tough TT, you will benefit from this in the other stages.

Addicted yet?

Once the lactic has flushed from the legs and the TT cough worn off, you will find yourself analysing your data and plotting how you can do better next time. This is why time trials are addictive, because you can always do better. There is always a goal to chase and a good measure of how your training is going throughout the year.

Is there anything that I have missed? What do you do to prepare for a Time Trial? Do you have any tips or tricks to share? Share with your fellow readers in the comments below. 

About the author

The tagline to Verita Stewart’s personal blog reads: “Not a professional cyclist, yet” and it’s the “yet” that’s most telling. Verita is a Melbourne-based cyclist riding for Specialized Securitor. New to the sport, she’s quickly made the jump from commuting to recreational riding to racing.

She now juggles full-time work with full-time NRS racing and hopes to make the leap to the big-leagues sometime soon. Verita is full of stories and smiles and snark – and will bring all three to you on Ella. Follow Verita on twitter and instagram and strava.

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