The Race of Truth:
WINNING STRATEGIES FOR THE INDIVIDUAL TIME TRIAL
Steve Madden CSMT, USA Cycling Coach
There is no greater single challenge for a road racer than the individual time trial. The “Race of Truth” tests every physical and mental skill and ability you pos-
sess. There is no place to hide, no tac- tics to play off of, no shelter from the elements—just you, your bike and the clock. Good time trial ability always crosses over well into other racing venues. Maximal aerobic capacity, anaerobic power, aerobic recovery and mental toughness are vital to successful performance regardless of the racing venue. The athlete that races well against the clock is always a threat.
A 40K ITT requires that you ride at and sometimes above maximal aerobic capacity for about 60min. If your fitness is good and you ride a 40K ITT correct- ly you should have nothing left when you cross the line. I’ve known elite-level riders to say that if they ride a 40K ITT properly they will need someone to catch them at the finish because they won’t be able to stand up. This may sound a bit drastic but if you take the ITT seriously and you want to be com- petitive you have to be prepared to put out that level of effort.
Training your body and mind for a successful time trial effort requires spe- cialized training and precise planning. As with other racing disciplines you start with an evaluation of your fitness and skills and define your goals and make a plan to achieve them.
Evaluate Your Current Fitness
Aerobic training capacity and mus- cular endurance can be easily measured on the bike during long endurance level training sessions. If you have the capacity for 4–5 hours at an average of 70–90% of LT (lactate threshold) with some reserve strength your fitness is sufficient for more intense training.
Heart rate zones and performance values can be established with fitness testing. The Conconi protocol is a sim- ple and reasonably accurate test that can establish benchmarks for maximal aerobic capacity (LT) and Max HR. These values can then be used to set training zones. More elaborate and expensive testing, including blood lac- tate levels, VO2 and maximal power are often available through university sports physiology labs or local health clinics.
A even simpler test is a race pace effort on a 20K ITT course. Many clubs hold ITT training races that are especial- ly good for measuring the progress from
a specific training cycle. Remember, the purpose of any testing is to establish individual performance benchmarks, evaluate progress and determine fitness levels for the purpose of adjusting train- ing priorities and ranges.
Mental and Physical Skills
Are you proficient in the necessary bike skills for TT racing? Are you com- fortable and stable in an aero-position? How good is your start? Can you make a fast and safe turnaround? Being profi- cient in the necessary skills frees your mind and body to concentrate on the race. All it takes is practice.
Do you have the mental toughness to race hard for 40K? Can you fight back into a good rhythm after you fall off your scheduled pace? Are you capa- ble of focused concentration under the most physically demanding conditions? Do you have the confidence and moti- vation to push yourself beyond your established limits in training and com- petition? Racing solo against the clock is a difficult mental exercise at best. Your ability to be mentally strong and focused comes from pushing the limits of your performance and gaining confi- dence every time out.
Define Your Goals
Time standards are well known in different categories for championship distances. If you already have a personal best at a championship distance, set a realistic goal for a new PR (personal record). Your progress as a ITT rider is easily measured by how often and by how much to set a new PR.
Make a Plan to Meet Your Goals
Every USCF district awards ITT Championships for juniors, seniors and masters. Stage race events often include an individual time trial. Individual TT events are on the racing calendar in every region of the country. Identify the key events in your area and plug the dates into your training calendar. Periodize your training around these key events and structure your training to focus on specific areas of your per- formance that need attention.
Time trial training is a good compli- ment to your general training program. Everything you develop for ITT will be useful at other racing venues. Your TT training focuses on developing maximal aerobic capacity, hyperaerobic muscle endurance, active recovery, mental toughness and concentration and bike skills. More specialized training a few weeks out from an important event
tunes up your fitness and gets you com- fortable on the bike.
Mental preparation is a daily exer- cise on and off the bike and is a reflec- tion of your overall outlook on life. Athletic mental toughness builds confi- dence in your abilities and enables you to push beyond established limits during training and competition. Being profi- cient in necessary racing skills like starts and turnarounds reduces the clutter in your mind and improves concentration during a race. Visualization techniques and mental imagery instill strong rein- forcing beliefs that boost your confi- dence and improve your performance.
With regular practice your ability to focus and concentrate can be developed into an unconscious, reflex level skill. In training, experiment and develop per- sonal strategies that help you stay focused. Try counting 50 pedal strokes between HR monitor checks. Create a mantra to repeat while you race, some- thing like, “my pedals turn in smooth and powerful circles” or “I am faster than the wind.” Have a time schedule (distance at various time splits) to fol- low to keep yourself focused and on pace. Regular checks of the readout on your HR monitor, speedometer or cadence keep you focused on your out- put, workload and speed. Whatever it takes, keep your mind in the race.
Practice keeping the mental and physical pressure on under difficult con- ditions. If it’s windy day, get aero and bear down and keep the pressure on. Don’t let up and back off. Quitting is a learned behavior. Stay focused and ration out your strength for the whole distance. You may go slower, but keep the pressure on for the whole distance and finish strong. Keeping the pressure on under difficult conditions makes you mentally strong and builds your confi- dence. Especially in training, practice keeping the pressure on.
By breaking down the race into its distinct parts, (pre-race routine, start, time checks, turnaround(s) the last 5K and the finish), you can practice and fine tune each separately and in prepa- ration for the event.
The start is more technical than physical. Practice starts with a holder; relax, breath, focus, repeat your mantra, block everything else out. The start should be practiced in 2-kilometer inter- val repeats. The start must be a power-
PERFORMANCE CONDITIONING FOR CYCLING — Vol. 5, No. 2
ful effort that gets you up to cruising speed and into a rhythm as quickly as possible. However, the start is not a sprint or a maximal effort that will load up your legs. Begin in a gear that is 1–2 shifts from your cruising gear.
After 2K you should be up to speed, comfortable and breathing steady. Focus now shifts to your time schedule and projected splits at 5K intervals. Your speedometer, watch and odometer tell you if you are on pace between time checks. Each time check tells you how you are doing and if changes need to be made.
A fast turnaround can save precious seconds. Practice carrying good speed into the turn, shift into your exit gear, set up outside for the shortest line around the cone, break hard, cut the apex as close as possible, get the bike straightened out and repeat your start- ing procedure till you are back up to cruising speed.
The remaining time checks until 35K are routine. At the 35K mark assess what you have left and prepare for the final push to the line. Assuming every- thing has gone right you will be able to accelerate a bit in the remaining kilome- ters. Pick up the pace a bit every kilo-
meter. With 1K to go shift one gear and dig as deep as you can. Stay seated for the sprint and use everything you have to cross the line. Roll to someplace safe and cool down for several minutes before you try to get off the bike.
The fitness requirements for time trial; maximal aerobic capacity, hyper- aerobic muscle endurance, anaerobic power and active recovery—are addressed as components of your gener- al training program. However, fine tun- ing your fitness and skills for a major ITT event requires additional special- ized training. Again, if you break the time trial race down into its distinct parts the performance requirements become clearer.
The start requires anaerobic power and muscular strength for acceleration of a large gear from a standing start. Over-geared sprint repeats are excellent training for the big leg muscles. The goal of these workouts is to increase muscle recruitment in the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings for explosive power. AP sprint training also focuses on upper body strength and form.
A fast cruising speed requires maxi- mal aerobic capacity. Lactate threshold
intervals improve aerobic capacity and oxygen efficiency to provide a higher level of output during sustainable aero- bic activity. These long intervals are best done on the road with your TT bike (or TT setup) to simulate actual outdoor conditions encountered in competition.
Increased oxygen consumption (VO2) benefits your fitness in many ways. VO2 Max intervals improve Hyperaerobic muscle endurance (output above LT) by raising the ceiling of aero- bic metabolism and buffering the effects of lactate acid. VO2 intervals increase the amount of oxygen consumed by working muscles.
Active recovery is built into the structure of the workouts via rest inter- vals and set breaks. There are no specif- ic training or intervals for active recovery. Just remember that adaptation to training (positive training effect) will “only” happen in the absence of work. If you are training hard and competing often it is almost impossible to rest too much. Recovery is the key to a healthy and productive racing season.
Male, racing age 43, road category 3, 12th year racing, self-employed, avail- able training time/week 12–15 hours. 1997 goals: improve overall RR perfor- mance, improve PR at district ITT cham- pionships by 2 minutes. This athlete is a very experienced road and track rider and enjoys competing in timed events. Many years of racing has produced good mental toughness and training dis- cipline. Overall race form/fitness and endurance is very solid so training focused on raising the LT and boosting hyperaerobic capacity.
This rider followed a 4-week sched- ule of specialized training using a stan- dard 7-day macro training cycle with two intensity days (interval sessions) per week. Intensity days were separated by one active recovery rest day. Workouts in weeks 1-3 included AP Sprints and Maximal Aerobic Capacity intervals as well as VO2 repeats on a technical 4-min. power climb course. Each week included one early morning race pace effort on a 20K ITT practice course using a dedicated TT bike. The weekly practice ITT was combined with a twilight crit-training race for a double workout day. Week #4 was used for rest and adaptation but still included the 20K practice ITT.
This preparation proved successful. The athlete set a new PR for a 40K ITT on a certified national record course of 57:06. Previous PR was 58:32.
Every serious TT rider uses special equipment to reduce the effects of aero- dynamic drag. Disk wheels, aero han- dlebars, funny bikes made of “aero”
Anaerobic Power Sprint Intervals (3 Sets, 9 Efforts)
Rolling start from +/-5 mph, Gearing 53/14-15, 15-20 second efforts or to 120rpm, NO target HR Zone for efforts, 10 min. Zone 2 active rest between sets:
Rest periods are shaded.
Warm-up.........30min mostly zone 2 finish with Zone 4 jumps Set #1..............3X 15-20 sec w/ 3min Zone 1-2 between efforts Break ..............10 min. Zone 2 active rest
Set #2..............3X 15-20 sec w/ 3min Zone 1-2 between efforts Break ..............10 min. Zone 2 active rest
Set #3..............3X 15-20 sec w/ 3min Zone 1-2 between efforts Cool Down .....30min zone 2 easy spin Zone 1-2
Total time of workout: 95min
Maximal Aerobic Capacity Intervals (Lactate Threshold)
15min. lactate threshold intervals, Target HR is ITT pace (LT + 4-5 bpm), 10min Zone 2 between SETS, 5min Zone 1-2 between efforts.
Rest periods are shaded.
Warm-up.........30min mostly Zone 2 finish with Zone 3 jumps
Set #1..............2X 15min @ (LT+ 4-5 bpm) w/ 5min Zone 1-2 between efforts Break ..............10 min. Zone 2 active rest
Set #1..............2X 15min @ (LT+ 4-5 bpm) w/ 5min Zone 1-2 between efforts Cool Down .....30min zone 2 easy spin Zone 1-2
Total time of Workout: 140min.
VO2 Max Intervals (3 Sets, 6 Efforts)
VO2 workout can be done on the road on trainer. Gearing is best for 25mph@100rpm, Efforts are 4min in Zone 4 (LT+8-10 bpm) Active rest between efforts is in Zone 1-2, Active rest between sets is Zone 2
Rest periods are shaded.
Warm-up.........30min mostly Zone 2 finish with Zone 3
Set #1..............2X 4min @ LT+8-10bpm w/ 5min Zone 1-2 between efforts Break ..............10 min. Zone 2 active rest
Set #2..............2X 4min @ LT+8-10bpm w/ 5min Zone 1-2 between efforts Break ..............10 min. Zone 2 active rest
Set #3..............2X 4min @ LT+8-10bpm w/ 5min Zone 1-2 between efforts Cool Down .....30min zone 2 easy spin Zone 1-2
Total time of Workout: 114 min.
PERFORMANCE CONDITIONING FOR CYCLING — Vol. 5, No. 2
4-week Preparation for District ITT Championships 1997
Rest periods are shaded.
Week 1 .......Intensity Day #1: AM 20K ITT practice PM Twilight Crit Intensity Day #2: AP Sprints
Weekend racing and/or race pace/endurance training Week 2 .......Intensity Day #1: AM 20K ITT practice PM Twilight Crit
Intensity Day #2: Maximal Aerobic Capacity Intervals
Weekend racing and/or race pace/endurance training Week 3 .......Intensity Day #1: AM 20K ITT practice PM Twilight Crit
the race number, duct taping carbo gel packages to the top tube by the tear-off tab for easy opening, wrapping the tops of shoe covers closed with electrical tape so they don’t catch the wind and, my personal favorite (yes I actually use this one), wearing silicone ear plugs to block out the loud and distracting noise of the wind in your ears. It really works. Be creative and think up some tricks of your own. Even if it only makes you “feel” faster it’s worth it.
MTB racing can be described as a 2-hour lactate threshold ITT punctuated by brief periods of rest on technically difficult terrain. The kind of fitness nec- essary for a 2-hour MTB race cannot be easily developed only with road train- ing. The workouts and physiologic demands prescribed for a road TT are excellent training for XC MTB racing. By training for endurance, anaerobic power and lactate threshold on the road the MTB athlete can use off-road training time to sharpen bike handling skills, test fitness and build confidence.
The three interval work-outs for road TT preparation are easily adapt- able to MTB training. Lactate threshold intervals can be done on long climbs at steady pace while VO2 Max intervals are more suited to shorter power climbs. Resting often occurs on technical descents and a short up-and-down loop would be good for VO2 Max repeats. AP sprints can be done on flat terrain to simulate the mass start sprints common in MTB racing. O
Intensity Day #2: VO2 Max Intervals
Weekend racing and/or race pace/endurance training Compensation/Rest Week, Active Recuperation, 2 moderate/easy road rides, 1 day OFF THE BIKE, cut volume to 60% of Week 3 level, intensity limited to 70% of Max. HR, Morning 20K ITT session, District ITT Championships
your fitness and preparation. Once you have your schedule write it down and tape it on your bike for reference during the race.
Sample Race Time Schedule
Our hypothetical course is 40K, basically flat, mostly straight out and back, neutral wind conditions with one turnaround. Your goal is to ride a steady pace and finish under 1 hour (60min). You know that from training you can ride a 07:30/5K pace. Following a schedule using 5K splits your race might progress like this.
ing area 10 minutes before your sched- uled start and listen for your race number to be called for staging.
Have your bike in your starting gear and be prepared to stage 5 minutes before your start time. Start your stop- watch when your 1-minute rider leaves the line. Roll up to holder, clip in, posi- tion your pedals, breath and relax and listen to the starter’s instructions. Your starting routine begins at 15sec to start. Move your hands to the starting posi- tion, take two more deep breaths and relax. Your eyes look up the road at 5
to go. Out of the saddle at 2 to go. Rock your weight back at 1 to go and blast off on GO! Practice your start routine until it becomes a reflex.
Everybody has little tricks for race day. Some of the more clever ones include using spray adhesive to apply
Race Day Routine
Putting it all together on race day calls for a consistent routine that you can follow at every event. Here are some useful suggestions.
When you arrive at the venue go immediately to registration and get your race number. Then find the starting area and check your watch against the race clock. Wander back to your vehicle and set up your warm-up gear. It’s a good idea to warm up on your road bike leav- ing your TT bike set up and ready to race.
Begin your warm-up routine about 1hr 20min before your start. Begin with a 45–60-minute wind trainer session designed to progressively rev up your body and get all the fuel systems running. Next take in your pre-race fuel and change into your race uniform. Reset your HR monitor and bike computer, make a final bike check and roll out for the start-
5-Kilometer Splits for 40K ITT at 07:30/5K Pace
Distance Elapsed Time Splits/Pace
5K 7:00 time check 1 (Up 00:30)
10K 14:30 time check 2 (Even)
15K 22:00 time check 3 (Even)
20K 29:40 time check 4 (Up 00:15 after turnaround)
25K 37:15 time check 5 (Even)
30K 44:45 time check 6 (Even)
35K 52:15 time check 7 (Even)
Notes: To compensate for time lost at the start and turnaround the opening 5K is ridden 30 sec ahead of pace. 07:30 (even) splits are ridden the remainder of the race. Allowing for 15 sec lost at the turnaround you finish in 59:45.