Last season was my first full season with a power meter. It opened my eyes to a few things, including the fact that I have a natural “Time Trialist” power profile. I thought this would automatically make me good in the TT, but after entering a few and not doing very well I decided I needed to focus more to find the results I wanted. Below I have put into a few categories the things I believe improved my performance the most. I am certainly not the world’s best TT specialist, but I raced a 52 minute 40k (28.6 mph / 46 kph average) this year, which most will agree is pretty good.
Fitness: The time trial is sometimes called “The Race of Truth”. If you’re not fit, you’re not going to see phenomenal results. I am a big believer in ‘base’ training. I spent the past two seasons with three solid months of training 8-10 hours per week. These aren’t huge numbers, but they were focused solo rides on the road bike with constant pedaling (95%+), and Zone 2 power/HR for the duration. I was riding regularly 4-5 times per week. There is a lot more to ‘fitness’ than base training, but I believe it has helped me a lot. Keep in mind, gains in cycling are realized on long time frames (sometimes years), so patience is key.
Race Day: I use the same race day ritual that I use for any race. It is what happens preceding race day that is so important. For the time trial you must be ready for your best performance, which means a proper taper. For me this usually means 3-4 days of rest. Sometimes I do easy rides, but for the most part I take the time for my family and don’t ride at all. The day before, I go for an easy hour ride to double check the TT bike and do an effort or two for a few minutes at TT pace.
Bike: I still don’t have expensive equipment. I have my old (1997) road frame, a pair of aerobars I got from a teammate for free, a mix of old components, and my 58mm road racing wheels. However, having a dedicated bike has been very helpful. Most importantly, it has allowed me to refine my position. When I was using clip on bars, it took significant time to alter my bike, and it was hard to find a good position.
Position: Most of the drag is from the rider, not the bike or equipment. If you think about it, the TT boils down to power and aerodynamics. Body position is the most important factor in aerodynamics. How do you know if your position is good? I’m sure you can go to an experienced TT bike fitter, but I didn’t do that. There is a wind tunnel of course, but that is also out of the question for me. I watch PRO cycling and read the cycling media and made sure to keep an eye on what a good PRO position looks like. I then put my bike on the trainer and took video. Once on my computer I compared the still images to see what I could do better. I know this feels ridiculous. My wife laughed at me. I didn’t care, this is a key component to speed. Wear your helmet when you do this so you can see how it interacts with your body. Also, compare photos from races to make sure you are holding the position that looked so fast in your living room. Do whatever you have to do to achieve a low, narrow position. I would go lower if I could, but I can’t on my current frame.
Aero Equipment: I use an older model aero helmet, a long sleeve skinsuit, and shoe covers. I think these are minimum for anyone looking to do well in a TT (short sleeves are OK too, but long is seriously PRO.) I also have a general purpose set of aero wheels. My perform quite well and from the speeds I’ve seen in the TT, it seems they are just as aero as the wheels from you know who that they are very similar to (except 40% cheaper). The only thing I would like to add is a disc wheel. Nothing fancy, just an old, solid disc would be what I would get.