Lookout Mountain Time Trial Pacing

With my new schedule at work, I’ll be missing the this Saturday.  The climb was used in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge’s final stage last year, and also features in two local races, a hill climb race, and this weekend’s TT.  Last year’s winner was , now racing in the ProTour, the highest level of the sport.

I finished with a time of 18:56, in 5th place.  The first half of the Pro/1/2 field was in the 18 minute range, with the exception of George, finishing in an incredible 17:15, a full minute ahead of second place.  Riders like George show the divisions of fitness across the elite level of the sport, with riders capable of world-class competition displaying fitness on an entirely separate level.

For the mortals lining up this weekend, I wanted to give insight into pacing strategy for this race, which will also be applicable to hill climb time trials in general.

Lookout Mountain Hillclimb Profile

As you can see, the climb is steady overall. The flatter sections are on the middle third and a few hundred yards just before the push to the finish.  The steepest section is around the second set of switchbacks.

Lookout Mountain Hillclimb Map

A common pacing strategy for flat time trials is to break the race into quarters. (See a great quarter based for flat or rolling TTs on Joe Friel’s blog). But for this climb I use thirds, because it fits best with the profile and geography of the climb.

Before I get to the specifics of pacing for this race, I’ll describe the basis for pacing any time trial. Physiologically, lactic acid builds during the effort.  Eventually lactic acid builds until you can’t ride any more.  Ideally you want to ride at a steady effort that will have you at the breaking point at the finish line.  Lactic acid can be very hard to eliminate during the race due to the intense effort, so if too much is accumulated during the early part of the race, it will remain for the duration.  This means that an ideal pacing for a completely flat TT will have slightly (1-3%) lower power for the first half versus the second.

However, no TT is flat.  Especially this one.  When traveling uphill at a slower speed, wind resistance decreases.  That means that a higher percent of your power output goes to forward progress, rather than being wasted pushing against the wind.  Therefor, pushing hard into the wind is not as effective as pushing hard up a hill.  For any TT you’ll need to ride harder when the course is steepest.

The profile of Lookout is nearly ideal for employing both of these strategies.

First Third: Start to the first switchback

The most important aspect of this part of the race is to hold back.  You will be excited and race-ready.  Your rested state will make your perceived exertion lower than normal.  A power meter is quite useful here.  I wouldn’t ride at more than 10% above FTP for the first third, no matter how easy it feels.  Ride slightly harder on the few sections where the grade increases.  Stay seated and spin a relatively high cadence (90-100 rpm).  This will save your legs for later in the climb.

Second Third: First switchback to the Saddle Overlook

This is the flattest section of the race.  Don’t let the first set of switchbacks fool you.  They are actually relatively easy.  After the “M” is the flattest section of the race.  Get aero and ease off a little bit when your speed increases.  If you have a power meter, ride at FTP on the ‘flats’.  This is the opportunity to ‘rest’ before the push to the finish.

Final Third: Saddle Overlook to summit

This is when the race is won or lost.  Immediately after the overlook heading into the second set of switchbacks is the steepest grade.  The switchbacks are also steep, as is the section immediately following.  At this point it is a good idea to climb standing since you’ve been saving your fast twitch muscle fibers by staying seated earlier.  You should be ‘racing’ to the last corner before the road flattens out.  Get up to speed on the flat section and then rest for a few seconds and surge through the finish.

Final Thoughs:

In a normal TT at 25 mph, 80% of your effort is against the wind, but a 20 minute run up Lookout (13.5 mph) will still put 15% of your effort into the wind, so varying your effort with the grade will still be beneficial.  Also keep in mind aerodynamics – if you can hear the wind buffeting your ears, or your speed is over 15 mph, consider riding in the drops or hoods.  Wear a skinsuit and shoe covers if you have them.  Don’t bring any extra equipment (watch, bottles, cages, flat kit).  And don’t forget to pedal hard.  Good Luck.

About Russell

I have been racing bicycles for a decade. This blog will chronicle my efforts as a Category 1 road racer lining up with the pros.
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9 Responses to Lookout Mountain Time Trial Pacing

  1. says:

    As with so many of your posts, this is absolutely outstanding. I plan to race this Sat and this is extremely helpful information for that climb. Especially b/c I was often wondering how to ride it in relation to FTP. I’m not super @ TTs and your advice is very timely. Thanks!

    • says:

      The only thing I’ll add is to expect to average somewhere around FTP +10% for the entire race. Good luck.

  2. Brad says:

    Mr. Bennet is 5’9″ and 127 pounds according to the Nissan-Trek team site.

    Dude is seriously small. Kudos to you for being close to 1 minute down at your height and size.

  3. James says:

    Lance once said that 2.2 lbs adds a minute over 10k climb, i think. I don’t think he gave a specific grade, since this was just a general statement anyhow. 17:15 to just under 19 minutes is very respectable, and think about the guys at 21:30 (my best time during training — I think this is a pack race, not ITT). no chance to “upgrade” past fun local races in Colorado. I wonder if Lance, Greg, Levi, or Horner would do on this climb when they were 18-years old? prob. sub-16

  4. star says:

    TD passed me on old stage / lee hill a few times in jan and feb.

    No way is he 140. The guy is built like a girl scout.

    Still, very capable of cranking out 400w….

    • says:

      You’re right. He is listed at 129 lbs on the team website… Although I’ve often felt that the official stats can be a bit like basketball player height figures: fudged a bit to psych out the competition.

  5. Brad says:

    thanks for this very informative blog post. I kind of use Lookout as a non-power barometer of performance, but due to inexperience, never really did anything bu “pedal hard all the time” technique. So will practice this approach the next time riding up Lookout.

    Great post.

  6. Blake says:

    Hey Russell,

    Followed your pacing suggestions and set a PR yesterday, 22:02. Thanks for the tips!

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