Time Trial Know-How

This weekend many VQers will be racing at the Double Bong Time Trial on Sunday, plus Vision Quest Coaching starts its first practice for the 2-Man Time Trial that many members are participating in on July 12. Below you’ll find a great document that Doug McCleran wrote about how to do a Time Trial. You’ll also find that many of the elements apply to doing a triathlon as well. To all of the VQers racing the Double Bong, I suggest that you use this as your outline for having a successful event this weekend.

For those going to the Double Bong, I will be there to start you off and Doug will do race debriefs with anyone that is interested.

Here’s what Doug had to say about the Time Trial:

Know the course

Most race promoters provide a map of the course or directions.  If not available from the promoter, ask your coach or your teammates.  Look at a map, topo if possible, to familiarize yourself with the route.  Note the road surface, the corners, the hills, the length of each straight, and the turnaround (if there is one).  If possible, ride the course. If not, drive it.  This must be done before race day or very early the morning of the race – do not go on the course while the race is in progress.  The day of the race during your warmup, note the wind direction and speed.

When you arrive

  • Arrive at least 90min before your start (does not include course recon)
  • Sign in / register: know and understand your start time (some races start riders every 30sec, some every min) and rules (some allow folding of numbers, other do not).
  • bike assembled with tires pumped up
  • race clothes on
  • number pinned on
  • sync watch to official clock
  • begin warmup at least 60 min before start time


You must be fully warmed up and ready to go 100% from the start.

Warming up on a trainer within 5 min of the start is recommended – less danger of a flat or accident, easier to control effort.

Sample warmup:

  • 30 min on road with spare wheels, spin 15 min easy, then submax for the next 15 min.  Note wind direction and speed.
  • Back at the start area: check the time, stretch legs, back, gluts. have water and towel within reach, take off race jersey or fold down skinsuit top so that it will be dry for the start.
  • Race bike on trainer: 20 min starting at submax power or hr, every 2 min increase power until just above threshold (breathing hard, can no longer talk). Hold this effort for 2 min, return to submax for 2 min, then go right back up to threshold for 2 min.  Now return to submax for 5min.
  • Check the time, if you have more than 10 min until start keep spinning easy.

The start

  • Report to the start 3-5 min early. You want to time your warmup as close as possible, but you don’t want to miss your start.  The race does not wait for anyone – if you miss your start your time will start when you were scheduled to start, not when you actually started.
  • Safety – it is important that the start area be kept orderly for everyone’s safety – there are usually cones set up on the right side of the road, riders should line up in start order to the right of these cones, off the road. Be careful of riders that are finishing, they are going full speed.
  • Know your race number, and find your place in the start line order.
  • Make sure that you are in the gear that you want to start in, usually the big ring and one of the larger cogs.
  • Relax and listen to any last minute instructions and/or warnings from the Race Officials.  You will receive a countdown (usually from 10 sec) and a “go”.
  • A smooth, gradual start is very important, do not go anaerobic. Stand for a good smooth start, but fight the urge to sprint from the line.  Get on top of the gear (have it spinning at or above the rpms that you plan to maintain), then sit and get aero.  Be patient and only shift once you are on top of each gear, gradually increasing to threshold over the first 2-3 minutes.


Concentration and the ability to focus on the moment is the single most important skill in riding a time trial.  Focus on the gradual start, then on relaxing your upper body and breathing, and your pedal stroke.  But despite the internal focus, you must keep an awareness of your surroundings – the course, traffic, and other riders.  Avoid a focus on gizmos – heart rate, power, etc.  They are valuable tools for training, but on race day elapsed time is all that matters, no medals are given for top pulse or watts.  Focus and challenge yourself.

Economy and Momentum

Use your knowledge of the course and your gears to gain and retain as much momentum as you can on every hill and corner.  Every time you slow, power is needed to get you back to race pace. Keep pressure on the pedals and strive to keep your effort at or above threshold the entire way, even on downhills and in tailwinds.


The fastest way to ride corners is to pick a line (usually outside-inside-outside) that will allow you to keep as much speed as possible through the corner. However, there are other things to think about:

  • Traffic – corners may or may not be marshaled. Even if they are marshaled, the volunteer may not have authority to stop oncoming vehicles.
  • 2-way race traffic – on an out-and-back TT, other riders riding in the opposite direction may be attempting to take the same inside line as you – keep your head up and pay attention.
  • Road surface/gravel – staying upright is faster.
  • Equipment – if you are riding a disc or rigid aero wheels, be sure you know what they feel like cornering at race speed before the race.  The  handling characteristics of some wheels and wind gusts can make high speed cornering difficult.  Many TT bikes also have lower bottom brackets and/or longer cranks, another reason to practice cornering if you are riding a new or borrowed TT bike.

Passing other riders

Finding a rhythm at threshold or slightly above and holding it there is the key to a good time trial.  If you are distracted by other riders, you will lose your rhythm and waste energy regaining it.  Some riders find it motivating to focus on catching the rider ahead, but you must maintain your rhythm, and when you catch riders you must not let up.  Likewise, if you are caught do not change your rhythm to try to go at that riders pace, you must keep a pace that you can maintain to the finish.  When passing, you must do it decisively to minimize the chance that officials will give a drafting penalty.  USCF rule 3E6b: No rider shall take pace behind another rider closer than 25 meters ahead or 2 meters to the side.

The finish

  • Know your race number and call it out as you cross the finish line, it will help minimize scoring mistakes.
  • Look at your watch or computer for your time. Scoring mistakes are rare but if one occurs you will know your true time.
  • Keep your head up and slow down ASAP, be careful of people warming up and starting.
  • Cooldown at least 20 min, with recovery drink or food.


  • Evaluate your performance and record in your training log:
    Date, location, distance, temp, wind.
    Your time and how it compared to others (as a %).
    What you did well
    What you could improve
  • Accept your results and be proud of yourself, you just completed  “The race of truth”.
See you Sunday!

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