Cycling time trials are the race of truth; they are humans pushing themselves to the limit to go as fast as possible over a given course. There is no peloton to dictate tactics. The rider must meter out their effort perfectly for the duration of the race to ensure victory. It is the most simple form of racing – rider against clock. Lowest time wins.
Cycling Time Trials – Straight Forward But Different
But in reality, it is not so easy to nail down what the discipline is. There are many types of cycling time trials. There are flat time trials suited to bigger riders with very big engines. There are hilly time trials for the punchier riders. There are hill climb time trials, where the rider with the highest power to weight ratio (and generally very low overall weight) wins. And team time trials emphasize excellent teamwork and smoothness to clock in the quickest time.
Shorter time trials (less than ten kilometers or so), often at the beginning of a stage race, are called prologues. It allows officials to sort out the classification before the first road stage along with featuring each individual rider to the fans. If there’s a time trial in the middle of a stage race of a similar distance, it is just a time trial. Forty kilometer time trials are often a benchmark of time trial ability. Crack an hour and you are pretty good. Go a bit faster and you are really flying. Most time trials will fall in between ten and forty kilometers.
Equipment for cycling time trials often seems exotic. The bike is not your ordinary road bike. You race it much less frequently than your road bike. It has different angles to allow for a more aerodynamic position. Everything on the bike is aerodynamically optimized. The position is different. Your road bike might be comfortable for a six hour ride but your time trial bike setup for forty kilometers at a time would be uncomfortable for the same six hour ride. There are aerobars out front, allowing you to get narrow and low, which are illegal for mass start races and even in some time trials.
Eddy Merckx Time Trials
A recent trend to level the playing field at smaller races demands that riders use the same equipment they would use in a mass start road race. Also known as Eddy Merckx style. It lowers the investment level required to be competitive in the sport and some argue that it levels the playing field to allow the best rider to come through, not just the rider with the best investment in equipment.
Cyclists will obsess over equipment. This tire paired with that tube will provide the lower rolling resistance. That skinsuit is faster than this skinsuit. These wheels are the fastest ever made… Cycling time trials are where that equipment obsession comes to its climax. It gives every opportunity to either believe in your gear or second guess it. That can certainly lead to riders pushing themselves differently based on how they feel about their setup.
How to Get Into Cycling Time Trials
Many, many local clubs run time trials. They are relatively easy to set up, provide good training, and are a competitive and fun atmosphere. The bar to entry is very low – you do not need to have any experience riding in a pack, registrations fees are minuscule compared to big road events, and they are close to home. They give a nice target to train for and provide good tests of fitness along the way. Search out your local club to see if they have cycling time trials to push your limits.
Try Them All
Despite the fact that some cycling time trials suit a more particular rider, you should try them all. If you do not succeed like you would like, at least you had a good, hard training day on the bike. And if you do have a very fast day, tick that type of time trial off as one that suits you.
You Don’t Need All The Aero Equipment to Get Started
You can even show up to your local time trials on your current road setup. Be consistent about your setup, train well, and you will see improvements in time. Then maybe return next season with an improved bike setup and see how much you gained compared to your old setup. It is not necessary to sink money into your equipment to get the most out of time trialing but if you want to be competitive at the top level, eventually you will need to drop some money on your gear.
Your Own Personal Time Trial
To set an even lower bar, find an uninterrupted course where you can smash the pedals without interuption. Then time trial on it periodically. You do not even need to tell anyone about it; it can be your own time trial where the only person you are competing against is yourself. It does remove the social aspect of competition and the opportunity to learn from others but it will certainly increase your fitness.
A Gateway to Mass Start Races
Now that you are hooked on competition and pushing your limits, you may want to branch out into mass start races – criteriums, road races, circuit races, and multi-day stage races even. Hopefully through your local club cycling time trials you have made a network of friends and mentors that can guide you on a successful path to wider racing opportunities. You already have the foundational fitness from all the cycling time trials, so why not give it a try?