Along with an Olympic Gold medal, hour records and World titles on the track, Chris Boardman still also has the fastest recorded Tour de France prologue, 55.15kph in 1994, and five consecutive National 25-mile time trial wins on his Palmarès. For racing against the clock, his advice is definitely worth listening to.
01 TRAINING: Whether you’ve got a dedicated TT bike or a road bike with clip-ons, train in the position you intend to race in. Find a straight road or a loop composed of left turns and do the following session.
- Warm-up for 10 minutes.
- 15 minutes just below threshold. This will feel hard but sustainable.
- Easy spinning for 10 minutes to recover.
- 12 minutes at a slightly higher intensity than the 15 minutes.
- Easy spinning for 10 minutes to recover.
- 8 minutes, lifting the effort again.
- 10 minutes easy spinning to cool down.
02 PACING: You will get it wrong but part of the appeal of time trialling is learning from your mistakes and being able to go back the next week, race your previous time and try again. Constantly ask yourself these two questions: “How far have I got to go?” and “Is my pace sustainable for that distance?” If you answer a definite yes for the second question, you’re not going hard enough and if it’s no, it’s too late and you’ve overcooked it. I used this simple equation for my whole career and it’s served me well.
03 WARM-UP: Should be about 20 minutes long and progressive, leaving you breathing a bit by the end. Build the intensity for the first 15 minutes and then, at the start of each minute for the final 5, put in a 20-second hard burst, followed by 40 seconds easy spinning. Aim to finish 10 minutes before your start time as this will maintain muscle temperature but not carry over any fatigue.
04 NUTRITION: Avoid eating in the two hours before a TT but aim to consume a bottle of water or sports drink during your warm-up. For a 10-mile TT, you won’t need anything on the bike but, for events longer than an hour, you might want to ride with a bottle and a gel.
05 POSITION: Aim to minimise your frontal profile, paying particular attention to your shoulders and elbows. Most riders will gain from moving their elbows in but less so if you have particularly broad shoulders. Aim to have your elbows back under your shoulders and not too far forwards. Use a full-length mirror and a home trainer. Make adjustments and then see how it feels to ride for 10 minutes at TT effort. There’s often a compromise between aerodynamics and power output and you’ll need to assess whether you’ll be able to train yourself to get used to your new position. There’s no point in having a super aero position if you can’t ride in it.
06 IT’S NOT ABOUT THE BIKE: You can spend an awful lot of money in the quest for seconds but there will always be diminishing returns. The biggest gains will always be from your position, clothing and fitness. Get these right and then think about expensive upgrades.
07 COOL-DOWN: I’m probably a bit behind the current thinking as there are very many new ideas at the moment but it certainly won’t do you any harm to pedal around gently for 10-15 minutes after a TT. It’ll also give you a chance to reflect on your effort and think about what went right and what you could improve on.
08 MENTAL GAME: It’s easy for your focus to wander, so think constantly about the how far to go and the, “is this sustainable equation?” Keep consciously asking yourself the questions and, with enough practice, it’ll eventually become habit and keep you in the zone.
09 SKILLS: Although many TTs are on straight roads, they’ll often have a dead turnaround. Don’t turn in too early, as it’ll push you towards the curb and you’ll be forced to over correct. If safe, turn later and use the full width of the road. Push your weight down through the outside pedal and look where you want to go. Anticipate the gear you’ll need to exit the corner, it’s always better to be under geared rather than over geared when coming out of a corner.
10 STRATEGY: Think about the course and if necessary adapt your pacing. A dead turn or tight corner can give you a micro-rest, so you may be able to push a bit harder going into it. If there’s a climb, you may want to modify the pacing equation question to: “How hard can I go to the top of the hill?” If there’s a descent on the other side, you’ll get a rest and this could be the fastest tactic. However, if there are lots of climbs, it might take too much out of you to do this every time.