Top 6 time trialing mistakes

These six common time trialing mistakes affect both amateur and professional racers. Watch this short video (8:37) from Cycling Weekly magazine. With the start of the outdoor racing season still several months away, now is the time to correct these mistakes before they limit your early season performance.

Top 6 time trialing mistakes

What have I learned?

I freely admit that I had no idea what I was doing when I entered my first bike race only months after buying my first bike decades since childhood. But, now, after competing in 98 time trials since 2010, I can look back at some of the mistakes I made and what I learned.

Mistake #1: Training on the wrong bike. Early in my time trialing career, I bought a low-end time trial bike, the Cervelo P1 (now discontinued). It was absolutely the wrong bike for my body geometry. (I have slouched shoulders from rheumatoid arthritis). During the first 20 races, I was actually pulling myself forward off the saddle repeatedly, bleeding power and speed. As my current bike fitter explained, the Cervelo frame geometry was “long and low,” while I needed a frame that was “short and high.” He recommended the Specialized Shiv frame geometry, which fit me like a glove. It has been my race bike ever since. As for training, my race bike is on my smart trainer for weekday indoor workouts, especially for race-pace twice-a-week interval workouts. I ride my road bike outdoors on weekends for only my long endurance workouts. I could use my race bike, but I don’t use heavier thorn-resistant inner tubes in my race tires, increasing the chance of a puncture far from home.

Mistake #2: Messing with my setup. As previously mentioned, it took me several attempts to find the right bike for my body geometry. My search was not helped by several clueless bike fitters. They had a preconceived notions of the ideal position on the bike and created that setup totally disregarding my body geometry. When I finally found my current bike fitter on the third try, he had already demonstrated that he understood the challenges of my body shape. It took him almost three hours to find the setup that I’ve used successfully over the past 60+ races. There has been one recent hiccup with my setup. After I moved to the Midwest two years ago, I visited a local bike fitter for a drivetrain upgrade for my race bike. He recommended several changes to my setup that actually resulted in a loss of power and speed. When I restored my previous setup, my power and speed returned to expected levels.

Mistake #3: Insufficient training. As mentioned in the video, time trial training focuses on low drag and high functional threshold power (FTP). The low drag is achieved with a combination of aero bike components and low body weight. As for training, my coaches have provided me with TT-specific training plans that emphasize twice-weekly high-intensity interval workouts. These workouts consist of multiple sets of intervals at power levels above, at, and just below my FTP. The result? In the last race last year, I actually increased my FTP from 212 watts to 234 watts because of these workouts.

Mistake #4: Going off too hard. Absolutely guilty of this one. A combination of pre-race adrenaline and inexperience makes for a painful and unsuccessful race result. I think it took me about a dozen races before I started to reduce my initial effort and stop worrying about my speed for those early miles. It helps to have a bike computer that displays/records your heart rate and power level. After these early races, you can analyze your effort and establish a more controlled pace that you can sustain for the entire distance. I focus on power, rather than heart rate, for my pacing. It takes your heart a couple of minutes to rise to your target level, while power readings respond almost instantly.

Mistake #5: Aerobar issues. This past season, I experimented with a new set of aerobars. Traditional aerobars are designed for a “normal” body that can bend down flat over the top tube of the bike. I cannot do this. So, for the majority of my races to date, my chest has been exposed like one big parachute. Then, just before the end of the 2020 race season, I happened to view a video of track racers using much higher-angled aerobars associated with the “praying mantis” position that completely blocked their chests. I ordered a set and now have them installed on my race bike. The elbow rests are angled at 20 degrees, rather than perfectly flat, to accommodate the new aerobars. We’ll see how they affect my speed during the 2021 race season. They certainly block the wind against my chest.

Mistake #6: Slow Tyres (Tires). When I started racing time trials, the recommended tires were Continental Grand Prix 4000 (700x23C). There are now two new race tires on the market: Continental Grand Prix 5000 and Continental Grand Prix TT (Limited Edition). I have both and will swap out my 4000s for the TTs just before race season. The other consideration is tire pressure. All of these tires have a maximum of 120 psi (pounds per square inch). To improve rolling speed, I never inflate them to the maximum, but only to 110 psi. This gets them a bit closer to the ideal 700x25C width without having to buy a third set of tires.

Any questions?

If you have any questions about time trial racing or about your cycling goals, training, lifestyle, or gear, I’d like to hear from you. Just drop me a note.