Pacing a Time Trial

by Gary Tingley -

The ability to pace a time trial correctly is a challenging yet essential skill for a competitive time trial cyclist to master. For flat and low wind time trial races of durations between 10 miles and 40 kilometers, I often break the event into four parts:

1. The start. Rolling a good start will lay the foundation for a confident race. With five minutes to go you head over to the start area and take your position in line. You spin the cranks forward and ensure that you are in the correct gear. Your cycling computer is ready to record. You are hydrated, rested, warmed up and ready to compete. Close your eyes and picture yourself on the podium. Draw a mental picture of yourself rolling across the finish line as you clock a new personal best time. Find your motivation and remember it for later. After climbing up to the start house, or the start line, ensure that you have shifted to a large enough gear that will allow you to start out of the saddle and power up to speed for 10 seconds. At 1 minute out from your start, hit your timer. Take a few calm deep breaths and prepare for the countdown. Go.

2. The first five minutes. This is one of the most critical sections of the race and pacing this section correctly can mean the difference between correctly pacing your best effort and blowing midway through the event. Pacing with a power meter can be invaluable during these first minutes. Your power during this period should put you in the range of 95% of your projected average power for the race. After the five minutes you should take inventory on your perceived exertion as compared to actual power, and adjust as needed for the day. Not everything is black and white when it comes to pacing with power. Use your power meter as a gauge, deferring to your perceived exertion. Listen to your breathing, focus on a smooth cadence. Push it.

3. Out to the turn-around. After the first five minutes of the event and after you have settled in to a strong sustainable rhythm, try to ramp it up a little harder and keep yourself focused on riding the razor’s edge. This period of the race is very challenging to pace, as you are still relatively fresh yet you may have doubts about your starting pace and your ability to keep your current pace up for the duration.

4. The return leg to the finish. This is the "perceived longest" and most challenging section of the race. This is the section where you make deals with yourself in order to finish strong. “Just steady to the next mile marker” … “ok, keep this effort until you pass the next rider”. This is where the hours of intervals and time spent training and racing on your TT bike will pay dividends. Metering is done by perceived exertion using your power meter as an additional gauge. Your comfort during this section of the course can also play into how focused you are on putting out as much power as you possibly can. You may find yourself shifting around on the saddle, or unable to hold your position. You will have to dig deep into your well of confidence. Remember your motivation.

Racing a course that has rolling climbs can necessitate a slightly different strategy. Pushing (a little) harder on the climbs, and letting off (a little) on the descent can prove to be a faster strategy than to iso pace the rolling event. In contrast, I prefer to pace evenly or just slightly harder into a headwind and either even or slightly easier with a tailwind, providing that I am riding directly into the headwind. Pacing a time trial is an acquired skill, one that will likely take you several events to master. Using your power meter to pace in training is an excellent method of calibrating your perceived exertion for race day.