Ten things to love about time trialing

Our local club time trial series started last night.

It was a scorcher too... 95 degrees F, and high humidity.   I was lucky I got to spend the day indoors air conditioning and off my feet, a luxury that paid off in spades, as I achieved best time on the night!  19' 07", for 8.15 miles.   Last time I got a result like that was in 1984!   OK, a reasonable ride, but certainly nothing worth crowing over, (so please forgive me putting it on the www!)   Still, I've gotta admit, it did feel good.  Over 25mph is not bad for an old man... but I know it's still pretty far behind many of the speed others masters my age achieve... and light years away from Wiggo and company.

But then again jongens, Flandria Cafe 'ain't got no' SKY budget, where price is no object in seeking incremental gains against the watch.

Nope, the dashboard on my T/T bike was typically old-school-cheapskate.  I just strapped two watches onto the bar (don't need no steenking fancy mounts).   A wristwatch (that to ensure I could roll around till the last minute and still get start on time), and a pulse monitor, because as any old school race driver would tell you, all you really need is a rev counter for the motor.    No power meter (I'm too cheap).  No speedometer (seeing low numbers is a guranteed morale killer).  No cadence (probably ought to have that though..).

Old school control panel.
Charly Gaul loved the rain and cold, and was notorious for having really bad days in the heat. He once said 'it wasn't that the heat made him sick, rather that it tended to put him to sleep.'  Extreme heat has never been my favorite weather to race in either.  But while it makes me neither sick nor sleepy, it does make me sweat out of every pore like a running faucet.

Like the others who showed up, I decided to ignore the heat stroke warnings of the TV meteorologists, and just give it 100%.   A bloc!   I finished satisfied that I did go 100%, because my heart rate was 175-180 bpm the whole way.   Yikes, I've never been able to hit heart rates that high in the past 2 years.  Wonder if the heat had anything to do with it?   Whatever, they say motors run well in the heat...

I mostly kept my eternal but oft broken vow to start steady and limit the gearing, toggling between a 14 and 15.   Concentrated on relaxing the arms and hands, letting the power come from the legs, and deeper belly breathing.   Those things work.   I'm finally learning that high revs mean more than the gear ratio in achieving a good time trial.  Forcing a big gear is tempting, and an easy trap to fall into, but it never works for me.  It starts out feeling faster, but once you drop the revs and start pushing... you never get the speed back up.    Did use the 13 in the last mostly downhill mile though.   How those pros spin a 12 is beyond me.  

Disclaimer:  Back when I raced in Cat 1-2, I was totally useless in the Time Trials.    Looking back, I'm pretty sure it was mostly a lack of mental toughness and concentration, and the combo of flailing away as hard as possible with zero technique.   It's funny that at almost age 52,  I can achieve average speeds faster than my best rides about 30 years ago.   I'm not patting myself on the back though, cause I'm  pretty sure the bike has a lot to do with it.   (Just love riding the T/T bike...it's soooo fast).  That said, I think that the conventional wisdom about performance declining due to natural aging is overrated.  I think you lose pure sprint speed, but don't lose much, if anything for these kinds of prolonged sub-maximal efforts.  I also think you can suffer more as you get older.

Case in point.  The masters 50+ race at Lake Sunapee last week (which I unfortunately had to miss this year) was won by a guy named Tom Officer.  The same Tom officer who was 2nd in the US National Championships in '74 and '75.  Who won dozens of races.  Tom's over 60, and still puts in some amazing performances.  I was suffering trying to hold his wheel (unsuccessfully) up the final climb at the Purgatory road race two weeks ago.

Check out Tom's website for his Old School Training business here.  Read, learn.  Some real wisdom there.   If you're seeking coaching, Tom can help you wade through the nonsense to get your training dialed in.   Take it from a guy who's experienced plenty of suffer-fest spankings trying to stay with him back in the day (burned in my memory was the time I went so hard I actually puked trying to stay with him off the front after he launched his winning attack in an Eliot Maine training race in '79).

I can't wait till the next TT again and see if I can get under 19 min... I know where I lost some momentum and time on the false flats near the end.  I confess I backed off just a bit, in fear of blowing up.   I could have,should have suffered just that little bit more... (coulda woulda shoulda)

Last winter I was telling a friend who's an accomplished ex-pro how much I love time trials and riding the T/T bike.  He looked sideways at me and said 'Time trials?  Why don't you just hit yourself on the head with a hammer'.   We had a good laugh, but I thought it funny how some top road racers really loathe time trialing.  After all, time trials done right really hurt, and even top road racers often will tell you they avoid them for just that reason.  Or because luck plays no part, and they know they haven't got a shot at a top placing.  Well I used to avoid them too, but have come to appreciate them more and more with age.  Even dare I say, love them.  For a whole bunch of reasons.

Top 10 things to love about the Time Trial.

10. It's safer (as long as you keep your head up!). You don't have to worry about some random idiot's stupid kamikaze move taking you down.

9.  Getting your minute man in sight is a powerful drug.  Guaranteed to produce feats of strength beyond your normal limits.  (Time trials count with the FDA as clincal trials, right?)

8.  No wheelsuckers, no excuses.  The only person in control of your result is the one looking back at you in the mirror.  Bike didn't shift right?  Your fault.  Went too hard and blew up?  Your fault.  Ate the wrong thing and got sick?  Your fault.   Gave up when you got caught?  Your fault.

7.  Seeing red.  Those special moments when you're flat out, and just somehow manage to keep piling more fire on the coals.   Shutting out the pain.   It's something you never seem to be able to do in training, or when you're going for a Strava segment.   No, it takes the peer pressure of a real time trial to bring it out...

6.  The balancing act: Flirting with your pain threshold, balancing right on the limit of blowing up is a game.  Like driving a race car on the limit of adhesion.  Ten tenths.  As Steve McQueen said, 'everything else in life is just waiting.'  

5.  Despite the many newfangled technological trappings, the time trial remains primarily a pure test of character.

Not a rouleur, but a great Tour winning
time trial by grimpeur Carlos Sastre.
(AFP photo)
4.  Accessibility and democracy:  A TT is open to anyone with a bike, a helmet and the heart.  And for a nominal fee, they can enter an equal opportunity sporting arena.   It's a race where a Junior can take some senior scalps.  And where a newby Cat 5 can punch well above his weight.  And contrary to conventional wisdom surrounding the born rouleur, all kinds of riders and body types are capable of doing a good time trial.   Tall and short.  Long legged and stocky.  Even pure sprinters and climbers have been known to pull off phenomenal rides.   Gaul beat Anquetil in the Tour TT back in '58.   And supersprinter Freddy Maertens won the Grand Prix des Nations in '76.  And don't forget Heras and Sastre time trialed well enough to save Grand Tour victories.   And Beryl Burton used to beat all the boys.

3.  The watch.  As the cliche says, it never lies.  And is a great mechanism to monitor training progress, measure the effect of changes, and keep inflated egos in check.

2.  Get 'em next time.  You can learn from it, and come back for another shot at it next week.  A lot like Golf, it's a lifetime sport of learning, and incremental improvement.

1.  With all due respect to Spartacus, nobody's ever ridden the perfect time trial.


  1. 11. TTs are as exciting as watching paint dry !

    12. Too much steady pace will blunt rapid changes in pace eg. Boardman and Wiggo.

    By the way Charlie didn't like the heat because the 'pills' could be a problem.

    1. Ha! Brilliant adds! Only don't be dissing the Angel!! Thanks for reading...E.

    2. Joe Waugh used to say the best time trials were the ones where they had to catch you at the end because you had nothing left. He had a few of those as close to perfect as one could in the day. As little as I get back to the North Shore, I still feel the rhythm deep in me on the old TT course when I drive over it. Nice article Eddie. Never thought I'd hear you speak good about your TT ability. Inspiring!


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