Time trials can be brilliant high-intensity cycle training sessions, says coaching editor Phil Mosley

The ultimate 30-minute bike workoutThe UK may not always have the best weather for cycling, but one thing it does have over warmer countries is a thriving time trial scene. For the triathlete, these solo against-the-clock races can be worth their weight in gold, often providing the best 30 minutes of cycle training you’ll ever do. Cycle time trials replicate the type of riding you do in a triathlon, where it’s just you versus the clock, without the advantage of being shielded by a peloton. So it makes perfect sense to do them in training.

They’re very low-key events. The race HQ is usually a car park or a village hall, and the route tends to be one single road – out and back. Each competitor is set off at one-minute intervals, and you’re not allowed to draft by riding directly behind the other cyclists. The races are given codes rather than names, and they’re not advertised like triathlons are. You can enter some time trials on the day for around £2, known as club events, whereas others require an entry form to be sent two weeks in advance, known as open events.

The simplest way for a triathlete to race their first time trial is at a club event. These are often held mid-week during the summer at 6 or 7pm. The most common distance is 10 miles, which is ideal for most triathletes’ needs. You turn up, pay £2, pin on a number and then start in number-order. What then follows is 20 to 35 minutes of sustained high-intensity cycling while someone times you. You finish, get your time and go home. It really is that simple.

The more 10-mile time trials you do, the more you learn how hard to push yourself and the better you pace each subsequent race. It’s a good idea to wear a heart-rate monitor to give you an idea of just how hard you’re working, and then compare it every time you race. You’ll soon learn what you can and can’t sustain in time trials and triathlons. A power meter is even better. It’s likely that your times will improve quickly in the first few weeks of regular racing. Beginners often report that they’re able to sustain a higher heart rate at every race during the first four or five weeks, before it begins to plateau.

Some cyclists complain of a short-lived chesty cough after their first time trial of the season, known as pursuiter’s cough. After you’ve raced a few time trials, the bike leg of a triathlon will never seem so gruelling. That’s why some of the best cyclists in triathlon are keen time triallists, such as Triathlon Plus contributor Phil Graves. While there are many benefits to time-trialling, there are also a few things to watch out for:

Intensity

Ten-mile time trials are over in a flash. Even so, they’re very stressful for your body. Do them once per week at most, and only in blocks of six weeks leading up to key races. Then have a few weeks off before the next block.

Competition 

Don’t get too caught up in competing with other cyclists. Many will have tapered, shaved their legs and spent all their spare money on aerodynamic kit. Keep your eye on the ball and only use time trials as training for your key triathlons.

Conditions

Don’t get depressed about your results. Times are very dependent on weather and course conditions. Cold days, hot days, windy days, calm days – it all makes a big difference to your speed. You can’t always compare one race to the next.

FIND OUT MORE

In England and Wales the main source of information for cycle time trials is cyclingtimetrials.org.uk. Each district also has a website with details of local events – links can be found here. Information on time trials in Scotland can be found on the British Cycling website.

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