A Year of Time Trialing

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    • #2024385

      Sam :D

      That’s a great write up Marek! It’s interesting to hear that training through racing didn’t really work for you. Maybe you need the training sessions mid week with shorter duration, higher intensity efforts to help build your power up?

      I found not doing longer rides did start to affect my stamina last year, which would have had an impact on 25’s and above, but as I was only racing club 10’s by then it didn’t make a huge difference.
      Do you have specific plans for this year to try things differently, or more just enjoy riding after a hard year?

    • #2024350

      Claire Clarke

      Marek, great read, thanks for taking the time to write it. And, great effort in all the TTs-well done. Happy Christmas to you and the family too.

    • #2024347

      Marek Sasura

      A year end is always a good time for (self)reflection. I hope these words will inspire more people than they will put off.

      In the spring of this year I decided I was going to try as many open time trials as possible, and to learn & improve using this experience. Just like geology is the science of time and pressure, time trialing is the science (or more like a dark art) of power and aerodynamics.

      Stephen Hawking risked losing 50% of readers of his “Brief History of Time” just by using a single equation and he did it anyway. I will take the same risk. In time trialing all what you need to know is that the power to overcome the drag is simply proportional to the aerodynamic coefficient but it is proportional to the third power of the speed. This means that if one improves his/her aerodynamics by 10%, this will bring the saving of 10% in power for the same speed. However, to improve the speed by 10% with the same aerodynamics requires a whopping 33% increase in the power output which can be quite difficult to achieve (e.g. this would require one’s power to jump from 300W to 400W just like that).

      Knowing this I decided to experiment a bit this year. I have built a simple Excel spreadsheet using basic physics to estimate my aerodynamic coefficient for every time trial. There are cool websites for this but it is more fun having your own model. I decided to try different saddle heights, and different adjustments and angles of aerobars for every time trial. This has allowed me (1) to estimate whether I am getting more or less aerodynamic for a given power, time/speed and wind conditions, and (2) to have more fun in a certain way.

      I signed up for various time trials on http://www.cyclingtimetrials.org.uk. It is a non-profit organisation which organises open time trials across the country. In the UK we are quite lucky because time trialing has a long tradition, it is well organised and the competition is amazing (best amateurs would probably hide some professionals in their pockets). Race distances range from 10 miles, 25 miles, 50 miles and 100 miles to gruelling 12-hour and 24-hour time trials. Entry fees are around £10 and the start sheet is published several days before the race so you can easily plan your day (start times are typically either 3-5pm on Saturdays or 7-9am on Sundays).

      Everything was ready and set up for the season. The winter preparation went well until I got a nasty chest infection after Flanders which wouldn’t go away. I recovered somehow but a month of lousy on-and-off training is not exactly the best final preparation for the season. The power was down on the previous season so the only way to improve my times was to get “smaller” on the bike. It is easier said than done with my body constitution of a rugby player rather than a cyclist.

      I tried different tweaks to the position on the bike with mixed results in the first half of the season. However, it all changed in the second half when I managed to find and stay in a “tucked” position going 2.5 minutes faster than my previous best in a 25-mile time trial. This is quite a lot when typical improvements are measured in seconds. By the end of the season I also managed to improve my personal best in a 10-mile time trial by 30 odd seconds. I was quite happy with that but all these small improvements come painfully slowly. In my first year (2016) I did 200km of time trialing, in 2017 it was about the same, in 2018 the number doubled to 400km and in 2019 I doubled again to almost 800km. So 2019 was like all previous years combined and it also felt like a very long & hard season.

      What did I learn from this experience? I have made several valuable observations. (1) Training by racing doesn’t really work (for me). I did a time trial almost every Sunday from May to September. That’s full gas for 1-2 hours with no drafting or recovery. In between the races I was always in a tapering phase which means no good longer training sessions for 5-6 months. (2) The aerodynamic efficiency is everything. It is “free” in a sense that with the same power and effort you can go faster by just being more aero. (3) Training in the time trial position is essential. I haven’t done much of this in the past but if you want to get better on a TT bike, you need to ride a TT bike. There is no other way around it (sadly).

      It was a year of ups and downs. One can feel when he/she is going well and not so well. My fastest 25-mile TT was like a breeze. A 50-mile TT after attending a wedding the night before with the alarm clock set for 3am much less so. I considered quitting at the every exit of a dual-carriage way. The 4-up TT at Brands Hatch on road bikes with GrahamC, PaulD and SimonC was a good fun. We didn’t ride together as a four before, yet we are all experienced cyclists and the communication was seamless. It felt good. Synchronised collective suffering and all that.

      GS Avanti is not a big club but we have a deep bench (as they say in the ice hockey) of very good time trialists: JonH, LeeS, SamD, AndyS, SteveR, HamishB, JohnyE, PaulA just to name a few. A special mention to RobG and ChrisD who are regulars in 12-hour and 24-hour time trials, respectively, which are quite beyond my capabilities. We also have very good female time trialists – Claire, Jo or Janice – extra kudos for doing club time trials in cross winds where I thought (with all my heavy weight) I would be blown off the road and they still managed to put in a good time! Last but not least, DaveB – he has been time trialing until a recent accident. If I can still ride my bike when I am at Dave’s age I will be happy, let alone going at the full gas like he does. Quite impressive.

      Time trialing is a strange sport (a man/woman against the clock mostly sweating away alone on the road) but it is also a fair sport – no tactic, no drafting, no excuses – it is the only cycling discipline when the average speed and nothing else matters. 🙂

      Merry Christmas to everyone and a Happy New Year on and off the bike!

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