Here are some personal accounts of experiences of road racing, circuit racing and time trialling. Hopefully these will help anyone who is thinking about racing but doesn’t know where to start.
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If anyone else wants to add their experiences, wisdom or advice please get in touch with Nik on email@example.com all contributions are welcome!
The time trial is perhaps the purest form of bike racing. Competitors start off individually, usually at one minute intervals, and with no drafting allowed it’s just you against the clock.
Types of Time Trial
You’ll mostly see two types of time trials: Open and club. Open time trials will typically have prizes on offer, and require you to enter in advance (usually no later than two weeks before the race). Club time trials allow you to simply turn up and enter on the day. To take part in these events you need to be a member of a club.
Time trials are generally raced over 10, 25, 50 and 100 mile courses. Sometimes you will see unusual distances for specific courses, these are often called ‘sporting’ time trials.
How to Find a Time Trial
All time trials are listed on the Cycling Time Trials website (www.cyclingtimetrials.org.uk) in the Events section. You can filter by criteria such as district (e.g. South West) and distance to help you find the right event for you. The list will also indicate whether a time trial is open or club.
Time Trial Courses
Time trial courses are usually named with a code, such as S26R/10. Years ago it was illegal to run time trials on public roads so secret codes were used to identify courses and riders wore regular clothing so that, if stopped by the police, they could claim they were just out for a ride!
These days the codes are quite confusing to newcomers but the Cycling Time Trials website has links to course descriptions, and if you search the web for a course code you will usually find it on a GPS route mapping website. Alternatively check the website of the club organising the time trial as some clubs will have maps for the courses they use.
How to Enter an Open Time Trial
The Cycling Time Trials website will say whether an open time trial has online entry. If it does, you’ll just need to click the link and go through the process of registering on the website (for the first time you enter only) and then selecting your event and paying the entry fee.
If there is no online entry you will need to print a standard Cycling Time Trials entry form (look under ‘Entering Time Trials’ on the CTT website). Fill out the form, then post it to the address given in the Events List for the race you wish to enter.
For an open time trial, the organiser will usually email or post you a start sheet before the race, or at the very least publish it on the organising club’s website. The sheet will tell you what time you are starting, which helps you to arrive at the right time (in a busy time trial there could be an hour or more between the first and last starters).
Knowing the Course
Courses are usually marshalled but not signposted (apart from Cycle Event warning signs) so make sure you know the route. Marshals will point you in the right direction, but you will lose time if you are constantly trying to work out where to go (and more if you go the wrong way).
It is a good idea to have cycled or driven the course before the race if you are unsure. This also allows you to look out for potholes and drain covers.
On the Day
First of all you will need to go to the race HQ, the location of which is often included in the course details on the CTT website, and usually sent out with the start sheet for open time trials.
If you are riding an open time trial you will need to sign on and collect your race number(s). For a club time trial you will need to enter and pay first.
You will be given a large number to be pinned low on your back, and sometimes a smaller number to be pinned on your arm (usually the left arm). It is best to ask someone else to attach your numbers to ensure they are securely attached and don’t bunch or flap when you are riding.
You should aim to arrive with enough time to warm up. A good warm-up will usually include a few hard intervals to get your legs working before you start, which makes a difference in the first few miles.
Aim to complete your warm-up and arrive at the start in time for your start time. I have seen people just turn up with a few seconds to go. Whilst this may work for you (ensuring you retain the benefit of your warm up) I prefer to get there at least a minute before my start time to make sure I don’t miss it! You will usually join a queue of riders waiting to go. When the rider before you starts you will be called forward to the start line. Make sure you are in a gear in which you can comfortably accelerate away from a stand-still.
Around 30 seconds before you start a marshal will take hold of your bike to allow you to clip in. Try to relax and remain upright as he/she will have a good hold of you and won’t drop you.
The starter will warn you as your start time approaches and count you down from five, and on zero you’re off!
Pacing yourself in a time trial comes with experience. Chris Boardman says you should ask yourself: “Can I keep going all the way at this pace?” If the answer is “yes” then you’re not going fast enough; If it’s “no” then you’re going too fast. “I’m not sure” is the answer you’re looking for!
During a time trial you may be passed by faster riders, or pass slower riders. You must never draft so if you catch another rider you must pass them quickly, and if you are passed it is your responsibility to drop back if needed to allow plenty of distance between you and the other rider.
Keep going all the way to, and through, the finish. After you’ve crossed the line keep going straight and don’t be tempted to turn in the road in case someone is right behind you. Return to the race HQ and wait for the times to be posted on the board. Whilst the temptation might be to check your time with the timekeepers this is best avoided as they are busy and need to concentrate on the rest of the riders still finishing.
Ayse in action! [Photo Courtesy of Ann and Richard Owens]
The major factor determining your time is the power you generate versus the air resistance you encounter. The more you can reduce that air resistance, the faster you will go. There are many ways to reduce air resistance from the expensive ones (time trial bike, wheels, etc) to the cheap or free ones (get lower on the bike).
Changes to your position on the bike are the most affordable and effective place to start. Getting significantly lower can knock minutes of your times. Take a look at photos of top time triallists and you will see a level back. You can start by adding aero bars to your bike (clip-on ones are available) to allow you to rest on your elbows with horizontal arms, comfortably lowering your head and shoulders.
Other relatively affordable improvements include shoe covers (can be found for as little as £10), a time trial helmet (£50 to £300), closer fitting clothing (or even a skinsuit, for around £100).
Don’t be Put Off
Time trials are often quite informal, with plenty of helpful people around and a range of ages and abilities. Everyone is welcome.
At the probably not very sensible age of 44, I decided that I would leave the world of triathlon, where I was finding I couldn’t do justice to three sports with a full time job and family, and commit all of my training time to my favourite and probably best discipline of cycling. I didn’t do very well, although I did get my 3rd cat licence by just turning up, and it was a very steep learning curve but strangely I really enjoyed the new challenge. This is what I found out.
Don’t give up
I have been advised that it can take up to 3 years to build the kind of base level of fitness you need in order to be able to see results. If you have already been training hard for a few years this puts you in a good starting place but if not be prepared to have a couple of seasons testing the waters, working out the tactics and working out what training you will need to put in pre-season. I got dropped in every race but in every race I worked out how to hang on for just a bit longer so each time I felt I had achieved a little more.
I also worked out that it’s not all about fitness but also about where you place yourself in the bunch and working out which is the best wheel to follow. If there’s a feature of a race that is a weakness, for me that’s hills, then place yourself near the front of the bunch. In that way you give yourself ‘sliding room’, that means as you get overtaken by riders who are stronger you never end up worse than on the back of the bunch rather than off the back and on your own.
Do the right training
Coming from a triathlon background I was well trained at pacing myself time trial style and once at pace just tapping out a steady rhythym and keeping it there. Road racing is very different. You need to be able to change pace frequently and react to any move anyone might make. That means keep your wits about you in a group and club chain gangs are great training for that one. I also know that I need to practise reacting to anyone who ‘jumps’, that is being able to suddenly increase speed for a short amount of time and then settle back into race pace so you don’t lose your wheel.
Overall if you are prepared for a few races that maybe don’t go quite the way you expected and are prepared to keep trying and using each race as a learning experience I would thoroughly recommend giving it a go. The best place to start is a circuit race, Ilton is ideal, it’s reasonably flat and not technical.
The best bit for me though was how friendly and supportive everyone was. You get to race with the same women each time so you learn who to follow and who to listen to for advice. You also find out that they all have had similar experiences when they started out. I’m definitely going back for more in 2015!