The 3 P’s of Time Trialing
For steady state cycling events like time trialing, triathlon and duathlon there are three elements that contribute to success. I call them the three P’s.
Power generation. This is the element athletes most enjoy working on. Fitness.
Basically, it comes down to how much force you apply to the pedals per unit of time. Force is another way of saying gear size. Time is pedaling cadence. Combined, gear size and cadence result in power. If force rises due to a bigger gear being used as cadence remains constant then power increases. If cadence increases while gear size remains the same then power also increases.
For most experienced athletes cadence is not the issue. They already turn the cranks at an effective rate in the neighborhood of 80 to 100 rpm. Many novices, however, are confused on cadence and pedal ineffectively at too high of a cadence. Those who pedal too slowly may have a better developed muscular system than aerobic system and so feel more comfortable at low cadences. As aerobic fitness improves their cadences typically increase.
A greater capacity for power is developed over several years. It may take three or more years for a rider to reach their seasonal maximum. There are many elements of training that go into this including an economic pedaling technique, optimal muscle development, a large aerobic capacity, and a high anaerobic threshold as a percentage of aerobic capacity.
Penetrate the wind. This has to do with reducing drag. Aerodynamics.
The starting place for this is having a bike that fits properly and is designed for time trialing. The key element of its design is how you sit on it. This generally includes achieving a position that offers a small frontal area to the wind with a flat back, low head and low shoulder position. Of secondary importance is the aerodynamic characteristics of the wheels. And finally the number of things that stick out into the wind from the bike and you have a small effect on aerodynamics. This may be helmet, clothing, cables, handlebars, wide tires, and more.
Pace the course. This has to do with how you spend your energy resources during the race. I’ve discussed this in my blog before and you can find the most recent incarnation of my thoughts on the subject here.
Preparing for a time trial type of event involves optimizing all three of these. I’ve found most athletes are pretty good at developing the first two but are very poor at the last. Not only do they seldom work on it but many seem to believe that what we know about optimal pacing is wrong. I spend a great deal of my time with the athletes I coach just driving this point home and having them rehearse it so they learn how to pace correctly in a race. Until they make proper pacing habitual they will never be successful at steady state events regardless of their power and penetration. The link provided to the previous post on this topic above discusses the details of pacing.