Maintaining your momentum during a time trial is key. I don’t see many articles that address this. Usually I see articles addressing strategies such as pacing, maintaining a steady power at a percentage of FTP, or keeping your heart rate in a certain range. While all of these are important things to consider, I think it is extremely important to create momentum quickly, and then maintain it as much as possible.

Some of these details come with experience in riding and racing, because you still have to be aware of what intensity you should be able to maintain for the length of the race. In the book Daniel’s Running Formula, running coach Jack Daniels claims that the best pacing strategy in a marathon is such that the last mile is at the same pace as the first mile. Of course the first mile is going to feel easy, and the last mile is going to be all out. There are other views on this, but the point is that it is the more efficient to run a race with even pacing. This certainly holds true in time trialing, where as in other bike racing surges and sitting in (resting) are better strategies because of the benefits of drafting.

So, let us suppose you are doing a race that is very flat with no tactical turns, and no winds to deal with. If you are racing with a power meter you have an advantage in that you know fairly certain what power you can maintain for the length of the race. Although the danger in racing is starting too hard in the beginning, in a time trial you initially want to create your momentum as fast as possible. Your gear selection for the start should be planned so that you can accelerate quickly. I prefer to start in one of the easiest gears with my large chain ring. I do not want to pause or slow at all to change from the small to the large chain ring while accelerating. I have a general idea of the speed that I want to achieve quickly, so I will accelerate as quickly as possible, hopping through the gears as my cadence goes above 100. Once I have gone slightly above my cruising speed I will settle down and start to look at power. Now that I have momentum, it becomes all about my steady power and maintaining momentum. In a flat, no wind, no sharp turn race, maintaining momentum is all about keeping a nice aero profile and a steady power. There really is no place for pausing and coasting, or for surges. I should see my pace remaining the same, so if it is dropping I had better evaluate my position and power output quickly because I do not want to give up any momentum. It is easier to maintain momentum than to have to keep creating it again.

Most races are not completely flat without wind. Hills and wind will rob you of your momentum. When you are going downhill or with the wind your speed will likely increase even with a lower power output. Before I had a power meter, I noted that on the slightest descent or tailwind my speed would increase, and I felt great. I figured the increased speed must make me feel energized, maybe from an adrenaline rush. After I got the power meter I found out the reason why I felt so much better was because my power dropped 100 watts. Although I didn’t think I was letting up at all, I was letting up a lot because I didn’t need the same effort to go fast. As it turns out, this isn’t a bad strategy because if I had maintained the same effort my speed (and hence momentum) would not have changed much. That effort is better saved for when speed starts dropping again, or for efforts going uphill or into the wind.

You can think of hills and wind as being rather similar, except remember that a headwind really requires you to maintain the best aerodynamic profile as possible. When climbing a hill you are still better off maintaining an aero position, and to focus on maintaining momentum. Efforts greater than your planned average power will be necessary during climbs and headwinds, realizing you will recover on the other side.

Cresting a hill requires some planning and strategy to maintain your momentum, and if done well can make up a lot of time against your competitors. Way too many people see the top of the hill, and stop their push while there is still a positive grade, thinking that they have made it to the top. Gravity will quickly take over in these situations and they slow, requiring them to have to recreate any momentum they gave up at great expense. “Extending the hill” is the best strategy. You want to maintain your high power effort (or even higher as you start to accelerate) until you are going so fast on the descent that you are spinning out your highest gear, and then throw yourself into an aero position and rest. If you do this right you should see your speed climbing while not pedaling. Even a few seconds rest in this position while you are taking advantage of all the momentum you created can recharge your legs. When your speed starts to drop, let it drop until it is just above the speed you think you could maintain at your goal power. You don’t want to let your speed drop too low because you still need to maintain that momentum, but you don’t want to give up your short rest to start hammering where your speed may not improve much. With experience and practice you can get a sense of how low you want your speed to drop while coasting before you start hammering again. I know that if I start pedaling too soon, I’ll sacrifice aerodynamics and will actually slow down instead of gaining speed from pedaling.

On these descents my aero position consists of being in the aerobars, rolling my shoulders back so that I can get my torso lower, bringing my feet parallel to the road, and squeezing the top tube between my knees (also aids in stabilizing the bike). I will generally try to lean forward, but be certain that the extra weight on the bars is only on the elbow rests. You do not want to put weight on the ends of the aerobars. An aerobar that breaks or slips can send you face first into the road (I’ve seen this, and it’s not pretty). Putting your weight far forward might help in accelerating, but is not as relaxing or as stable as sitting back on the seat, so depending on the situation I usually will change between these positions.

If you paced your race right the final portion should feel “all out” without much of a change in your power output or speed. Remember these: 1) Get your speed up fast (at start and at the top of hills) 2) Don’t let your speed drop 3) Expect higher effort uphill and with headwinds 4) Take advantage of the rest from a descent once you are up to speed 5) Extend the hills.

Thanks for reading. Pass my blog onto a friend!

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