Alex Dowsett’s time trial tips and training sessions
British and Commonwealth Games time trial champion shares his advice for riding against the clock
Alex Dowsett is one of the world’s leading time trial riders: a four-time British national champion, holder of the British ten and 25-mile records, and also a former hour record holder.
Dowsett set his latest record, the British 25-mile mark, just last weekend, when the Essex-born became the first rider to dip under 45 minutes for the event – setting an average speed of nearly 34mph. You can see his incredible Strava stats here.
As a result, the Movistar rider, who is also the founder of the Cyclism coaching company, is ideally placed to offer advice on how to ride against the clock. We caught up with the 27-year-old to get some of his top tips and recommended training sessions for the ‘race of truth’.
Over and under training
Dowsett’s time trial palmares is already hugely impressive, with a stage win at the 2013 Giro d’Italia and a Commonwealth Games gold medal to his name alongside his British titles and records.
But one of the key training sessions for boosting his form against the clock is, he says, actually one of his least favourite to complete.
Twenty minutes, continuous, broken into ten two-minute efforts
Two minutes at 105% of FTP
Two minutes at 95% of FTP
Continue until you’ve completed 20 minutes
The punishing ‘over and under’ session involves going over and under your Functional Threshold Power (the maximum intensity you can sustain for an hour and a key figure for time trialling) in order to push that number up.
It can be done on the road or the turbo (more on that later) and requires that you know your threshold heart rate or power (find out how to measure yours here), with Dowsett recommending the use of a power meter for maximum accuracy.
He says: “This is a horrible session, where you’re just riding around your Functional Threshold Power, going a little bit over and a little bit under, and back and forth – that helps to push it up.
“At the moment, for example, my FTP is around 400 watts, so I’d look to do a 20-minute block and break it up: two minutes at 380 watts, two minutes at 420 watts and continue.
“It’s an absolutely disgusting session and I’m rarely capable of finishing them but unfortunately that’s what seems to work.”
Further, longer, faster, stronger
While the vast majority of professional riders train with a power meter, Dowsett acknowledges it’s not for everyone, and also has advice for riders looking for something less specific. The key, Dowsett say, is to train beyond your target – as he did in the build-up to his successful attempt on the UCI Hour Record.
“If you haven’t got a power meter, or don’t want to use one, you should look to train beyond your time trial distance,” he explains. “Or if it’s two hours you’ll be riding for, then train for three or four hours.
“But it’s not just about time and distance, you also want to ride above the pace of your event, too. Throw some blocks into your rides; ten, 15, 20 minutes – or even down to five minutes – above your time trial pace.
“It’s the same theory – you ride longer in training to make the distance feel easier on race day, and you ride harder in those blocks to make race pace seem easier.”
Ride, ride, ride
Famously, when asked for his advice on becoming a better cyclist, the great Fausto Coppi replied: “Ride a bike, ride a bike, ride a bike.” Simple.
And the same theory, Dowsett explains, can be applied to time trialling – but ride a TT bike, ride a TT bike, ride a TT bike.
“Time on your TT bike is important,” Dowsett says, having admitted his first time trial of the 2016, at the Volta ao Algarve back in February, was hampered by a lack of time on the TT bike beforehand.
“So many people roll the TT bike out for race day and it’s shiny, it’s lovely but ultimately you’re not used to it. It’s super important to use the bike.”
And it’s not just a case of going out for a short spin on the TT bike either, but using it in competition as much as possible. Despite competing at the highest level for Movistar and Great Britain, Dowsett still regularly rides his local club ten, giving him more time in the saddle of his Canyon Speedmax time trial bike.
“I’m a great believer in doing club tens, because that’s where I learned to time trial,” he explains.
“With club tens, I also think it’s important to ride the same course regularly – try and make it a technical course, and if you keep going to do the same one you will learn where to put power down, where you can afford to back off and in general just how to learn how make the most of what you’ve got as a cyclist.”
Dowsett adds: “When I finish a time trial, the team will analyse all the figures – power, power-to-weight ratio and so on. Sometimes I’ll have the worst numbers out of the whole team but I’ll more than likely be one of the fastest. That’s due to a bit of technique on how to time trial properly.”
Embrace the turbo
Dowsett has only fully embraced the turbo trainer recently, and it has been – by his own admission – a reluctant move. However, he says using the turbo is an ideal way to add efficiency and structure into training sessions, particularly for a time triallist training for a specific discipline.
However, to beat the thigh-numbing boredom of the turbo, while still enjoying the benefits that it can bring, the Movistar man, a keen Strava user, recommends making the most of new tech which makes indoor training more interactive and enjoyable. That might mean investing in a smart trainer or signing up to an online platform like Zwift.
“Up until now, I haven’t put a lot into the turbo,” he says. “But I’m having to admit it is important and it does work. As of this winter just gone, I’m starting to use the turbo more than I’d like to. It is important and especially with how smart the turbos are becoming, it does make turbo time more tolerable.”
Watch your pace
Dowsett remains guarded against giving away too many of his trade secrets when it comes to tactics on race day. However, he does have this key advice – pay attention to pacing, learn to judge and understand your effort, and don’t get over-excited and start too fast.
“Generally the advice I can give for pacing is if you’ve got a power meter, it’s all about using it and taking note,” he says. “And one other thing, people usually start too fast – I’ll give you that one but nothing more!”
Alex Dowsett is an ambassador for insurance company PedalSure.
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