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Three training sessions to become a faster time trialist

Want to ride faster against the clock? Here are three training sessions to help you do just that

Time trialing is the ultimate way to test yourself on the bike – it’s you against the clock, with no hiding place. No team tactics, no bunch sprint, no excuses. It’s why the time trial is called ‘the race of truth’.

Time trialing is all about sustainable power. The more power a rider can put out and maintain over a period of time – or, more specifically, the time it takes to complete the time trial – the higher the speed they can sustain.

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However, it’s not quite as simple as that – aerodynamics have an important part to play in a time trial. Having all the power in the world is no use if you sit up like a sail in the wind. Likewise. you can be as aerodynamic as you want but if you can’t put out any power in that position then you won’t go quickly. Riders like Sir Bradley Wiggins and Tony Martin – two of the vest best time trialists in the world – are able to sustain a very high power output in a very aerodynamic position.

The time trial is called the ‘race of truth’ for good reason (Pic: Sirotti)

In this article we’ll focus on power, rather than aerodynamics. With sustainable power key to time trialing, a good time trialist will always have a high Functional Threshold Power – the amount of power you can sustain for one hour – and FTP is the single most important metric when training for a TT.

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With that in mind, here are three training sessions to help you become a faster time trialist. These sessions are designed to increase the amount of power you can hold for a given amount of time – they’re tough should only be done once you have a good base of training behind you. You also need to allow yourself to recover after each of these sessions in the same way you would after a time trial race. These sessions refer to your training zones – you can find out how to set your training zones here.

– Six things you need to know about… training zones –

If you’re lucky enough to have a time trial bike, I would also recommend spending as much time as possible on it. As a result, all of these sessions should be completed on your TT bike – you can even stick your bike on the turbo so you get used to putting out power in your time trial position.

3 x 8 mins upper zone four

What is the session?

Warm-up – 20 minutes in zone two

3 x 8 mins in upper zone four – aim for between 105-110 per cent of FTP power

Five minutes recovery (zone one) between each effort

Cool down – 15-20 minutes in zone one

Why should I do it?

This session is designed to make you ride above your normal TT pace – by doing this you are stretching yourself and training to hold a higher power output, and therefore, faster speed.

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Keeping the amount of recovery relatively short means that, for your body, this feels like one long effort, however you will actually recover a little in the period between the efforts, hopefully allowing you to hold the same power in the next effort.

As you get fitter why not try and reduce the amount of recovery time between efforts? In theory, you should be able to take the recovery between efforts down to as little as two minutes.

Time trialing is a combination of sustainable power and aerodynamics (Pic: Sirotti)


What is the session?

Warm-up – 20 mins in zone two

2 x 14 mins – over-under

Each effort consists of two mins at 105 per cent of FTP, two mins at 95 per cent of FTP power, for 14 minutes

Ten minutes zone one between efforts

Cool down – 15-20 minutes in zone one

Why should I do it?

This session consists of a longer interval split up into sections above and below your FTP. It teaches your body to be able to put out slightly more power for shorter periods within a longer time trial. Why does this matter? While pacing is crucial to time trialing (something we’ll come on to), the effort may not also be consistent, particularly over a lumpy course, and you may need to be able to ride above your FTP for short periods before recovering.

– Three training sessions to improve your… Functional Threshold Power –

On a climb, for example, you’ll get more bang for your buck in terms of time savings for extra power output – this is because air resistance isn’t linear – to double the speed you need to quadruple the power output – however, gravity is a simple linear equation – going twice as hard means you will go twice as fast (if you ignore additional air resistance) – and because the speeds are lower on climbs, air resistance doesn’t come into play as much. Therefore, in theory, it is quicker to push on a little harder up the climbs and ease a touch on the descents. This session replicates that effort.

This over-under training session will help you ride above you threshold when the road rises (Pic: Sirotti)

The idea is to ride just above FTP power for two minute and then ride just under FTP power for two minutes, and continue until the interval is over. When doing this correctly you should feel slightly recovered after each two minute segment at 95 per cent of FTP.

To make this session harder you can do two things – you can make the length of each interval longer (for example, 2 x 20 minutes), or you can increase the amount of intervals (for example, 3 x 12 minutes). Some very strong time trialists may be able to complete 3 x 20 minutes.

Progressive time trial efforts

What is the session?

Warm-up – 20 minutes in zone two

3 x 12 mins – start at 94 per cent of FTP power then increase the power by two per cent every two minutes. After six minutes you will be riding at 100 per cent of FTP power and in the last two minutes you’ll be riding at 104 per cent of FTP power. Your average power for the effort should be between 99-100 per cent of FTP power.

Ten minutes in zone one between efforts

Cool down – 15-20 minutes in zone one

Sir Bradley Wiggins won the world time trial title in 2014 before changing focus to the track (Pic: Sirotti)

Why should I do it?

This is a session I also recommended to improve FTP power, so it’s naturally a great fit to improve your ability against the clock.

The key to this session is to not set off too hard – instead you should build your pace steadily throughout the effort. This is good practice for race day, too. There’s an old phrase in time trialing – “don’t go looking for the pain, it will come to you” – and this session teaches you to not go out too hard and instead to finish fast.

– Alex Dowsett’s time trial tips and training sessions –

As well as working on your pacing, which is key to time trialing, this session works specifically on improving your threshold power – which means more watts and more speed. I’d recommend first doing this session on the turbo as that will make it easier to control the effort, however, however as you get stronger and more accustomed to the effort move the session onto the road because, at the end of the day, that’s where you’ll be racing.

With this session it is very important that your power zones are correct – if your zones are too high you will not be able to complete the effort, and if they are too low you won’t get the full benefit. Remember to test your FTP regularly to ensure your training zones are correct.


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