What does a cyclist (one like me anyway) do when they do a time trial for the first time? I’ll tell you: 3,2,1 GO and it’s a sprint to get up to speed, and by half a kilometer I am slumping into the saddle, legs filling with lactic acid. Now it’s directly into muttering things like “Bloody idiot, you’ve gone out too fast” to myself and “what the bloody hell are you going to do now!” as the oxygen debt really starts to become apparent!! By the 3rd kilometer I’m really struggling and changing down a gear for the first time… What happened here is the adrenaline and excitement of the competition has initially masked the perceived exertion causing me to push hard too early and totally ruin my effort for the rest of the TT.
If you have a power meter you can make sure this doesn’t happen to you. You will know your FTP and there are other tests you can do to understand your capabilities as well, like: MAP Ramp and VO2max tests. A power meter essentially allows you to pace yourself better using your FTP and helps you to ignore the urge to push too hard to early. It is the most common thing for riders to get wrong and you are certainly not alone if you have, like me, drained yourself before the third kilometer!
This brings me onto your pacing strategy. Essentially the first 20% of the TT is where you have to be most controlled and disciplined. Even with a power meter you will be tempted to put on a few extra watts – DON’T!! The basic pacing strategy involves knowing the course to start with. You will want to know the course because should be leveling out your average speed somewhat. So you will be pushing slightly harder on the uphill or windy section and slightly less hard on the downhill and tailwind sections. Those sections will feel nice!! We recommend pushing around 10% higher power on the tough bits over a 10 mile (16km) TT Obviously the length of the course dictated how much harder you can push, for a 2km course it could be as much as 80% higher, for a longer TT it’ll be less. A good tip here is to do a recky, ride around the TT course at a constant power and keep an eye on your head unit speed. This way you can more easily see were the easy sections are!
There are obviously lots of variables that as you become more experienced will be easier to judge, like how much harder to push into the headwind after the second bend. TTs can be painful, but if you plan them right they can be much less painful and even quite rewarding!