(This is the third in a 4-part series on Time Trial Success,
written by Peter Cannell. Peter is the reigning Masters 30-34 National
TT Champion, his second stars and stripes jersey after winning the
Masters 30-34 Road Race Championships in 2007. Peter also won the 2008
Tour of Washington County Stage Race, and landed on the podium against
the NRC Pros in Crystal City in 2007. When he's not training for the
Elite TT Championships in August, he's coaching other racers. You can follow his training and racing on his blog (where he is generous with his power data), and leave any questions for him in the comments here.)
Time Trial Success, Part 3: Fit, Positioning, Equipment
by Peter Cannell
2008 US Masters 30-34 Time Trial National Champion, Professional Cycling Coach
Time trials represent a discipline of cycling where every single small detail matters. You can think of time trial performances boiling down to 2 things - power output and drag. So unlike a crit or a road race where tactics, skills, and quite frankly luck sometimes can make the difference between winning and not - time trialing is the sum of a number of small things. Some things matter alot more than others, and some things cost alot more than others. I'll try to net out what matters and where to focus your efforts here.
Positioning: Your body represents the largest component of drag in the rider/bike combination, so it makes sense to really try get as aerodynamic as possible. The best way, by far, is to utilize a wind tunnel. Wind tunnel testing is much more affordable than in years past. A typical session will run you $1000 or more, about the same amount racers spend on a TT-specific frame or a disk wheel. But often times a day at the tunnel can yield huge drag reductions that make your other aerodynamic carbon fiber investments seem like a total waste. If TT speed is high on your racing priorities, it's worthwhile to give the wind tunnel some consideration.
Whether you quantify it in the wind tunnel or not, the idea on rider positioning is that you want to punch the smallest hole through the air as possible. This means getting low and narrow. It also means coming forward on your saddle to accommodate this radical bike position.
I'm a believer that you should adopt the most aggressive position possible - and then work to get comfortable and powerful in that position. A TT position is not meant to be an all day comfortable position. It should be "tolerable" after training yourself to acclimate to it, for up to 60 minutes. So you have to be able to hold the aero position and then you have to be able to generate power in that position. There is usually a trade off and at some point the gains in aerodynamics are lost in reduced power output. Now don't' get me wrong, you should not expect to hop on your TT setup for the first time, feel great, and start hammering out maximum power. It takes time, practice and effort to get used to it.
If you are setting up your bike - a few things to try. Remove all the spacers under your stem to get that front end as low as possible. If you can, get an adjustable stem and drop the front end down. Next, setup your aero bars. You want to try and get as narrow as possible, without overly compromising your breathing. Bars that offer various pad placement options and adjustments are best - one piece carbon bars may look cool, but usually offer little flexibility.
You will want to move your saddle forward from your road position - sometimes requiring a different seatpost. Try starting with a UCI legal position and see how that feels. Setup the saddle so that the tip of the saddle is 5cm behind the center of the BB as a starting point - and don't go forward of that. You may have to try out multiple saddles before you find one you can ride out on the tip of comfortably. I tried at least 5. Remember that as you go forward, you also need to go a little higher to compensate. You can do the trigonometry and figure out exactly how much - or you can just bump it up a little and see how it feels.
The order I would spend my money, if just starting out:
-TT specific frame/bike
-Wind tunnel testing
-misc- shoe covers, skinsuit, etc
-Aero wheels/disc (go deep)
Peter Cannell is a professional cycling coach and one really fast dude. Based in Mebane, NC, he coaches racers up and down the eastern seaboard. For more on his coaching philosophy and availability, contact him by email.