(This is the first of 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 1: The Training Plan
by Peter Cannell
2008 US Masters 30-34 Time Trial National Champion, Professional Cycling Coach
Road racing and crits (especially) are all about changing speed. If you look at the effort made in a criterium or road race, you see many spikes in power followed by frequent coasting. Often times over 25% of the race is spent not pedaling at all.
Not true with a time trial. Racing a time trial requires a rider to ride continuously at or above their functional threshold power (FTP), typically for 20 to 60 minutes or more. The endgame here is a nearly constant effort, and this creates the need for specific training.
But while crit-specific training benefits racers almost exclusively in crits, TT-specific training can improve your racing in all disciplines. The ability to hold constant power efforts near FTP is a key ability no matter the event, and forms a base of fitness that serves racers weekend in and weekend out. Many coaches in the past have advocated long slow mileage to build "base" fitness - however in recent years many athletes and coaches have shifted this approach and focused more on improving FTP as the base of a cyclists' fitness. As a coach and athlete I firmly believe this is a superior approach to training.
So let's get down to it. The most efficient way of improving FTP, and the ability of the athlete to ride for extended periods at or near FTP is to do focused interval work. Many different types of workouts improve FTP - but none is as effective as doing threshold intervals - which many athletes do year round. These intervals typically range in time from 20 minutes to 60 minutes - they are constant power (or constant perceived exertion) efforts that train the body to deal with the muscular and metabolic demands of riding at FTP.
These intervals will allow the athlete to accumulate significant time slightly below, at or above FTP but are not so difficult that they can't be done for several days in a row - nor will they elicit a rapid peak in fitness that VO2 intervals will. These intervals can be done outside on a steady uninterrupted stretch of road (hard to find in the DC area!) or even better on your trainer or rollers.
The gold standard of these workouts is the 2x20:00 set at 95% of FTP - if you use a powermeter then you know exactly what wattage to ride at. If you are riding by PE or heartrate - then ride at 95% of your threshold PE or heartrate, basically just below what you can do all out for an hour. Keep in mind that you will feel better at the beginning of the interval and less so at the end - so pace the effort properly! (more on pacing later in the series). Remember that there is no coasting, no stopping and starting, you can't be stuck at a traffic light while doing these, just a hard steady effort.
Other variations including 2x30:00, 3x20:00 and my favorite, 1x60:00. One is not better than another; the idea is simply to accumulate time at this intensity. I'll vary the workouts to keep things fun new and fresh.
The reader may be wondering how often/when do you incorporate these types of workouts? Well, the simple answer in my mind is every single week, year round. Yes, even though you may only be racing a few TTs per year, doing these workouts will significantly improve your fitness, mental strength and ability to perform in breakaways, etc. It is clear that athletes with higher FTP will do better in races and have more in the tank at the end to unleash their sprint or last lap attack. I have my athletes do these workouts year round - in the late fall/winter the intensity is slightly lower, the volume slightly more- and then through the season they are kept as the basis of training.
The rider who has the mental strength and practice (that's all it takes really) to hold a constant high power will excel in time trialing and will be able to extract the maximum power available to them for a given distance.
Also in this Series:
Time Trial Success Part 2: 10 Things You Can Do to Go Faster this Weekend
Time Trial Success Part 3: Fit, Positioning, Equipment
Time Trial Success Part 4: Race Day Prep and Mental Fitness
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.