Something I learned from the start as a pro bike rider was that the most important part of the preparation for a time trial (TT) isn't the hours of winter base miles, the hours of interval training, or even the hours on the track doing top-end speed work behind the derny (pacing motorbike).
This is not to say that the above are not fundamental, but they all pale into practical insignificance compared to the importance of getting your race day preparation right.
If you make a mess of your race day preparation you may as well just stay in bed. You need to "GET IT RIGHT ON THE DAY!" - a phrase burnt into my mind by my old coach, the legendary Eddie Soens... One of many phrases, I might add!
I have seen so many riders get it wrong. How many times have I seen riders pole up at the start of a TT and set themselves up in the car park to supposedly get ready for the race? Have they recced the course, if it's unfamiliar? Have they checked out the start? Have they done any of the things I am about to list on these pages? Probably not. All too often, I see them get their training rollers out of the car, followed by their bike, get changed after signing on and start their warm up on the rollers.
I'm not sure they know the principles of warming up or if it's just because they have seen other riders doing something similar, but they get it so wrong. They are in the riders' car park and have all sorts of distractions, chatting to their friends and not really concentrating on their warm up or thinking about getting into the 'zone'. They will spin away on small gears until a drop of sweat appears on their brow, and then they think, "That's it , I'm warmed up!" They then make their way to the start and arrive at the timekeeper with 10-15mins to spare. They sit on their top tube waiting for the timekeeper to call their number, chat to those around them and get cold again... Wrong.
So how do you get it right? I will set out the preparation in simple stages...
1. Have your pre-race meal three hours before the race, and don't make it too heavy. Stay hydrated before you start but don't over-hydrate as this could lower your sodium level and that's dangerous. During your warm up, keep sipping about 300 - 500ml of a 7-10 per cent solution of a carbohydrate or electrolyte drink, depending on race length. Towards the end of the warm up have an energy gel for an extra boost.
2. Get to the race in plenty of time. This will give you a chance to recce the course if it's unfamiliar. This can be done on the bike if it's a 10 or 25 miles, or in the car if it's longer than that. The worst thing is to be rushing around before the start because then you'll lose your focus and waste energy. You need to be calm, at least on the outside!
3. Find a quiet place to warm up, away from the event car park where distractions are all around you. Find a quiet lay-by, or similar place. You need to get your head straight and in the 'zone' for the race. You certainly don't want to be talking to other people or get diverted.
4. Set up your turbo trainer. Yes, a turbo trainer not training rollers, because you will need something with resistance for your warm up. Then ride to the start from your quiet 'refuge' and TIME IT... You will need to know how long it takes to get to the start after your warm up, in order to get there with one or two minutes to spare... You do not want to get there with 10 minutes to go or you will cool down again.
5. The most important thing to do now is to get the time keeper's time. Don't rely on the timekeeper being on GMT - I have seen them up to 10 minutes out. Just look over the timekeeper's shoulder and synchronise your watch with his. If the timekeeper is getting annoyed by your 'interference', watch which number is starting (provided it's not a late starter slotting in) and take the time from their number. Now you know what time you need to present yourself to the starter. Then go to the race headquarters to sign on, pick your number up and ride back to your warm up area. Pin your number on and get everything ready, so that as soon as your warm up is finished you can simply ride to the start.
6. Set your turbo up and do a 45-minute warm up - yes, at least 40-45 mins. Start the warm up in very small gears and get those muscles warmed up gradually. This is so important, because you have muscle memory and now is the time to get them ready to race. Build the speed up and move up through the gears as the warm up progresses. When you are getting towards the end of the warm up, say with 20 minutes to go, do 3 x 3mins at 'race pace' with 3mins recovery. And I do mean race pace, so your muscles will go "Ooouch!" This is the most important part of the warm up. Do your 3min recoveries using small gears and spinning your legs, then change back into the big ring for the next race pace effort.
While you are doing these exercises, visualise the race and get into the 'zone' - nothing coming in and nothing coming out. You have to get your mind ready for the pain that is coming up... I have mentioned this 'zone' many times and it is an elusive place, but it is something you can learn. Remember that you must always have respect for your competitors, but no fear. Be positive and concentrate on your own ride. It doesn't matter what anyone else is doing, just focus on what you are going to do and get ready to hurt yourself more than you have ever done before!
7. Work out how much clothing you are going to wear for the race, paying close regard to weather conditions. Wear your warm up gear over your actual race gear, and strip down slowly during the turbo warm up phase as you are approaching the 3 x 3min efforts. When you start these you should be dressed in your race mode. Wear a good undervest to wick away sweat produced during the race into your outer garment and prevent the sweat from evaporating on your skin. (If this happens it will reduce your core body heat, cause you big problems in energy loss and lower your maximum heart rate which will result in under performance.)
8. Do not use a heart rate monitor, computer or watch in the race; looking at any of these is a distraction and will aff ect your concentration. Its just you, the bike and the next 50 metres and more pain... It should be total concentration and controlled aggression. That, to me, is what time trialling is all about.
9. You will then need to keep that concentration for the whole race... Just concentrate on staying in that 'zone' with total focus.
10. After the race, warm down to get rid of some of the lactate that's built up. This is even more important if you are racing the following day. If you can't warm down immediately after the event, do some light turbo work when you get home; 30-45 minutes in recovery mode on small gears is great 'active recovery' and will prevent you waking with leaden legs the next day. Dave Lloyd