Introduction to the team time trial

How to prepare and what to expect at a 9up team time trial race

Combining the speed of time trialling and the tactics of team cycling, team time trial events are a test of skill, performance and preparation. 9up TT is a format that is gaining increasing popularity. Steph Foster of women’s cycling club the Crankettes discusses the format, what it involves and how to prepare. 

The  Crankettes were one of 10 teams competing in the 2015 BMCC Silverstone 9up TT. This charity event is located at England's world-famous Silverstone Grand Prix motor race circuit, guaranteeing smooth tarmac but little shelter from the wind.

Related: How to make the transition from sportive to time trial

Race format – 9up Time Trial

The 9up TT is a team time trial format that sees nine riders compete together over a course or circuit.  At least five members of the team must complete the course together in order to qualify for a finishing place.Teams will usually select the nine fastest members of their club or squad.

For the BMCC Silverstone 9Up TT, competitors were only permitted to use standard road bicycles; time trial bikes were not allowed, in order to level the field of competition. Other TTT events will allow the use of time trial bikes. The course at Silverstone was 10 miles long in total, consisting of three laps of the circuit.

Communication within the team is key for a successful performance in team time trial events: communication within the team is key for a successful performance in team time trial events
Communication within the team is key for a successful performance in team time trial events: communication within the team is key for a successful performance in team time trial events

Communication within the team is key for a successful performance in team time trial events

During the race, riders will typically ride in a tight line formation, or pace line. The foremost rider at the front of the group does the bulk of the work with the rest of the team members drafting behind. Team members rotate through this front position, taking turns to lead then moving out to the side and dropping back to the rear of the group.

Tactics are important in this format, in terms of deciding how best to use and support the strengths and weaknesses of the team. Communication is also a key skill, ensuring all team members are aware of their role, know when to pull off the front, and maintain an even pace.   

Pre-event preparation

Tactics and training are both key for this race discipline. In 9up TT, the team is only as good as its slowest rider and therefore training should be geared towards establishing a balance, with faster riders working to preserve the energy of slower riders.

One of the most useful drills for preparing as a team for TTT is the ‘though and off’ drill. This essentially replicates the motion of switching front riders in the pace line as you would during the race itself, and ensures a smooth, efficient transition between leaders. 

Related: How to master basic group riding skills

Once you have arrived at the event venue, ensure you take time to warm up prior to the race. If possible, make yourself familiar with the race route and conditions including corners and bends, wind direction and road surface. Take time to discuss any alterations to tactics based on these.

The rider's perspective

A nine-strong group from the Crankettes women’s cycle team, part of Micky Cranks CC, convoyed to Northampton’s prestigious Silverstone formula one track for the annual 9up time trial organised by Bicester Millennium Cycling Club.

This event is one of the highlights in the Crankettes’ race calendar. Eighty teams, including 10 ladies' teams this year, have the opportunity to race around the Silverstone track while raising money for charity.

As someone who usually participates in solo sports it was good to work as part of a team and learn the importance of communication and team camaraderie. The Crankettes have developed a very special friendship and have become very close during the season and this is reflected in the team riding.

The lead rider does the bulk of the work, with each member of the team taking a turn at the front: the lead rider does the bulk of the work, with each member of the team taking a turn at the front
The lead rider does the bulk of the work, with each member of the team taking a turn at the front: the lead rider does the bulk of the work, with each member of the team taking a turn at the front

The lead rider does the bulk of the work, with each member of the team taking a turn at the front

For this race, we decided we would work as a team of nine for the first two of the three laps and then stretch the pace on the last lap with the strongest five riders to try and gain a good finishing place.

During the race, we continually rotated the front rider, communicating regularly to control the group pace. Going into the final lap, we pushed the pace higher as planned. However, as the team was working so well together – we had only lost one rider – we decided to stay together and crossed the line as a team of eight.

The atmosphere at the event was great: fun, enthusiastic, and we had the largest support crowd there who came complete with cowbells!

Months of hard work were over in 28 minutes 25 seconds. We came fifth. Middle of the field was an acceptable result for us; we were happy and celebrated with cake, cider and smiles.

Related: Time trialling bikes, gear and tips

Five top tips for 9up TT

  1. Ensure your bike is as light as possible and race ready. Remove pumps, saddle bags, unnecessary drinks bottles and so on.
  2. Ride as a team as much as possible. Solo riding is good for overall fitness but it does not improve team riding.
  3. Ensure your warmup is productive. Increase your heart rate and warm the muscles up. Ten-mile races are over very quickly so you can't afford to use the first part of the race to warm up.
  4. Make sure all your team tactics are in place before race day. There is nothing worse than trying to devise a plan five minutes before the race. 
  5. And finally... enjoy it! You've trained hard for this event and the pressure is on, but don't ever lose the team spirit otherwise there is no point in racing. 

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