How To Pace A Time Trial In Cycling


The one hour test is in the building. At least that’s the feeling I’m getting, and one thing that I gave kudos to Dr. Stephen Sieler for highlighting in his podcast on Polarized Training in Cycling. He makes people want to start doing one hour power tests, or FTP Tests. Preach!

People just don’t ride long enough in their intervals, but there are other posts about that, like this one on Sweet Spot Training and this one on Making Gains With Basic Endurance Rides.

This post is taking a look at my (Brendan’s) one hour power test. I had completed some long sweet spot intervals the day before, so I wanted to let this one rip and just get a benchmark of where I was at, for long, #InTheBreakAllDay, power.

The first 3 rules of a time trial are:

1. Don’t Start Too Hard

2. Don’t Start Too Hard

3. Don’t Start Too Hard

I wholeheartedly agree with this old adage. You know I’m a huge fan of power meters, but in this day of having your numbers always in your face, I can’t stress enough that you need to learn how to pace yourself not only by the numbers, but also by feel.

You can really screw yourself up on this intense mental test. An hour at your max is a really long time. Most people aren’t doing these very often, so if you’re going to be a slave to the numbers and tell yourself, “I need to hit X”, you might find that within 20 minutes, you can’t hold X.

What do you do then?

You need to feel that out, and this leads us to what the third rule really should be: Finish Strong.

I almost forgot about that going into this test, or benchmarker, and luckily I quickly reminded myself. I found a groove, and whatever that groove was, that’s what I was going to hold on this day.

I broke the 60 minute effort into 10 minute segments, just to see how it unfolded. This is not uncommon to how I mentally approach a long effort like this, although I usually think of it in 15 minute segments. I know the first 15 minutes has to feel easy, the second 15 minutes builds off that same feeling, since once that is complete, I’m still only halfway through! The third and fourth are a different beat, but we’ll get to that later.

Overall TT Average: 391W, Normalized Power 392W.

My goal was 380W, but at the end of the day, i know that I just had to do my best, and make sure that I followed Rule #3!!! Finish Strong.

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You can see in this image here, that the FTP is probably around 400-410W based on the old ways of doing things. This is actually a really effective way of ballparking someone’s FTP with race data, and it’s described in depth in Training and Racing With A Power Meter.

We’ll get into lap specifics, but here’s the data for those interested.

TT lap breakdown.png

That being said, I will be curious to see if they alter these techniques at all now that Functional Reserve Capacity, Time To Exhaustion, and Stamina have come into play. Do Not Obsess Over FTP.

Starting the time trial, it usually takes me about 10-12 minutes to get warmed up into the effort. I am just riding by feel. One trick to starting a time trial is make sure you aren’t looking at your power meter in order to hit a number; only use it to make sure you aren’t going TOO HARD.

If you’re legs aren’t cooperating that day, and you push towards some number that you normally can hold, but can’t on that day, YOU WILL EXPLODE, and have a worse time trial, than if you let your body do the pacing.

The Start Of A Time Trial

A coach told me years ago that when you start the time trial, you want to use the first 30 seconds to let your legs buffer out the lactic acid that has built up. Whether this is physiologically true or not, I’ve always used this reminder as a way to warm up again, once the time trial has started.

What am I talking about, when I say “warm up again”?

No matter how perfectly you time your warm up, there is almost always some down time before the gun actually goes off. I would recommend that you not try to perfectly time your approach to the start line, because too many racers have missed their start time doing this.

Also, there is supposedly some data that shows that the effects of warming up stick around for about 15-30 minutes. Said differently, if you’re warmed up, you’re good to go for up to 30 minutes. This is a HUGE mental pearl for those time trials and criteriums when you need to stage early. Don’t freak out; you’re going to be fine.

On the time trials when you start feeling like Superman, you need to start out yelling to yourself: “DON’T START TOO HARD!” The watts are going to be FLOWING. Don’t be your own kryptonite and blow it. Settle in and remember that you are going to pour it on at the end; you’re going to FEEL LIKE YOU’RE ACCELERATING for the last 15% of the race.

On the time trials where you feel like dog poop, you need to make sure you don’t psych yourself out of the race in the first 5 minutes. SETTLE IN. Ignore the number on the power meter. Don’t let your expectations allow you to go too hard. If you are trying to pin 330W and 300W feels hard, RIDE AT 280! Yes, that sucks, you’re 50W off what you could be flowing at on another day, but it’s either NOT TODAY, or it’ll come around in a few minutes. SETTLE IN.

The Mental Side Of The Time Trial

Half of this sport is mental. The only reason we’ve been so successful on the amateur circuit is because we have a really locked up mental game that starts days before the race. There will be another post on that for sure!

Believe in yourself. Most of us don’t. Go to the start line, especially when you’re going up against the girls or guys that are, on paper, stronger than you, convincing yourself that you can win. Believe that you are going to have a rockstar day, and use this mental attitude and fortitude not only on race day, but on test days.

That being said, don’t look at it as a test! Who likes tests? I don’t. I don’t want a pop quiz. It’s a BENCHMARK.

If you have a crap day, go home smiling, KNOWING that the next time you go out and attempt this, you’re going to crush it. That’s a WIN! Don’t get yourself psyched out.

Pacing The Time Trial

So, back to the first 30 seconds on the TT: get out of the gate, but don’t go over 90-94% FTP. Settle in for 60 seconds, get going fast, but not smashing. Feel the flow of the bike.

Then I literally mumble to myself: “Here We Go.”

It’s the cue. This is gametime. This is 100% focus. This is what I came here for.

While you’re in the first 10 minutes of a 60 minute effort, these numbers cannot feel hard. You cannot be gasping for breath.

If the first 10 minutes feel hard and you’re below your number, just realize that this is not your day to CRUSH IT. You might come around later, but don’t start thinking about setting a lifetime PR. You’ll know the day when that’s going to happen. That is when you are pulling back the reins because you feel so damn amazing.

Surges In A Time Trial

Avoid these at all costs. If you hit a slight hill, roll over it with some gusto, but I really wouldn’t hammer over anything just yet, especially in the first half of the time trial. While average speed is obviously the only thing that matters for this type of race, if you surge extremely hard over the early rollers and hills, you will surely have a harder time pouring it on in the end, where you’ll want to be attacking every hill, corner, and piece of tarmac that you can find.

Second 10 Minutes Of Time Trial


Remember, this is an hour long. You can’t be feeling pain yet. After 20 minutes, you still have 40 minutes to go!

I feel like I’m repeating myself, but I can’t stress these major points enough; they are easy to forget when you are in the pain cave riding 94-105% FTP.

Halfway Through A One Hour Time Trial

By now, you’re 30 minutes in and you know what’s going on. What hurts, what doesn’t hurt; you might be shifting around more and more. That’s all fine, just stay aero and utilize the small shifts in your saddle to your benefit.

Minute 30-40

I started cranking a slightly harder gear, 82RPM. The watts were up, but my HR is up also. That’s normal.

The Final 20 Minutes

The last 20 minutes is still crucial to pacing, due to the third rule. Even when there’s only 15 minutes left, there’s still 15 minutes left! You cannot get too antsy and ruin all of your hard work. You’re almost there, Remember The New Rule #3!

Breaking Down The Last Ten Minutes

I chunk the last 10 minutes into two 5 minute efforts. The first one being slightly towards the 100-105% range, and if it feels good, I just keep it there with the goal of really ramping it up in the last five minutes.

You’ll end with a killer finish, and as obvious as this is, the last five minutes is 8.3% of your total ride time. You want to CRUSH THIS last 8% because many will just be hanging on for the last 20%. You can make up serious ground here.

Do not get overly excited with only ten minutes to go, and go too hard from minute 50 - 55. You have to finish strong. You want to be pouring it on, crossing the finish line knowing that you bossed the hell out of that thing!

Every time trial where you finish, just holding on for dear life, hoping that you had a good time, was not your best effort. Guaranteed.

Below you can see that I had really poured it on. The top peak of the histogram was 410-420W. My best segment of the entire time trial. At this point, you can go for broke, and with practice, you’ll really learn how to nail the finish.

This bumped by mFTP to 392 and Time To Exhaustion to 1:04:52.

Most people aren’t doing these hour long efforts, so kudos to you if you are.

A handful of EVOQ.BIKE are doing these now after buying into the idea of endurance riding and then coming out on benchmark tests killing it. They’re actually rested, recovered, and not just group ride smashing all of the time. The difference is amazing in how they perform.

Thank you to everyone for your comments and questions, let’s continue to foster a constructive conversation about cycling; let’s #EvolveOurIQ Together.

Brendan HouslerComment