Road Cycling Skills

Ask The Expert: How Do I Ride the Perfect Ten Mile Time Trial?

Advice for a Commonwealth Games medalist and time trialling legend

Shaw on the way to a CTT National 25 mile time trial win in 2009

If you’re looking to add a competitive element to your cycling, time trialling is a good place to start. Riders start at one minute intervals, ride over a set distance, and the fastest person wins.

What to Expect at a Club 10 Time Trial

The beauty of “the race against the clock” is that you ride your own race – you can be as competitive or non-competitive as you like against the other starters, the aim for a large proportion of riders is to beat their own time over the distance.

Most local clubs organise mid-week 10 mile time trials on a circuit near them, and these are a great way to get started.

For some riders, the very idea of riding at a high intensity for a full ten miles is intimidating, whilst more experienced racers struggle to find the line between “not going hard enough” and “blowing up”.

We asked time trialling expert, Julia Shaw for her advice on how to ride the perfect ten mile time trial. Shaw, who rides fro Drag2Zero, was a Bronze medalist at the Commonwealth Games Time Trial in 2010, and she’s a multiple CTT National 10, 25, 50 and 100 mile champion. She took up sport in her 20s, and only became serious about cycling in her 30s, making her an inspiration to adults who have come to cycling later in life. Here’s what she told us:

What would you eat before a 10 mile time trial?  

I would generally have porridge or a sandwich depending on whether it is a morning or afternoon race, topped up with some energy drink in the hour before and perhaps a gel 30 minutes before race start.

I would avoid anything I’ve not eaten before and just stick to fairly plain food, making sure there’s enough carbohydrate in there.

One year the night before the National 50 mile TT Champs we went to the pub and I had a massive steak with chips, fried onion rings, mushrooms – the full works – I definitely don’t recommend that, I felt really sick most of the race!

How would you warm up?

I seem to go best on quite a long warm up, so ideally for an evening club 10 I would ride out to the race, riding around 40-50 minutes in total, and I would include a 10 minute ramp up to ~160 HR [your ideal heart rate will depend upon you max – read more about heart rate training here], then a handful of 20 second efforts at race pace, aiming to finish about 10 minutes before the off.

If it’s not local I would just try and do something similar on the turbo, and also try to time getting skinsuit, overshoes and number on, so as not to interfere with the last bit of the warm up if possible. It can be quite tricky, so takes a bit of planning to get it right.

Once you’re off – what’s the best way to pace it?  

Don’t go off to fast! I generally ride on power [read more about training with power here], particularly for the first half of the race, but I do vary the power depending on the course, weather, hills and how I’m feeling.

A 10 mile TT is such a short race, that without power it’s much harder to judge, even with a heart rate monitor.  I suspect most riders do tend to go off too fast, it should feel really quite easy at least for the first 5 minutes, but the last 5 minutes should feel really awful regardless of whether there’s power or heart rate or nothing!

If there are hills on the route, how should you ride them – as hard as possible, or at a steady effort?

It very much depends on the course and the conditions – for example the steepness of hill, where in the race is it, if there is downhill after the uphill, and so on. Also [it depends] what type of rider you are. The best way to ride is to a certain extent an individual thing, which comes from experience of riding plenty of time trails to find out where the limits are.

I know how hard I can push in the first half of a 10 without blowing up before the end.

I would generally not push into the red early on, even if there are hills, whereas another rider might be better able to cope with the change of pace.

If riders want to improve on their time, are there any specific training sessions you would recommend?

Assuming [you’ve got] a good base to work from, then initially I think doing quite a few 10’s is a pretty good way to get better at them.

At the start of every season the first 10 is a bit of a shock to the system, but by the time I get to the fourth or fifth one I’m always quite a bit better.

I also try and get some riding in above 10 mile race pace. I have tried things like riding a club 10 with 1 minute slightly above 10 pace, 1 minute below. Doing some road racing [is a good way to get intensity in], or riding some very high power repetitions of 10-20 second duration – this is better with a power meter to control the effort.

Fancy giving it a go? Check out your local cycling club and find out when their event is. As the guy holding the stop watch always says: “5, 4, 3, 2, 1… GOODLUCK!”


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