Time trialling for youth riders
24 September 2014
Time trialling undoubtedly used to be the least glamorous side of cycle sport. In recent years, though, the time trialling achievements at world level of riders like Sir Bradley Wiggins, Emma Pooley and Alex Dowsett have given it a much higher profile.
Many riders don’t experience much time trialling until they’ve left the youth ranks though. Time trialling can really help young riders to develop other aspects of their sport, as well as being an important form of cycle racing in its own right.
Huw Williams tells us all about time trialling for youth riders, what it can do for them, and how they can deliver their best possible performances.
What is time trialling?
Time trialling is an accessible cycling discipline with many events taking place locally and nationally throughout the season.
There are a number of different types of events that fall into the time trialling (TT) category, ranging from the common distance events like 10, 25, 50 and 100 miles where the winner is simply the rider that covers the distance in the shortest possible duration, to “time” events such as 12 and 24 hour TTs where the winner is the rider who completes the greatest distance in the time allowed. Finally, there are specialist TT disciplines such as team time trials, hill-climbs and prologue TTs.
In all cases the rider is racing alone and unassisted (apart from in team time trials, of course, in which several riders share the work together).
How youth riders can take part
Specifically to youth racing, many of the UK’s high-ranking events (such as some of the National Youth Circuit Series, School Games and inter-regional road race championships) feature prologue or team time trial (TTT) stages, so time trialling is an essential skill for young riders wishing to compete at this level.
Those kind of youth events are usually run under UCI/British Cycling regulations on closed roads, and the usual Youth categories and gear restrictions that you might already be familiar with are used for these races too.
However, a huge number of time trials take place all around the country each year from February through to October, and these are run by cycling clubs under the rules of Cycling Time Trials (CTT), not UCI/British Cycling, and they usually take place on public roads. Youth riders are able to take part as long as they are a minimum of twelve years old on the day of the event, and providing they have parental consent.
Also bear in mind that there are slightly different arrangements & regulations for time trialling in Scotland, because Scottish Cycling looks after time trialling there, not CTT.
CTT also runs certain youth-only 10 mile time trials events under the banner of the “GHS 10” – that’s the national championship for youth riders who qualify for the national final through their performance in local events.
How time trialling can help you
Racing in time trials can help a young rider’s overall cycling development, and not only by developing the ability to judge pace and get the best out of themselves – it’s a good way of simulating lone breakaways in road races, or bridging between groups, or chasing to get back up to the bunch after a wheel change. And competing in team time trials simulates a well-organised road race break.
As well as “open events” which need to be entered in advance, have formal start sheets, and publish their results, there are also many mid-week evening “club events” throughout the season at which you can just turn up and race on the night. Many clubs are happy for a young rider to be accompanied by a parent riding behind them for peace of mind, or for youths to ride a club event together as a “2-up” or “3-up” team trial. Club events can be used as excellent training sessions.
Performance in individual time trials is determined by two main factors: the amount of power a rider can deliver for the duration of the event combined with an aerodynamic position on the bike that reduces “drag”. Specialist equipment such as aerodynamic frames, disc wheels, time trial helmets and the like all combine to help the rider become more aerodynamic.
Clearly, equipment plays a major part in performance and many youth riders have dedicated TT bikes and equipment, but in order to minimise the effects of an “arms race” ( a term used to describe the situation where riders “buy” success simply by using better , more expensive equipment) many youth events demand that TT stages of road races are completed on standard road bikes to minimise the advantage of specialist equipment.
In the youth age groups riders are also growing quickly so expensive, specialist TT frames are likely to only fit the rider for a very short period of time and a limited number of events, so an alternative option for many riders is to modify a standard road bike to suit TT events. This can be achieved in a number of ways, the main objective being to position the rider sitting slightly forward and lower at the front than a standard road bike set up. As efficient time trialling is a compromise between power and aerodynamics, a balance has to be struck between how much the standard riding position can be altered before power output is affected to the extent that slower times are the result.
However, small changes to a standard road bike set up in the following key areas can yield significant performance gains:-
This can be flipped (i.e. used upside down) or lowered to allow the rider to achieve a flatter back position.
Clip-on aero bars
Much less expensive than a dedicated aero bar (or “tri bar”) set up these are quick to attach to standard drop handlebar bikes and allow the rider to adopt a narrower hand position where the elbows are no wider than the width of the shoulders. A good starting point for a clip-on set up is that the arm bend should be between 90 and 120 degrees.
As well as lowering the handlebar stem it might be necessary to use a shorter one in order for the rider to reach the clip-on aero bars comfortably and maintain a flat-back position. This can be done in conjunction with saddle set-up.
Seatposts with less lay-back can be used to move the rider forward, as can simply positioning the saddle further forward on its rails. In conjunction with a lower front end this has the desired effect of “rotating” the rider forward and moving the hips slightly forward in relation to the bottom bracket.
One of the biggest areas for reducing aerodynamic drag is by upgrading the wheelset. Deep section, disc and carbon wheels all yield significant advantages but consideration has to be made for the event rules (as mentioned above, many youth prologues demand standard wheelsets) and event course profile: improved aerodynamics often comes at the cost of compromised handling, so if the course has a high degree of technical corners, etc., this would influence wheel choice.
In UCI/British Cycling-regulated events riders must comply with the same youth gear restrictions that are used for circuit racing. In CTT-regulated events there are no gear restrictions, but it’s usually best for a young rider’s long-term development for them to race on their restricted youth gears anyway.
Major aerodynamic improvements can be made to a standard road bike by removing unnecessary items such as saddle packs, bottle cages, etc., so consider the demands of the event and decide what the bare minimum of equipment required is.