Fixing time trials

We’re in for a tumultuous few years in cycle racing in Scotland, misconceptions will be addressed, talents who may have previously slipped through will be recognised & more importantly, we’ll be getting our heads kicked in by first year juniors from now on. The balance of power is going to change, moving away from super strong veterans, it will take 4 to 5 years, buts it’s already happening, even in your local time trial.

Back when I were a lad…

I wrote a piece on an event called the Corrieri Classic (promoted by Stirling Bike Club), not because I’m particularly interested in imperial standard distance flat time trials, I wrote the piece because these types of events are about to become more important in the Scottish cycling scene. Much more important than the ’25’, which was perceived as the blue riband event in time trialling by the older generation & the myth perpetuated by 80’s & 90’s Cycling Weekly (The Comic).

It used to be, you joined a club & somebody asked you “what’s your time for a ten?”, if you looked at all ‘handy’. It was assumed you had ridden a 10 mile time trial, and that you’d have a time, from that they would size you up for a pasting on the road or avoid “putting a wheel on you” during a ride if you were too fast. All this based on a time, from unknown weather conditions on an unknown course, hardly a scientific appraisal of somebody’s ability. If you consider some former top Scottish road riders from the 90’s, such as the Johnstone Wheelers ex members Brian Smith & Drew Wilson, ask them what their time for a ten is, I doubt they would even have ridden one, it had by that point become irrelevant to the higher achievers’ in Scottish racing.

These days, time trials are very rarely visited by the majority of road & track riders, time trialing had traditionally been part of your arsenal for road racing in particular, anybody with any ambition on the road competed in time trials, they were directly relating to long solo breaks and also great training. But due to advances in aerodynamics and different bikes being used in time trials, largely from everybody realising the time gain of tri-bars from the 1989 Tour de France, where Greg LeMond used aero advances to overturn a  50 second deficit on Laurent Fignon in the final time trial, into an 8 second advantage on GC. Plus arguably even earlier from riders like Francesco Moser who took aerodynamics to an extreme, time trialling was steadily becoming a different sport. This is more evident in Scotland & the rest of the UK than anywhere else, since the early 90’s ‘The Comic’ was filled with pictures of riders racing on extreme positions, away from traditional drop bars and often riding small front wheels on the now banned ‘Lo-Pro’ bikes (now its current fashion is reporting on sportives), this reduced the crossover effect, it wasn’t a traditional road position and aero cost money. Time trialling lost its relevance to other forms of racing when the bikes changed in the early 90’s, this is going to change over time, especially for the shorter tests.

The road back

The Scottish track scene has been dominated for a number of years by some incredible sprint talents, developed almost solely through Meadowbank & ‘The City’ who have a special talent for identifying talented riders and giving them a pathway to greatness (The 2012 Scottish Keirin Championships looked like a club championship, all six riders in the final were City of Edinburgh!). There have been a few notable endurance talents developed along the way through the same route, along with some British medals, but generally, they’ve been creating top class sprinters for a very long time.

We now have a method of identifying promising endurance talents too, namely, the Glasgow Track League. As with most track leagues across the UK, it’s currently not particularly well promoted or advertised, but if you scour the results on the Scottish Cycling website, you’ll see some very interesting names pop up. I went to have a look one evening, aside from the eternal youth and competitiveness of veteran riders like Graham McGarrity who were getting stuck in, the most aggressive displays were from the younger riders, they were knocking lumps out of each other and nobody else was capable of testing themselves to these extents. They also have a very classy measurement system, if James McCallum & Evan Oliphant were to both turn up at track league, you can expect fireworks, the young guys are out to prove a point by the looks of it. So Gus Gillies, Mark Stewart, David Whitehall, Greg Brown, etc, etc, you guys are the catalyst to create something very special.

What’s the point?

So this gets me to the actual point, the crossover between disciplines and why it’s more important these days. Classy pursuiters & regular track riders like Silas Goldsworthy & Ben Peacock, are now exchanging punches at a ’10’, with another regular convert to track league & potential pursuiter Alan Thomson also in the mix. It turned out that Goldsworthy recorded a 21:06, with Peacock & Thomson tied in 2nd with 21:21. The local ’10’ can easily become a testing ground for better bike positions & used to help train muscle adaptation to a new, more-aero position. How does this work?

Let’s get on with the assumptions….

Well (sorry, going to get all technical now), consider power outputs. The riders are all different sizes & shapes, so we’ll take a simplistic viewpoint on this and ‘pretend’ that they all weigh about 75kg & that they are all similar body shapes.

Let’s assume it takes 340 watts of power to ride the course in 21:06 (45.5 kmh). If that same rider was to ride the same course, in the same conditions in 21:21 (45.0 kmh), then they would have to produce 328 watts of power. So for the 2nd placed riders to beat the first placed rider, we can deduce that they would either have to train to produce between 3% to 4% more power to get on terms or not require to produce that extra power through better aerodynamics. Now here’s the important bit, it’s probably much easier to reduce the aerodynamic drag requirement by 12 watts to also get on terms. So as you can see, the margins of difference are very small, with those slight changes actually making all the difference. It’s puts into perspective Team Sky’s much mocked ‘marginal gains’ philosophy, which accumulates very small percentage gains and changes them into race winning gains by acquiring hundreds of them. So we can also deduce that even in the reality of an early morning Sunday ’10’, these technicalities & attention to detail could make the difference between winning & losing, even in a club ’10’.

Take this into consideration. Would some work on some random details, like your tri-bar position, taping your number down, riding removable valves in your deep section rim & taping the holes, making sure your aero helmet fin is flat to your back, spending your money on the best front wheel you can afford rather than the disc rear wheel that looks better but turns in turbulent air, would this all add up to a 3% gain, that’s up to you to decide. There are also some truly shocking un-aero aero positions out there too, everybody should stick a mirror next to their turbo trainer just once and see what we all see in those ghastly photos, you’ll be shocked too, you don’t look like Tejay Van Garderen.

What does this mean?

A local ’10’ could become a less expensive testing ground for ambitious amateur pursuit riders looking to tweak their aero advantage against other riders in a similar position. We could see a big revival in the quality of fields in time trial events, with one of the effects of an indoor velodrome (as in other regions where one has been acquired), will be evident across other disciplines, with younger competitive riders also taking part. So consider £10 time trial entry versus several hundred £ to hire an indoor velodrome, you’ll see the smart £10 being spent on developing aero advances and riders getting to a level where they can compete without having to fork out cash on venue hire, while riding the same bike they pursuit on, with a front brake attached. Fixed gear is going to get more popular again in your local ’10’.

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