Taking Part in Cycling Time trials

By Laurence Harding

About Laurence

Laurence HardingLaurence Harding is one of Serpentine's best triathletes and no mean time trialist too; he has had top 10 placings in the 'National 25' in 2004/05 in times just over 50 minutes. That's a speed just shy of 30mph. Here he tells you all you need to know about taking part in what cyclists call 'the race of truth'.

What is a time trial?

A time trial is a cycling competition where the rider covers a set distance by him/herself without taking pace from any other rider or vehicle. It is a solo effort against the clock with each rider usually starting a minute apart with the race winner being the person with the quickest time. The most common distances for time trials are 10, 25, 50 and 100 miles but for those wanting something more extreme there are 12 hour and 24 hour races where you ride as far as you can in the set times. Time trials are commonly referred to as the "race of truth" as they require considerable mental concentration and toughness as well as the ability to tolerate intense physical discomfort.

Why should triathletes race time trials?

Cycling in terms of time is the most important part of a triathlon with the cycle leg often taking up over 50% of the total time of the race. The standard of cycling in triathlons is generally quite low and very few triathletes have a cycling background compared to swimming and running. For these reasons it is worth focusing on the bike if you are looking to improve your triathlon times. One of the most fundamental principles of training is "specificity" i.e. your training should reflect the type of racing you are doing. For the triathlon bike leg there is no better training than a time trial as it replicates the type of effort that you should be doing in the race. If you are able to race a few time trials in April and May before the triathlon season starts it is very useful way of gaining cycling fitness, speed and confidence before your first triathlon races.

Where can I compete in time trials?

Time trials are held all over the country which is divided into districts. For Serpentine triathletes the most relevant districts are London West, London South, London North and the South East. There are two types of time trial:

  • larger and more formal "open" time trials
  • local and more informal "club" time trials.

"Open" time trials usually cost around £7.50 and you must enter the race using an official entry form at least 2 weeks before the date of the event. Races on some of the faster courses can be oversubscribed and you will need to have a good qualifying time to guarantee you get into the event. The majority of time trials are held on fast dual carriage ways and if the traffic count is high this usually means an early Sunday morning start.

A full data base of time trials can be found at www.cyclingtimetrials.co.uk. The site allows you to search for events by distance i.e. 10 mile, 25 mile etc or by district. Once you have found an event, click on its name to see full details including where to send the entry form. There is also an annual handbook with details of all the open events which can be purchased from the website or is available at some bike shops including Sigma Sport and Condor cycles.

There are National Championships held each year at all distances up to 100 miles. For the shorter men’s events you will need to have a qualifying time to get a place in the National Championships. There is less competition to get into the women’s National Championship events but a good qualifying time is advisable.

In addition to the "Open" time trials listed in the handbook and on the website most local cycling clubs organise "Club" time trials which you enter by simply turning up at the start and paying £1 or so. They are often held midweek evenings. Details of these club events in the London area can be found at the following websites. If you intend to go along to one of these club events it is probably worth ringing someone at the club to find out about start times etc.

Which events should I enter?

In my opinion the best and most convenient events in the London Region are held on the H/8 courses based on the A31 near Bentley just beyond Farnham. There are a large number of open and club events held on this course throughout the year with many 10, 25, and 50 mile time trials and even one or two hundred mile events. These courses are relatively fast as they are on a dual carriageway but unlike some dual carriageway courses it is fairly safe and quite scenic. Also the majority of events are held in the afternoon which is far more sociable than the traditional 6.00am starts. For those who want to avoid getting stuck in traffic or without transport there is a convenient train link to the tiny village station of Bentley (race headquarters is in the village hall) from Clapham Junction.

What do I need to do to enter a time trial?

Serpentine is affiliated to CTT so all you need to do is enter your chosen race, as follows:

  1. Find your race in the events section of the the Cycling Time Trials website.
  2. Click on the event name to see full details including where to send the entry form.
  3. Download an official entry form from the Cycling Time Trials website.
  4. Send it, along with your payment, to the event organiser before the closing date.

You also need to wear the correct kit which essentially means wearing a top which covers your shoulders so tri suits are not allowed. You are also not allowed to wear kit with sponsor's logos on unless they are connected with your cycling club. For example you should not wear replica professional team cycling kit.

Although initially time trials may seem a bit arcane and almost like a secret organisation once you have done a few you will find they are very straightforward and everyone is very friendly. As part of the entry fee you usually get a free cup of tea and a piece of cake for handing in your race number at the village hall or leisure centre race headquarters after the event. As with triathlons you will see lots of competitors with very fast and expensive looking time trial bikes and equipment. Do not be intimidated by this as many of them are not very good!

There is a whole language associated with time trialling so along with getting to learn all the course code names there are phrases like "doing an '0'" which means going under the hour for a 25 mile time trial i.e. being able to maintain a speed of 25mph for an hour. This is a benchmark standard for this distance and is a bit like running 10k in say under 38 minutes. If you need any further information the time trials website www.cyclingtimetrials.co.uk has a huge amount of information. It also has course details, results and photos for most events.