Okay, the mystery of a fast bike split has just been solved by me? train specific!!! Well, knowing that sounds really lame, the solution really is that simple. Just because you consider yourself a strong cyclist does not mean you will blaze the bike split at any triathlon. How many incredible roadies never quite made it in mountain bike? How many rock star triathletes have not lived up to potential at Xterra? These aren’t indications of lack of talent, just lack of specificity. So for all of you mountain bikers in the audience wanting to time trial better, I have learned some things which may help you?..
First, there is a lot to be said regarding the specificity of the energy system we train for in mountain biking. To say that a mountain bike race is a two hour sustained time trial is correct. Improving you maximal power as well as your ability to sustain a very solid effort challenged by anaerobic efforts is the goal. However, here is the poison in the punch. Mountain bike riding is NOT aerodynamic. No point in hitting the wind tunnel people. We sit in an upright position with our weight well over the rear wheel to maintain traction and balance? and ride usually less than 16 miles per hour. Compare the position of a mountain bike racer and a Tour de France time trialist, see the difference? Even the alignment of the leg over the pedals is different?
The consequence of this is that all this wonderful power we develop as mountain bikers really doesn’t translate when we hop on a road bike UNLESS we train in that position. I did my first workout on my new Orbea Aletta time trial bike this week and here is how it went:
First 9km: unlimited speed, powering the 300W range, feeling FAST
Second 9km: heart rate rising, almost holding speed, power dropping, feeling a little UNCOMFORTABLE
Third 9km: heart rate still going up, CRAMPING, back hurting, speed and power dropping, where the hell can I stop this madness!!!
This is pretty consistent with my road race experiences. Give me a 10-12 minute prologue time trial like that at Redlands and I will bust out a top ten. Make it longer than 25 minutes and I will fall to pieces. This is also the case in non-drafting triathlons. I am so sore half way through the 40km that I am no longer that fast. I have never spent any time working on this skill and because of it my splits in non drafting triathlons are good, but not amazing.
So, on to how to improve. Alan Lim had some good tips at the last Science of Speed seminar. He pointed out that Dede Barry experimented with time trial positions before medaling in Athens last summer and discovered that a position that was hugely uncomfortable for her, which resulted in her producing LESS power, was nevertheless the fastest. Getting very low and aerodynamic and thus reducing effective drag was more powerful than leg power. To translate this to triathlon, one must consider that the fatigue of a very uncomfortable bike leg may hinder fast running, so some level of compromise must be done. What I am finding is that EVERYTHING is uncomfortable because I don’t ride in aero position at all. So, my advice is to set days aside to ride your time trial bike, use a power measuring device and a set distance, and decide what is the fastest and most comfortable position for you (a track or velodrome is ideal, but if it isn’t available, don’t obsess and just have fun with the experiment!). Also, doing a short run after these time trial efforts is a simple brick that has loads of benefit, and will also show you how your hips and back are feeling in that position.
So, on that note, I am dropping some millimeters off the front of my bike, Compex-ing my quads to get ready for the next session, and visualizing speeding bullet trains. If all else fails, all these sub-threshold efforts will at least make me fit!
Peace out? mel