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Marco Pinotti is head of performance of CCC Cycling Team (world tour level) and a former professional cyclist who is a six-time Italian Time Trial national champion. In this interview he discusses what it takes to become a good cycling time trial rider at a professional, World Tour level, but also what the key focus points for amateur riders focusing solely on time trials should be.
In this Episode you'll learn about:
- What it takes to be a world class time trialist (including benchmark numbers)
- How world tour riders fit Time Trial (and Team Time Trial) training into their schedule
- How often to train on the Time Trial bike, indoor vs. outdoor training, motor pacing, key workouts and testing methods
- Aerodynamics: testing, equipment, and benchmark CdA:s
- Executing a good time trial: preparation, pacing, and what goes onto your bike computer
- Team Time Trial training and tactics
- Advice for amateurs focusing on time trials
- My name is Marco Pinotti and I am a former professional cyclist and currently head of performance of the CCC cycling team).
I started coaching rather immediately after I finished my own cycling career, and I quickly got specialized in coaching around time trialling as this was my speciality when I was a rider.
- As a head of performance of a cycling team, I am together with the team’s coaches, doctor and nutritionist involved and responsible for planning the training for each individual rider in the team as well as planning the team’s training camps.
I both join the team on camps and follow the riders remotely by analyzing their power files from the training sessions (and races).
How to become a good time trial list
- To start with, one needs to have a certain mind for time trialling, it is very different compared to other cycling disciplines and require an incredible appetite for suffering.
- Physiology wise, one needs a big engine as a time trial list.
- Training wise, I encourage my athletes in the team that focus on time trialling to do at least two sessions per week on their time trial bike (leading up to a key event this number of times should definitely be more).
For amateur athletes solely focusing on time trial events, they can aim to do as much training as possible on their time trial bike.
It is important to spend quite much time on the time trial bike to maximize biomechanical adaptations to the aero position, I have found that when one is extremely adapted to the time trial bike, the difference in power output between the road bike and time trial bike is minimal.
Key workouts for improving time trial performance
- Basically all workouts dedicated for time trial performance will also be beneficial for other cycling disciplines as they are aiming to improve the lactate threshold and aerobic capacity.
- When we are planning the training for a specific time trial event we start at looking at the profile of the course, which tells us what kind of physiological demands this particular course has.
Then the workouts are designed to mimic these demands as much as possible.
But generally, a typical workout could be a number of 10mins intervals alternating intensity every 2mins between 95 % of threshold and 95rpm and 110 % of threshold and 110rpm.
In cases where the course demands a certain level of anaerobic power (for instant shorter steeper climbs that one must be able to attack over), then we also include these kind of efforts.
Another common session for improving time trial performance are shorter VO2max oriented intervals such as 3mins intervals.
We also do shorter intervals of around 30s at around 125 % of threshold with 15s recovery, which are repeated a number of times.
- In regards to the build up or base training for time trial lists, I use to follow a general progression plan.
In December, focus is directed towards accustoming the riders with the time trial bike, in form of some easy rides on the time trial bike combined with some sub threshold efforts and/or torque work.
As we progress during the winter, the intensity is raised slightly and more specific workouts are introduced, however, intensity is still kept mostly below threshold.
In the lead up to a key event (which normally is between 4-8 weeks), focus is directed on specificity, which depends on the demands of the specific course, but one can say that in general, the key workouts are done at around threshold intensity.
I also make sure to have a progress in duration of time spent around target/threshold intensity during this period, for instance, if the race duration is anticipated to be around 50mins, then I may start out by prescribing a 1x20mins effort, which is then progressing into 2x20mins efforts and finally a 1x40mins effort (all at target race pace/power).
- I’m not (as well as the riders…) a too big fan of all out tests such as the classical 20mins all out, I think it is better for the riders to save their all out efforts for racing.
Consequently, I have started to do more lactate tests, which can give you a good estimate of what the riders lactate steady state are, without them having to do all out efforts.
- In the last couple of years I have also started to do tests with Inscyd, which gives plenty of important information such as VlaMax and lactate accumulation rates at different power outputs (which in turn can be used to build a pacing plan over a non-steady time trial course).
- In regards to working on/lowering the VlaMax for time trial performance, I think it is important for time trial cyclists not to have a too low VlaMax as this limits the rider’s ability to push well above threshold power at certain parts of the course such as accelerations after corners or shorter climbs, where you need to push hard in order not too loose too much time.
A time trial cyclist should ideally be around or just slightly above 0.3-0.35 in VlaMax, when it is closer to 0.2 or 0.25 pushing power above threshold will become an issue.
For an Ironman bike leg though, I think that 0.2-0.25 on the other hand could be a very good thing!
- In terms of strength training, we do a little strength training for the legs in the gym (squats and/or leg press), however, the most important strength training is on the bike.
We work on strength both through low and high cadence, when we do high cadence strength work we make sure that the torque still will be the same as what is required during the most demanding parts of the race and this torque needs to be trained at a higher leg speed, consequently the intervals will become rather short (since the power will be very high).
Indoor v.s. outdoor training
- Most cyclists prefer to train outdoors, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic many of the riders have been forced to train plenty indoors in 2020.
- Some sessions can be performed very efficiently indoors, such as tempo intervals, which in some parts of the world can be rather tricky to find the right spot for outdoors.
One must, however, make sure to have a strong and big enough fan that can cool you down efficiently when doing intense efforts indoors, and also be aware of that you might not be able to expect the exact same results when riding indoors as outdoors (most riders experience riding indoors as harder than riding outside).
In order to master some essential technical aspects, I think it is essential that a few key training sessions are performed outdoors before a race.
Also in the base training one needs to train a certain amount outdoors in order to develop necessary strength components such as being able to keep the bike steady in heavy wind conditions etc.
- I’m not a big fan of motor pacing training, it can be good for getting a sensation of the speed and how important it is to hold a good aero position, but the power is often quite low so for actual race performance I don’t think it plays too big of a role.
- Aerodynamics is obviously extremely important in time trialling.
First, we make sure that the riders have a good bike fit.
To evaluate CdA, in the team we both use the track and the wind tunnel, which are good in different ways.
- Two aerodynamic trends at the moment are to go slightly higher with the arm pads (it doesn’t seem to be slower and one can produce more power with the arm pads slightly higher) as well as having a short tail aero helmet.
Executing a time trial
- The most important aspect of a good time trial performance is pacing, and as a general rule the slower you go, the harder you must push (you will limit the time spent in low speeds)!
- Some people prefer not to display any data at all during a time trial, and here you must find out what works best for you, however, I think that one can benefit from utilizing certain data (power, speed, time and distance) during the race.
- In terms of hydration and nutriton for a time trial between 45mins-1h, it is pretty simple, you need to be well hydrated to start with and full of carbohydrates!
Last meal should probably be taken in around 3h before race starts and should be rich in carbohydrates, during a race that lasts less than an hour, one does actually not need to take in any nutrition nor hydration (maybe just a little) during the race.
What is required to become a world class time trial list
- A good CdA would typically be 0.2-0.22 (for an 80kg+ rider 0.23 would be good too).
- In terms of watts per kg, for a mountain time trial one definitely needs to push above 6w/kg and in a flatter time trial it is more about absolute power.
The best flat time trial lists are generally slightly heavier but can produce massive power, which yields plenty of speed, in terms of watts per kg they can maybe sustain 5.7-5.8 w/kg and in absolute power this will be between 450-500w for 45mins.
Advice to amateur athletes
- To start with, I would advice them to spend a lot of time on their time trial bike.
- My another tip is to make sure that their position on the bike is really good so that they are super efficient on the bike, which enables them to save energy during the bike leg for the upcoming run.
Team time trials
- A team time trial is a time trial where you start together with your team.
- I really like this discipline, it is very different from an individual time trial and require completely different physiological demands.
When a rider is in front he approximately rides at 130-140 % of his threshold for around 30s until they let the next rider in the team go up in front.
So for a rider with a 400w FTP typically pushes 550w when he is in front.
- When the team is on camp, we dedicate a few sessions to train the routine around team time trials, otherwise, this is an Panera where motor pacing can be really useful (when the whole team is not present).
Rapid fire questions
- What is your favorite book, blog or resource related to cycling or endurance sport? I think Alex Hutchinsons books are really great.
- What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success? I sleep a lot (both as a cyclist and a coach)!
- Who is somebody that you look up to or have inspired you? Francesco Moser inspired me a lot as a boy, he broke all the track world records and was the first person to get me interested in going against the clock!