Cycling, Podcast, Training

Bike Performance Makeover with Matt Bottrill | EP#77

 November 20, 2017

By  Mikael Eriksson

Bike Performance Makeover with Matt Bottrill | EP#77

How do you create a plan for significant bike improvement? What's the planning process like, what specific training elements do you need, and how important is aerodynamics and bike position? Matt Bottrill, legendary time trialist and successful coach shares his thoughts on these questions.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • The steps Matt took when coaching Tim Don to be the fastest Ironman in history
  • How you can mimic that same process using the following steps: initial assessments, action plan, execution and monitoring
  • The key aspects of being aerodynamic and still producing power
  • Matt's top-3 bike training tips for age-group triathletes

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What initial steps and assessments did you take when you started working with Tim Don?

05:08 -

  • It’s the same assessment that I give everybody. I power profile an individual and analyse the data.
  • In power profiling, I look at past history where I look at all the times that an individual spent in specific training zones. I also look at how that individual races and every kind of fine detail.
  • Then, I also looked at Tim’s position on the bike and how he paced races.

What were the short-term and long-term goals, objectives, and action plans that you set?

07:18 -

  • I look at what the athlete wants to achieve. Then, once I know what the athlete’s specific goal is, then I can work back from that.
  • Ultimately, I build the training program that’s going to make the athlete peak for specific races.
  • Then I work out what the peaks are going to be in the season so then I can work backward from it.

On the bike specifically, what did that look like? Did you target certain power numbers, race times, or splits?

08:19 -

  • Initially, I was working out what the ultimate Ironman is.
  • I took into consideration factors like power to weight and the aerodynamic drag of the athlete.

Do you have a specific way of determining the aerodynamic drag?

09:22 -

  • You can use Best Bike Split, Golden Cheetah, wind tunnel data, or track data.
  • You would also need to consider how realistic it is to hold that position for the entire race.
  • Ultimately, what I’m trying to do is to give the athlete a pacing strategy. My strategy is knowing how to use speed, power, and aerodynamics.
  • Once I know what the athlete is doing right or wrong, I can then give specific sessions when training to get the athlete to adapt to riding in different positions.

Key takeaway

  • Speed, power and aerodynamics all play together in triathlon performances. Work on all three and on finding the right combination of them for you and your race's demands.

What was the biggest improvement that you needed to make? Is it more on aerodynamics or power?

10:34 -

  • It’s a combination of the two. My strategy with anybody I’m working with is to get them from the start line to the finish line in the fastest time possible.
  • It doesn’t just come from one element but it’s every fine detail.

Is this the same approach that you take with age groupers?

11:18 -

  • Yes, absolutely. I think where a lot of training goes wrong is not considering the demands of a specific race and how individuals adapt to training in different ways.
  • This is what is great about analysing data and looking at past history in order to determine how you adapt to training.

What does it take for an athlete to train in a new bike position to be more aerodynamic and hold that for the duration of the race?

14:03 -

  • The biggest challenge for most athletes is that they don’t spend enough time on the bike.
  • A good position is narrowing the shoulders and holding the head.
  • Most people get obsessed with their power number. To get that power number they will come out of their time trial position.
  • If you’re restricted on time then you should be doing more work on your base position.
  • If you’ve only got two rides a week, then you’ve got to optimize the time that you spend in a time trial position.
  • One of the biggest things I always tell athletes is to train a position in front of a mirror. If you start looking at your position in the mirror, you can start making changes.
  • Even if you’re just riding your bike at Zone 2, you can still be doing specific sets to get you into a better position. You always need to train your weaknesses in order to progress.

Key takeaway

  • Train your optimal bike position as diligently as you would train for power improvements. Don't obsess over power numbers at the expense of bike position.
  • Train in front of a mirror to practise that position.

When you say specific sets, does that mean spending a few minutes really trying to nail your position then relaxing for a time in between?

17:47 -

  • Absolutely. Let’s say you’re working on your shoulders. Start by trying to hold the position for 20 seconds to 1 minute. Then it gradually progresses.
  • You might be doing 10 sets, 1 minute per set today. Ideally, you would progress in the same way as with interval training.
  • Initially, you start narrowing the gap in between the recovery periods. Gradual progression is the key.

The key aspects of being aerodynamic and still producing power

18:52 -

  • Initially, there’s a trade-off where you’ll drop power. If you go too aggressive in position then you’ll lose a lot of power and the trade-off in aerodynamics might not be worth it.
  • There’s always going to be a trade-off between aerodynamics and power.
  • This is when doing different tests in different positions to find that sweet spot. This is a matter of always analysing data and speed.
  • A lot of people do lose power at first when changing positions, but generally, most will get it back.

Key takeaway

  • Use speed data to find your sweet spot of power and aerodynamics. 
  • Make sure you take adequat time to adapt to your position if it has changed, so you can gain back some of the power you may have lost when changing position.

Do you have a specific tip for monitoring that progress and the trade-off between aerodynamics and power?


  • It’s a repeatable test that you can do, like on a stretch of a road that you use. You can analyse it this way.
  • You can do a stretch of 4-5 minutes and just see where the trade-off is.

3 bike training tips for age-group triathletes

22:02 -

1. Sweet spot training

  • A lot of people spend way too much time in no man’s land which is Zone 1.
  • To get the biggest adaptation, you need to train in your sweet spot zone. If you can get to the stage where you can sustain an hour at sweet spot, I would say that you’re pretty much bulletproof.
  • 80-90% of an athlete’s program should be in sweet spot.
  • A recovery time of 4-5 minutes is where you can get significant improvements.

Key takeaway

  • Do a lot of interval work in the sweet spot zone (85-95% of functional threshold power) and gradually progress to longer and longer durations of continuous sweet spot. 

2. Beyond race-pace

  • Ideally, you should have sets in your training that go beyond the pace that you’re going to race at.
  • A lot of people train at the pace that they’re going to race at or just a bit below it but you need to progress. You need to go above that.

3. Variety

  • The biggest key is to have variety in your program. Don’t just keep doing the same old stuff. Shock the body.

What have you learned so far about Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and how have you or your athletes benefited from it?

25:49 -

  • For triathlon it is very clever. What I never understood initially was things like when you do that long run, you might feel recovered but the stress it has put your body under is sometimes misunderstood.
  • What I’ve found by tracking my HRV and then sometimes not necessarily doing that really hard session, I’m less prone to get ill. I can make sure that I’m more consistent with my training.
  • It has become beneficial for myself and a few of the athletes that we work with in changing the plan around sometimes.
  • It’s something that’s worth monitoring. You just have to keep tracking it over time. It’s one of these marginal gains that you can use.
  • Check out Heart Rate Variability (HRV) for triathletes with Dan Plews | EP#42.

Rapid-fire questions

28:35 -

Favourite book, blog, or resource related to triathlon or cycling:

  • I just follow different people and blogs

Favourite piece of gear or equipment:

  • My time trial bike

A personal habit that helped achieve success:

  • Mental toughness and consistency

Links, resources and contact

Links and resources mentioned

Connect with Matt Bottrill

Connect with host Mikael Eriksson


Hi! I'm your host Mikael,

I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.

I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show. 

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Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

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