Last week, when I told people that there was “a cycle race this Sunday. It’s a team event… Team Time Trial”, they thought it was a relay race. I don’t blame them. This stuff ought to be taught in our schools.
If I had to list the important factors for a cyclist in a race, in no order, they would be:
- Equipment – Most importantly, the bike you ride. Several accessories follow.
- The terrain – Is it hilly? A flat course? Is this kind of terrain suited to your strengths?
- Legs – Well, legs. The power in the legs.
The less obvious
- Teammates – Although one cannot ride a cycle on behalf of another, believe it or not, pro cycling is predominantly a team sport (more on this in posts to follow)
- Aerodynamics – This is perhaps the most important aspect in Team Time Trial 101. Expect a 15 mark question from this chapter.
A time trial is an event where the athletes’ efforts are timed and times of all athletes are compared at the end. In time trials, unlike in regular races, athletes are not directly racing with other contenders. Contenders are made to start and end the course alone. In a way, you are your only opponent. You’re in the race, but it’s essentially you against the tick-tock. The event in question could be a running race, cycle race, motorsport, an obstacle course and pretty much anything where an effort can be timed. Winner is the one with the fastest time, unless, of course, if it is a contest to be the slowest. Like the famous childhood gully sport inIndia- “slow cycling”.
In a paceline, riders draft one another in order to reduce wind resistance and maximize the speed of the group. Credit for the idea of this kind of cooperation goes to migratory birds. Birds fly in a V-formation because it is most efficient for them to cover long distances. Automobiles do this. For fuel efficiency.
If you are ride a bicycle close enough behind the rear wheel of another cyclist, you can maintain the same speed that they maintain, but with lesser effort – at least 15% less. This is because you are riding in the slipstream that they create. They are taking the wind head-on, while you are shielded from the wind. Supposing there is a third rider at the back, they would enjoy a considerable lack of air resistance and hence ride as fast as the two of you, but with a lesser effort vis-à-vis second rider and much lesser vis-à-vis the first rider. This is a mini, 3-member paceline.
A 4-member paceline at work
In a longer paceline, one with 15 members, the rider at the back will experience parasitic bliss – a reduction of as much as 40-50% of effort when compared to the rider at the front. Since this sounds unfair, the logical thing to do is to share the load. Everybody should take turns in leading the line and facing the wind head-on while the rest ride in the collective slipstream and effectively get some “rest”, before it is their turn to lead the paceline again. In this process, one gets to see a continuous, periodic rotation at work.
Watching a fast, smooth paceline in action is one of the most beautiful sights in road cycling. Many believe that pacelining is the essence of riding in a group. Once you have discovered this tactic it is unlikely that you will ride any other way.
Team Time Trial (TTT)
A Team TT in cycling is a road-cycling race in which teams of cyclists ride together to secure the best time over a course. The single main obsession of a participating team is aerodynamics. To this end, teams will take the most outrageous, ridiculous (only to somebody outside cycling) measures. The bike is made differently, very “aero”. The design is slim and minimizes any turbulence. The clothes they wear are different. Their position and posture on the bike is radical to the point of discomfort for the rider.
A typical TT Bike
The prime tactic is to ride closely in a paceline. In the Team TT, teammates take turns at the front to do their share of the work to “pull” the rest of the paceline. This could be a single paceline as discussed above, or a double-paceline (two lines side-by-side). A single paceline relies on one individual’s effort. Double pacelines are faster but it needs upwards of 8 riders for full effect.
A rider pulls the team for a while and when he/she is done, drops off to one side and eventually to the back of the paceline. Typically, these pulls are very brief, but very intense. If it is a 6-member team and it is decided that each rider will ride at the front for 30 seconds, it means that each rider rides an intense effort at the front and then gets 2.5 minutes of rest (recovery is a better word) after which it is his/her turn to pull the team again. This repeats several times during the course of the race.
A rider finishes his turn and drops off to join at the back
In most cases, the duration of the ‘turn’ at the front is not the same for all riders. This is owing to two reasons.
One – not everybody is of the same ability level. Some may be able to sustain longer efforts while at the front.
Two – the death pull
What ‘finishing time’ is assigned to the team? What if the riders can’t manage to ride together? Is it the time clocked by the first rider? Is it the average of the times clocked by all the riders?
Usually, race rules will say that not all members of the team need cross the finish line. E.g. Team size may be nine members at the start, but a minimum of five must finish. This means that the clock stops when the fifth rider of the team crosses the finish line. That will be the time assigned to the entire team. In such scenarios, the team may decide that (up to) four members will do the death pull. These four (hypothetical) riders will pull the other five riders the most, almost burning themselves out midway with no intention or realistic chance of making it to the finish. This is done in order to save the energies of the other 5 who will then do the honour of riding till the finish. This kind of strategy is sometimes the difference between winning and losing teams.
The grimace of the rider up front should give you an idea of the intensity
Not a Relay Race
Right, a team time trial is not a relay race. If you thought it was, I will concede that the guess is not wrong. Now that you are acquainted with the elements of time trials, you know that, technically, it is possible to have a time trial where riders pass the baton. Just that it may not have been an informed guess. And I was joking when I laughed at your guess. But I’m serious about the “ought to be taught in our schools” bit.