An Introduction to Time Trialling

It’s the 24th July 2010, and I’m stood at a Bordeaux roadside watching rider after rider whizz past. There’s a deafening roar; a wave of excitement passes through the crowd. In a blink of an eye, Fabian Cancellara flies past us, and the crowd goes wild. We are in awe of the fastest man on two wheels – a time trialling legend.

There’s no doubt that he’s charismatic, personable, and humble. But there’s more. Fabian never won a grand tour, didn’t have the style of Coppi or Contador, or dominate the sport in the same way as Eddy Merckx. What he did do was suffer intensely. Stripped of team tactics and domestiques, he illustrated the purity of the sport: how man and bike could become one to dominate all others. He was the master of the ‘race of truth’.

Ironically, for a discipline that has become so fundamental to modern cycling, time trialling didn’t feature in the opening decade of road racing. Then in 1890, the National Cyclists’ Union (NCU) banned road racing on British Roads; the NCU had unintentionally planted the seed for the birth of time trialling. On the 5th of October 1895, over a course of 50 miles, the North Road Cycling Club held, what is widely acknowledged as, the world’s first time trial. Time trialling was born.

The format of time trials has barely changed since their infancy. Riders set off at one-minute intervals (sometimes 30 seconds or two minutes) and ride a set distance as fast as they can with the aim of completing the course in the shortest time. Drafting (following another rider) and group riding are not allowed -it’s the rider against the clock. As a throwback to the discipline’s clandestine past, courses are identified by codes, such as V718 (a notoriously fast course), and are, in most cases, of standard distances: 10, 25, 50, or 100 miles, or a fixed time where riders aim to complete the greatest possible distance (12hrs or 24hrs). The records for these are:

10-mile – 16:35 M. Bialoblocki

25-mile – 42:58 M. Bialoblocki

50-mile – 1:30:31 M. Bialoblocki

100-mile – 3:16:51 A. Duggleby

12-hour – 321.44 miles A. Duggelby

24-hour – 541.17 miles A. Wilkinson

Yes, the records are mind-boggling for most of us, but time trialling is unique because it is inclusive- if you can ride the distance, you can compete. You ride against the clock and, ultimately, your race is against yourself. Whether you’re an amateur racer with aspirations, a newbie looking for something more, or a triathlete wanting to hone bike speed, time trialling delivers the goods. Starting is simple: join a local cycling club, check their list of club events, turn up (no license required), pay a nominal entry fee, and ride hard. You’ll be hooked.

As you progress, your times will improve, and you will try to better riders with similar times. Event by event you will become faster, and you may want to search out time trials with a greater level of competition; open events will provide you with this opportunity. Clubs affiliated with Cycling Time Trials, the UK body for time trialling, can hold open events. The format is the same as a club event, and you don’t require a license, but you will need to pre-register to participate.

As spring arrives, the time trialling season will start. This is your chance to enjoy some friendly competition and become a better rider. We’ll help you along the way with tips, tricks, and advice. In the meantime, if you want to improve your riding, be sure to check out our earlier posts and Simply Road Cycling, the definitive guide to road cycling for new and developing cyclists.

Photo: Adrian Webb of Redhill CC captures the author time trialling during the 2011 season.