Anatomy of a Team Time Trial – Part 1

I used to race Team Time Trials (TTT) quite regularly in my school cycling years, however that was a very long time ago.  I’m also not much of a Team Sport player, so I haven’t really done much in a team environment.  So when the opportunity to join in the cycling team, Watchguard Technologies Racing, I jumped at the chance especially since the Dynamo Teams Championships series that the team is competing in had a TTT.  I was wanting to revisit this aspect of cycle racing.  The aforementioned race took place on last Sunday, 23 September 2018.

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Apart from the technology of the bikes, clothing and helmets from my early days of TTT, not much has changed.  The races are still fast, they still hurt and they are a true measure of team work.  Probably the most significant change in equipment is the use of Heart Rate monitors and Power Meters.  Now instead of just looking at a stopwatch and determining how the race felt, we can now delve deep down into the Belly of the Beast and break down the way the TTT played out in very fine detail.  Communication between the riders is crucial as you rely on your stronger riders to do more work in order to keep the team together as well as possible.  In the case of the Dynamo one we could start with six riders, and our time was taken on the third across the line, so we could afford to drop a few in the process.  Looking at the data after this particular race was very interesting indeed, and you can see how it unfolded just by looking at the numbers.

I’m certainly no expert when it comes to analysing race files, but I have a good understanding of the metrics, what they mean and I can recall pretty well how a race played out and what the contributing factors were that led to a result.  Hopefully as you read on you will be able to create a picture of it and will understand how fascinating races like these can be.

CONTEXT

I don’t really consider myself a ‘Roadie’.  I’m a Triathlete first and foremost, and quite frankly large pelotons, descents and mass field sprints scare the crap out of me, but I love the exhilaration of a bike race.  Despite the conflict in my brain I just keep turning up for more and more.  I absolutely love the high intensity you encounter in Bike Racing, and it’s a level you don’t often see in a Triathlon.  That being said I do wish a bike race would finish off with a running race, at least that way I might have half a chance of a good result.

When it comes to Individual Time Trials (ITT) I struggle to sustain a high power much over Threshold, which translates to road speed, despite this I am very comfortable on a TT bike for hours on end riding at a steady Sub-Threshold intensity.  One thing I find I can do though is hang on to a wheel and punch out some fairly high watts for a short time before dropping back in the pace line for a short recovery, I have pretty good 1-5 minute power for my body weight, so for this reason I enjoy a TTT much more than an ITT.

It was fortunate that the Counties Manukau Cycling Club were hosting a 3Up TTT on 22 July 2018, and this was a perfect opportunity to get an idea of how the body was going to cope with a TTT of the same distance and very similar course to the Dynamo one on 23 September.  So I gathered a couple of the Foot Traffic athletes (Sam Daley and Rob Humby) and dragged them along as my teammates.  It suited Sam as he was training for the Sprint Triathlon Worlds too, and Rob was rung in just simply as he’s a super strong young fulla who could help tow these old boys around.  I was thinking I’d go pretty well in this first TTT, but boy was I quickly knocked down a level.  As it turned out it kicked my butt, and I soon realised I’d have to alter the structure and intensity of my bike training sessions thereafter going into the upcoming races, so it was a blessing in disguise that I had raced in this 3Up TTT.

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Having done more Iron-Distance races than someone probably should do, I have developed an engine that is built for long steady efforts, not so much for short punchy stuff, and certainly not for long, multiple SupraThreshold over/under efforts.  I recently raced Challenge Roth (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42km run) on 1 July 2018, and was due to race the Sprint Distance Triathlon World Champs (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run) a couple of months after on 13 September 2018, and obviously the Dynamo TTT the week after the Triathlon Worlds.  These are totally different events, utilising quite different energy sources….consequently I have confirmed it’s hard work to turn around an athlete in such a short time, but with a bit of focus on the right work it can be possible, and here’s the proof.

 

3Up TTT Race

Since the Triathlon worlds was going to be raced in a Draft Legal format and on road bikes I told my team mates that we are doing this TTT Merckx Style (standard road bike, no aero helmet, no clip-on aero bars, no deep dish wheels).  This means that we weren’t able to make use of the aero advantages gained by these pieces of equipment.  It comes down to raw power, and team work.

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So for the 24km we rode it in 36:34 (which incidentally is a few seconds slower than when I rode an ITT on the same course earlier in the year, but that was with the full aero package, which shows the effect of those bits and pieces).  We rode this race well as a team and shared the work evenly.  As one rider showed signs of weakening the others would pull a bit longer to try and maintain the average speed.

For the duration of the TTT I had a Normalized Power of 257w, Average Power of 245w, Max Power of 638w.  This calculated at an Intensity Factor of 0.86, and a TSS of 45, based off a Functional Threshold Power of 304w at the time of this race.  My Average Heart Rate for the TTT was 164bpm and Max HR of 177.  Average cadence was 97rpm.  The average speed for the race was 39.4kph.  Power to weight ratio for this was 3.45w/kg.  Yes you are correct, these are low numbers for what a TT should be.  Was I tired from the recent race and travel?  Possibly, read on.

There are more interesting metrics to consider though.  Aerobic Decoupling factor was 2.97%, which just shows I was working hard, but not really at my limit despite me feeling like I was in the box.  There was more to put out in my legs but my engine was just ticking along at the intensity we were doing, unable to switch into overdrive.  This may have been from the latent fatigue after Challenge Roth a couple of weeks earlier, and the fact I had just really started back training this week, but I certainly felt like I should have been able to perform better.  Variable Intensity was relatively high at 1.05 for a dead flat course where there shouldn’t have been much surging, so I feel I was probably freewheeling on the back a bit trying to get my Heart Rate down before the next turn on the front.  Efficiency Factor was 1.57, which I will discuss in more detail in the next blog post….that will make sure you come back eh.

Looking at the graph below you can see the clear demarcation of the sections where I am on the front and where I have dropped back in the pace line.  There is a distinct point where you can see power is maintained for a short time, then it starts to drop as I get to the point where I can’t hold a consistent speed any longer, at the same time there is an elevation in Heart Rate, and then the lowering while on the back.  For the first half the turns on the front were fairly consistent duration, however over the second half there were a few shorter turns as I was beginning to get gassed.

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You will observe in the Power Distribution that it’s a wide bell shape, and quite clearly skewed to the lower bins and not the upper bins where I’d like to see it in a TT.

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You will note in the Power Zone distribution that there’s quite a lot in Zone 2 (26%), more than there should be really.  Even though there’s 50% above Threshold its all scattered unevenly and likely to be unproductive given the high VI number.

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Meanwhile the Heart Rate Distribution is quite clearly just below Lactate Threshold (60%), with very little any higher, it just shows that the engine wasn’t able to rev any higher, I lacked the top end.  All my Peak Heart Rate points from 5 seconds to 30 minutes came at the back end of the race.  Despite a pretty good warm up there was still a long time before I was able to get the HR up to where it needed to be.

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The last graph is the Peak Power Curve which just shows there weren’t any large spikes in Peak Power, which is good for a TTT, however it drops away fairly rapidly after 30 seconds, an indication that there wasn’t really a lot more power in the muscles before I was having to drop back in the pace line.

Peak 10 seconds was 395w, Peak 30 seconds was 380w (both coming towards the finish line).  Peak 1 minute was 320w as we headed to the turn around which was up a short climb.  Peak 10 minutes of 257w was the over the last 10 minutes.

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Summary

You can imagine I was pretty disappointed with my performance here.  The team worked really well together, but I really should have been able to hit bigger numbers for longer.  It highlighted a number of important things that had to be addressed before I went on to the Sprint Triathlon World Champs and the Dynamo TTT, so really it was very important and had I not raced it I would have probably continued down the wrong track in my training without it.

So look forward to the next blog post where I discuss the Dynamo TTT, and you will see why I am much happier about that performance.

Check back later.

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