Australian National Time Trial Champion Luke Durbridge is one of the fastest in the business when it comes to racing the clock. Here he drills us on the brutal art within the race of truth.
The importance of solo time trials within the ranks of both pro and club cycling has grown dramatically in stature and prominence over the past decade or so.
At one time racing the clock was largely seen as something that bearded men dressed in black did on fixed wheeled bikes at the crack of dawn; but now time trialling is considered to be at the very cutting edge of bike racing.
It’s man and machine against the clock; pure and simple, the ultimate test of fitness, self-discipline and the ability to use your mental powers and self knowledge to push yourself through the pain barrier without looking back.
In a time trial there is no hiding, there are no wheels to follow, no short cuts, no noticeable team or tactical advantage to be gained – hence it’s often referred to as ‘the race of truth’.
That said, in recent years significant technical advances in equipment and positioning have made time trials much faster and closer cut than they once were, and leading riders go to great extremes to shave those extra milliseconds off their times.
Many of the great stage races are now won or lost in the time trail stages, and few of us will ever forget the agonising grand finale of the 1989 Tour de France, where a returning Greg LeMond snapped on the first tri-bars, to overhaul race leader Laurent Fignon in the closing minutes of the race-ending time trial. Discipline and technology had finally come of age.
With Under 19 and Under 23 World Time Trial titles and a stash of national titles already under his belt Luke Durbridge turned pro just a couple of years back, and at the tender age of 21 took both the Australian Road Race and ITT titles in early 2013. He’s also won major time trial and stage races in Europe, marking him clearly as one of the best soloists in the pro peloton—and one with a strong future ahead of him.
Here Durbo tells us how he handles his own personal races against time.
“As a pro rider we ride what is given by our sponsors, equipment which isn’t always possible for amateur riders to buy. The most important piece of mechanical kit is a decent and comfortable pair of aero bars, followed by aero wheels (deep section is my preference) – ideally fitted on a dedicated TT bike.
“But, clip on bars on a regular road bike and deep aero wheels can also make a big difference. It’s not an ideal solution, especially as not many people feel comfortable in the road bike TT position when it’s over a long distance.
“I nearly always go for a long sleeved skinsuit, over booties and an aero helmet – standard issue team kit.”
“I always go for power over aerodynamics; but it has got to a point where the best guys (like Tony Martin) are both the most power efficient and aerodynamic.
“Aerodynamics can make a big difference, especially in long time trials, but I like to be able to breathe and so don’t go too narrow on the bars, which is perhaps not ideal. I’m always playing with my position trying to figure out what’s the best compromise for me.”
“Sometimes you’re faced with a six-kilometre prologue and other times a 52km hilly time trial, so it’s always hard to train specifically for one distance and event. So rather than look at one specific distance (as I could do on the track) I aim at my sharpening form for a TT, making sure I’m in the best overall shape to be able to perform at a high intensity for a good duration.
“Over the years my general time trial technique has evolved, so I’m OK with that and can focus on the fitness. Going into something like the Giro, I knew I needed an extra five per cent to get through the last 20 minutes of the long 52km ITT, but I got that from my racing schedule and hard overall training not by specifically aiming at the race.”
“I guess one of the biggest things, depending on the distance of a time trial, is not to get too excited before the start. If I go out and try and get super-psyched up for a long time trial I generally don’t go so well because I go so hard in the first five kilometres that it’s all over.
“I try to relax for as long as possible, and then when I get on the trainer to warm up I put on the headphones, and that’s when I really start to prepare for the effort ahead.”
The Break Down
“During the ride I try to break things down into sections, so it’s easier to handle mentally. If you look at a 20km time trial and try to deal with it as one block that’s not really possible.
“I try and break it into sections – maybe between corners or landmarks, around 500 meters or so at a time and just focus on reaching that point and then the next one, trying to hold the power from step to step. For me that’s the best way to deal with keeping things on the edge.”
Keep In Check
“Personally I only really like to get time checks if they are true and accurate. Often team directors will give checks that are a little out to try and motivate you, which can work; but I prefer that they are accurate.
“Usually I know what I’m doing and if I’m going hard enough, and if I’m say 20 seconds down I don’t really want to have to go harder as I’m already on the limit.
”The only time I think that they’re really useful is when you’re well up and coming in to the final kilometres, so you don’t have to take unnecessary risks – but that situation rarely happens.”
The Final Countdown
“Generally I do my warm-up on a trainer with a fair bit of resistance, so that it’s road-realistic, building up to the effort level I’m going to need in the race, and then I get ready to go to the line.
“For me it’s best to have plenty of time. I usually try to get off the trainer about 15-20 minutes before I’m due off. I don’t want to be rushed or stressed. This gives me time to pull on my booties and skinsuit and get to the line relaxed – without worrying about missing my start.”
Know Your Lines
“I like to know the course pretty well, especially the corners and lines. If I can get through a corner 2-3kph faster than others it saves a lot of watts and energy, and can save two to three seconds a time, which really stacks up.
“If I can, I like to ride the course once or twice before the race, but it’s not always possible, in which case I try to drive the route in the morning before the race.”
“A lot of pace judgment comes with experience; I have an SRM meter and do rely on that some, but there are times when watts are not the main factor.
“One of your biggest fears as a rider is when you get out there and you’re just not hitting the figures you want, that’s when you just have to go on feel and keep riding.
“In a long stage race you can feel like you’re just not ‘on’ – but then probably many of the other riders are also tired, and the race can be won at 20-30 watts below what it would normally require. That happened to me in the Giro this year; I thought I was way off on watts, but when I saw the other times coming in I saw that I did OK.
“Once you’re out there you just have to think that other riders may be feeling the same, and get on with it.”
Ups and Downs
“When it’s a hilly course you have to be careful not to go too hard too early on, especially on the longer climbs, do not go into the red. Find your rhythm and settle in; it’s a fine line to find, but if you blow in that last one or two kilometres of long a climb you will lose big time.
“If it’s a short climb and you can just punch over with high power and maintain your speed it’s best to do that and then recover a little on the descent and ride tempo. If you slow down you might use up the same power but will lose speed, so it’s worth hitting it hard, as you can’t make up much time on the downhill.”
Get in Gear
“My exact gearing set up will depend on the course; usually (for a regular TT) I don’t use the inner ring so fit a 54/55 tooth outer ring and 11 through cassette.
“I like to start out at quite a high RPM, around 110, and then work into the ride and a bigger gear; but I still like to pedal a bit – not like the 80RPM of a rider like Martin. This may come from my track background.”