This piece was made in partnership with Zwift.
A time trial is a race for the truth; a reflection of a rider’s abilities to push high watts for a sustained period of time.
And it lends itself perfectly to the power-oriented world of Zwift.
The software that has revolutionized cycling is essentially based on time trial-like performances, with users cycling around their Functional Power Threshold (FTP). If a climber is almost certain to triumph on Alpe d’Huez, a time trialist is much more likely to win on Alpe du Zwift.
That’s why Zwift is the perfect training ground for time trialists, the ideal environment to improve their FTP, to make them faster against the clock and to help them get even closer to consistent speeds by Filippo Ganna. Okay, maybe not the last part, but definitely the first two.
Filippo Ganna broke the UCI hours record in 2022 (Image by James Startt)
“Zwift is very useful for those trying to get better at time trials,” says ex-British pro Jon Mold, who now works as a coach.
His advice is for riders to take advantage of the hundreds of time trial-specific workouts on the platform to prepare, without being afraid to mix up sessions to target different areas.
Read more: Embrace the pain with high-intensity intervals
“You can have sessions where you repeat some very short intense efforts for one minute, followed by three minutes under your FTP. Rests aren’t easy, they’re hard! But they have to be done,” advises Mold.
“There’s a balance to be found when doing some things: you also have to work on your VO2 to make sure you can check your FTP without it blowing you up. Likewise, you can also go into Zone 2 and , then going full throttle for five minutes before returning to Zone 2. All of these things increase the level of performance.”
There are some generalizations we can make about time trials that can help us all in a race against seconds.
First, the shorter the TT, the more power you’ll want to push out; you’re much more likely to be able to roll above FTP for a 20-minute 10-mile time trial than with the same watts for a 50-mile effort.
(Image from Zwift)
Second, in a discipline that is all about pacing and managing energy reserves and power in the tank, a good rule of thumb is to start a time trial at around 90% FTP. As the time trial progresses, the effort is slowly increased before reaching 100% functional power. The last thing anyone wants is to overcook the first two thirds and be wrecked as the home stretch approaches.
Zwift helps novices and experienced timers immensely with the visible presence of power and heart rate data. It is possible to see your power figures at all times, making it much easier to drive with your target FTP percentage.
This helps when riding in outdoor conditions as your body is trained and knows what it feels like to ride slightly below, or above FTP. Think of it as conditioning: the more you do something, the more you get used to it to the point where it’s second nature.
Mould, however, suggests that Zwifters should run a few higher efforts to better replicate time trials on open roads.
“It can be easy to fall into the trap of being able to hold those watts perfectly on Zwift, but get out on the open road and what you think is a pan-plan course, actually has few drags and small drops,” he adds in 2018. Medal Commonwealth Road Race Silver.
“It means that your power is always changing. You can try to keep it close to what you want, but sometimes you’ll be forced to push the threshold to maintain speed, and then you’ll need a micro-rest. People can forget it, so overwork is essential.
(Zwift game image)
“These over-the-top sessions are also motivating because they break up the monotony of riding a time trial. You can sit on the power you need, but breaking it up with little digs and bursts keeps it fresh. Pepper some threshold stuff in there and it’ll help you a lot “.
Read more: How to become a better sprinter on Zwift
Whether it’s a local ’10’, ’25’ or even a longer distance that requires several hours in a time trial position, Zwift has runners covered with a variety of time trial courses.
The Tempus Fugit map in Watopia is for those preparing for flat TT courses, while its sister course, the Tick Tock, houses flat sections where it’s easier to maintain target power, but interspersed with some hills in the middle where the rider can practice a little above the threshold before recovering on the descent.
And for those who want a time trial to finish things off, look no further than the Bologna TT, which has a steep, half-length climb at the end of what is otherwise a flat course.
Follow the tips and a run of the truth will become a little more manageable and, dare we whisper it, enjoyable too.