So if you're ever sitting in a pace line, barely turning the cranks as you hum along at 25 miles an hour, you can be sure that Chad is at the front, putting in one of the patented sustained efforts he describes below. Just sit back and enjoy the ride and then try to come around him at the end to win the town-line sprint! Remember though that when you both finish a ride, you lie down and take a nap and Chad goes out for a run...
The topic discussed here is the purest form of bike racing ever--time trialing, often referred to as the "Race of Truth." What is TT? Time trials are races of variable length (from a few miles to 50+) which are done on individual effort (ie, no peloton = no drafting). Collegiate time trials will usually be 10-20 miles in length a sustained effort of 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the course, length and rider. I discuss training, warming up, and racing, and I include a short section on getting aero and efficient at the end to describe the effect of positioning and technology on your speed.
Knowing from your training what sort of effort you can sustain will help you ride at the right intensity during the race. For long time trials (up to 1 hour or so), 100% of lactate threshold is the goal. You can approximate this through heart rate monitor use (only if you've used it consistently in training), or by the crude breathing rate test (gradually pick up speed until you can barely breath enough for it.....that's roughly it). If you do the latter, make sure you don't go anaerobic right away, or you'll unknowingly ease off and be riding at less than threshold pace. For shorter time trials, you'll shoot for 100% to begin with, and by halfway you should be up and over it until the finish (yes, you probably haven't gone hard enough if you didn't feel like puking at least a couple of times).
A bike set up for time trialing or triathlons is different than a road bike in a few respects: it has a steeper seat tube angle to place the rider more over the bottom bracket (and it adjusts the head tube angle for stability), it has aero-bars, it is often more stiff, and it may offer "aero" profiling of the frame. By far the geometry and aero-bars are the most important advantages. They allow a comfortable body position while crouched over in an aerodynamic position, and allow for efficient power delivery to the cranks. They can be replicated on a normal road bike by adjusting the seat position (perhaps with a "forward angled" seat post) and adding clip-on aero bars (both modifications take 5-10 min total).
Positioning on a road bike with clip-on aero bars is tricky. If you don't change to a forward angled seat post, you should at least put your saddle all the way forward. The goal is to maintain the same torso/leg angle you're used to on your bike, and since you're hunched over on aero bars, that means bringing your hips forward. The more extreme that angle is (compared to normal), the less power you'll be able to put out (try it.......stay hunched all the way over and keep your butt on the back of your saddle and ride for a few miles........then compare to a more forward position and you'll see how much more efficient you are).
As far as aero bar spacing goes, there are 2 main points. You should be able to draw a vertical line from the front of your shoulder to the back of your elbow. If you can't, you're either stretched too far forward or crunched too tightly. Elbow to elbow distance should be less than the width of your shoulders, but they should not be touching!! The most important thing here is stability and comfort. You'd like your forearms to be facing straight ahead (your fists should be slightly separated at the ends of the bars), but don't sacrifice stability for this. Bottom line--try it before racing!! Start with the elbow pads reasonably spaced apart and move them in after a few miles (on roads or trainer.....but not rollers.....too unstable). Repeat this until you feel too unstable or uncomfortable, then move them back out to the last position. The more you ride like this, the more comfortable you'll be and you may be able to move the pads in a bit after some experience. Note too that steering is more sensitive when you are on the aero bars, so be sure to practice with them before racing.
If you race a time trial on a standard configured road bike, the two most aero positions are 1) in the drops and 2) scooted forward on the tip of the saddle, with your forearms resting on the bars and your hands dangling loosely over the front wheel (very similar to the position using aero bars). Again, steering becomes more sensitive in this position, so be cautious and practice before racing.
Second to an improved position (with aero bars), an upgrade in wheels can significantly reduce your time-trial time. The verdict is still kind of out on which wheels are the "best," but there are other concerns than just aero. Most aero wheels are carbon fiber and are unrepairable (just so you know). Rolf makes a good set of aero wheels with plane bladed spokes that is easily repairable. So, weigh the pros and cons of different wheels and buy a set that's right for you.
Most TT-specific bikes are sold as "triathlon bikes" and any good bike shop can help decipher the differences. Just remember that the rider produces the most drag in the equation, so little "aero extras" like aero-foil tubing, etc. will produce minimal gains compared to the change in body position (in case cost is a concern for you). A good, no-frills bike can be had for $1500 or so (Cervelo, QR, etc.). However, you must note that if you buy such a bike, you must train on it at least once a week (more at first) in the race season to get used to the change in body position and handling.
Sorry if I've been too windy about this. But it is a very important aspect to bike racing. After all, Lance not only was the winner of the Tour, but he was the fastest time-trialist. And, more importantly, he started his athletic career as a triathlete!!
Tri-on! --Chad Connor