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Guide to time trials

A huge thank you to Rob Powell who has written a very useful introduction for those new to discipline, and it explains how to enter events, as well as tips for riding.

What is Time Trialling?

Time-trialling is the easiest place to start cycle racing. You ride alone against the clock over a pre-determined course, with riders setting off at one minute intervals and trying to cover the course in the shortest time possible. The club has its own series: run on Thursday nights at 7pm in the summer, starting and finishing near Wick. No need to pre-enter, just arrive by 6.45pm to sign on and get given a number. After you finish the timekeeper will announce the results.

What events are there?

Membership of the club entitles you to enter any open time-trial in Wales or England. Open events are open to members of any club affiliated to the governing body, Cycling Time-trials. All their events are listed in the CTT Handbook, which is available to buy from their website. These events need to be entered two weeks in advance on the entry forms available on the website. Most events cost about £7 to enter, and you get sent a start sheet to confirm that you're in the race and to tell you what time you start. On the day you need to go to the event headquarters and sign on to collect your race number. Time trials are open to everyone aged 12 and over; you don't need a racing license, just club membership.

What do I need to get started?

Any bike will do to start time-trialling. If you're under 18 you will need to wear an approved helmet, and the club recommends that over-18's do as well. There is no requirement to wear club kit. As you get faster you will probably want to get more specialist time-trialling equipment, which ranges from clip-on tri-bars (extensions that clip to your handlebars) all the way to time-trial specific lo-pro bikes like you see in the time-trial stages of the Tour de France.

How far is a time trial?

Normally time-trials are over standard distances, of which the most common are 10, 25 and 50 miles. There are also some events at 15, 30 and 100 miles, and some where you aim to cover the most distance in 12 or 24 hours! Events are usually referred to be just the distance or time, eg a "10" or a "12". All the club events are at 10 miles, except the hill-climb. The idea is that the standard distances allow you to compare different riders over the same distance in different events. Usually to make the course as fair as possible, it will consist of 5 miles out to a roundabout, then 5 miles back to where you started. These are called out-and-back courses, and are usually the flattest and allow you to go the fastest. The popularity of circuit and sporting events, which use more testing or hilly circuits, is growing as the amount of traffic on main roads increases.

What is a good time?

Traditionally the first target is to break evens - which is 20 mph or 30mins for 10 miles. This may well take you quite a few events to do, as you get used to judging your effort over the distance. A big target for many time-triallists is to get under the hour, ie less than 1 hr for 25 miles. Once you've done an event, then you have a personal best, and next time you'll be trying to beat that time. Winning times for flat events tend to be at speeds around 30 mph, ie around 20mins for 10 miles, and even this will be comfortably exceeded on the fastest courses.

In addition to the actual time, veterans (riders aged 40 and over) complete for the vets on standard prize. There are a series of times that are expected for riders of different ages for the distance, and the aim is to beat the standard for your age by the most. For instance the standard for a 40 year old for 10 miles is 25mins30, so a rider of that age who records a time of 24mins would receive a standard score of +1min30. To get the same score at age 50 the rider would only have to record a time of 26mins. This gives motivation for older riders to keep racing, as even if they get slightly slower with age, so they can always compare their time to the standard. Most events have a vets-on-standard prize and very often it goes to riders aged 60 and above who can still produce some impressive times.

There are also handicap events, or handicap prizes within a normal event, where all riders are given a time deduction related to how they are expected to perform. The winner is the rider that beats their expected time by the biggest margin. Once of the club time-trials every summer is run using a handicap format. This gives an opportunity for slower riders to try to produce improved times and take home the victory.

What awards does the club give?

The club has championships over all the popular distances, as well as our in-house series of 10m events. The championships are usually 'incorporated' into other open events organised by other clubs-this means that everyone has a chance to enter and ride. The chosen events are published in the club diary early in the season.

Also at the end of the season you submit your best times at each distance to the competition secretary, and you may qualify for gold, silver or bronze awards. There are age related awards for youngsters and over-40's. The club keeps records of the fastest times for all the distances by members and awards certificates to record-breakers. The Carl Roach Memorial trophy is awarded for the fastest 10mile time-trial by a member during each season.

How are events organised?

Technically time-trials can be held legally at any time, as long as the police are given notification that the event is to occur. The police have no legal power to stop events from taking place but often attend to observe. The main officials at any time-trial are the timekeepers, one at the start and one at the finish with synchronised watches. Each rider has an allocated start time which is monitored by the starting time-keeper, then at the finish this is compared to his actual finish time by the finishing time-keeper. The times are then usually recorded on a results board at the race headquarters, or just announced to the riders at the finish of a club event.

So, what happens on the day?

For a club time-trial there is very little pre-amble. Make sure you arrive at the start before 18.45-the start is a lay-by east of St Brides Major on the road towards Wick. Sign the start sheet, collect a number and pin the number to the back of your jersey. If your number is, say 12, then you will start at 12 minutes past the hour (19.12). Report to the start in plenty of time, where you will be held up by the "pusher-off" at the start-line. The time-keeper will give you a countdown and then you'll get a small push and you're off. The usual plan is then to get to the finish line with just enough energy left to climb off the bike and sit down in the lay-by! It's important to know the course for the club event because there may not be any marshals-this is very easy though, you keep going on the same road until you come to a roundabout (at Llantwit), then you circle the roundabout and come back to the same place you started. To make life easier for the finishing time-keeper it's normal to shout out your number as you cross the finish line.

An open event is only slightly more complicated. You will receive a start sheet in the week before the event which confirms your start time and tells you where the race headquarters are. It is usually best to arrive at the HQ about an hour before your start time. Once there you sign in and collect your number. After the event you usually get a cup of tea in exchange for handing your number in-these are very friendly events! After you have finished it's good to wait at the HQ and watch the times go up (in batches) on the results board; there are always rivalries all the way down the field as people look to see who they've beaten and who has gone extra fast this week. You will receive a results sheet with all the times a few days after the event.

What about hills?  How tough are the courses?

In most standard time-trial courses there won't be any real hills at all. So-called sporting events use hillier circuits. This year there will be a SpoCo series in Wales made up of only sporting time-trials throughout the year. If you really enjoy the hills then there are hill-climb events which are on a similar format to normal time-trials but from the bottom to the top of a hill. Traditionally the hill-climb season is at the end of the summer in September and October, although there are sometimes hill-climbs earlier in the year. Hill-climbs are broadly split between mountain time-trial-style events on big climbs like the Bwlch, the Rhigos or Llangynidr, and short sharp climbs which may be only a few hundred metres long. A hill-climb is the only event in road cycling where you're disqualified if you get off and walk!

What else is worth knowing?

Time-trialling is full of old traditions, which grew up when cycle racing was illegal - time-trials were the easiest events to hold secretly because each rider appeared to be just riding on their own. These traditions include the course codes which define each course and are listed in the handbook-all courses in south Wales start with an R-number. Riders now wear fluorescent numbers, but most still shout their number out when they pass the finishing timekeeper.

One popular variation of the sport is the team time-trial, where 2 to 4 riders from a club ride together against the clock. The riders aim to share the work evenly over the distance to record the shortest possible time. These tend to be most popular in the early parts of the season and are a good way for a developing time-triallist to learn from an experienced rider.

The start orders for time-trials are set very carefully by organisers. The fastest riders will be given numbers ending in 0 counting down from 120, ie 120, 110, 100... then the next fastest 5's, ie 115, 105, 95. The idea is to keep the fastest riders apart in the field so that there is no danger of them catching each other and influencing each other’s' times. The slowest riders are put off on 9's and 4's; that means that the fastest riders tend to quickly pass them and the two riders will soon be separated on the road and can ride their own races.

Celtic Series, what is that all about?

This is a series of 5 events throughout the year which count for overall prizes. Every rider qualifies for points depending on their position, from 1 point for last place to 120 points for first, and these add up during the year for individual and team competitions. This series has replaced the Magic Dragon series which ran for many years and in which Ogmore Valley Wheelers were regularly crowned champion club.

More jargon explained

Like all sports, time-trialling has its own specialist terms. A tester is someone that specialises in time-trialling more than other disciplines of cycling (a roadie is the road-racing equivalent.) A drag-strip is a particularly fast course, usually up-and-down a flat and straight dual-carriageway. It's normal to describe the event purely by the distance, eg "I'm riding a 10 on Saturday, then a 25 on Sunday."

Times are either long or short, for instance 23mins50 is a 'long 23'; whereas 24mins10 is a 'short 24'. If the event is over an hour, then usually just the number of minutes is mentioned in conversation-you're assumed to understand the number of hours-so 1:01:15 for a 25 would be a "short 1", or 1:59:50 for a 50 would just be a "long 59." You might hear "a very long 20," which usually means it was actually somewhere in excess of 21mins