The specialties of cycling: the time trial

Among the disciplines of cycling there is one that goes against the limits of time, a kind of "race of truth" for athletes, who put themselves into the game challenging their strength and physical endurance. We are talking about time trials. Time trials make up a part of cycling both on the road and on the track and are also an Olympic discipline.
A time trial is a competition in which each rider competes separately from the others with the aim of covering the race course in the shortest possible time.

The time trial: a bit of history

The Grand Prix des Nations (Grand Prix of Nations) was a time trial race of road cycling held in France from 1932 to 2004 in September. It was considered the most coveted and prestigious time trial in the chronometer specialty.

It was created by Gaston Béna, publisher of the Paris-Soir newspaper in Paris, the most important during the period before the war in 1932. Together with their colleague Albert Baker d'Isy they took inspiration from the World Road Cycling Championship that had taken place on 26 August of the previous year in Copenhagen: that was the only time when the professional title was awarded in a time trial race. In fact, the line test was replaced by an individual time trial over a distance of 170 km.

In 1994 the World Time Trial Championship was born and the chronometer was introduced also in the Olympic calendar: from this moment on, the Grand Prix of the Nation lost so much importance that it was removed from the UCI (International Cycling Union) calendar starting from 2005.

How does a stopwatch work?

The time trial races take place both in the context of stage races and in autonomous championships.
In stage competitions you can find one or more time trials (the number depends on their duration). Within the Grand Tours there are usually two or three time trial stages, one of which can be a team or a "prologue".

Individual time trial

In this type of race the runners compete alone at a certain distance of one minute from each other (the distance depends on the length of the route). In the Grand Tours time trial, the starting order reflects that of the general classification but is reversed so as to facilitate the first in the classification who has the chance to know what is the time to beat to win.

In the Grand Tours there can be an individual chronometer at the beginning, which opens up to the competition; this is called "prologue time trial" and has a shorter duration (usually up to a limit of 8 km).
Individual timer courses may vary even if they tend to be flat. One type is an uphill time trial where the entire route (or a significant part of it) is uphill. Arrival is usually at the end of the ascent. Athletes in this case are called climbers.

Team time trial

The substantial difference with individual races is that you compete in team mode so each team runs in groups. The starts, as well as for individual races, are separated by a fixed time of minutes between the teams. Inside the race the runners inside the group change their gears and take the lead, allowing the others to be sheltered from the wind and therefore have greater aerodynamics. Depending on the number of riders in the teams, the arrival time is set by the 3rd, 4th or 5th rider of the team. Runners who arrive detached from the rest of the group will be assigned the time they actually spent.

Many of the top stages have also been top performers in the individual time trial such as Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Greg LeMond, Miguel Indurain, Lance Armstrong, Ivan Basso, Bradley Wiggins, Alberto Contador, Chris Froome.

Time trial's equipment

The key word for a time trial is aerodynamics; all the equipment, from the bike to clothing, is designed to be as aerodynamic as possible as most of the effort the cyclists makes is in aerodynamic resistance.
These types of equipment are specialized and manufacturers spend a lot of time and money to ensure faster performance than the competition.
The bicycle
For time trial races, the UCI regulations allow the use of special "time trial" bicycles, which are prohibited in online races for safety reasons. This type of bike minimises aerodynamic friction, allowing higher speeds at the same power. Full disc wheels or spoked wheels can be used, which are optimal for reducing turbulence around the spokes.
The handlebars are placed lower than normal road racing bicycles and the saddle is sometimes moved ahead of them.
For clothing, in addition to the classic cycling suit there are two additional items:

  • Lycra shoe covers that help improve airflow between the buckles and the straps;
  • The long, pointed helmet that conveys air towards the rear of the runner's body (the position is essential, it must be as close as possible to the body so as not to let air through).

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