UCI World Championship Team Time Trial | Behind the Magic Pt. 1

Words and images by Sam Wiebe

The men’s team conducted a final training session on the Worlds course. Each team is granted one full ride of the course on closed roads the day before the race, but before that, things get a bit more guerrilla, as in parking the team Acura and van in a ditch and dodging traffic and other TTT squads on the open roads. Richmond has designed a beautiful and complicated course, halfway in the city’s urban center and halfway on its lush county roads.

The team time trial is probably the most mentally and technically challenging aspect of pro cycling. There is a seemingly endless array of geeky variables being discussed as the team polishes up its tactics – the length and intensity of individual efforts, energy consumption and waste, drafting and aerodynamics, even the type and direction of each riders signal they will use to signal the end of their turn on the front. Head tilts, verbal cues, and a leg move are all discussed at length. Everything seems to boil down, very simply, to efficiency. Wasted energy can come in many forms – going too fast makes others work harder to catch up. Going too slow means precious watts and oxygen are left in the air like electricity. Taking too long a pull can make recovery and reinsertion into the train impossible; your race is over. It might sound silly, but the six-man TTT rotation reminds me of a gathering storm – hot and cold air rotating and exchanging places, stirring up more and more energy.

What follows are verbatim reports on conversations overheard during the training session that showcase the immense complexity of a seemingly straightforward discipline.

Jonas Carney on the pace the team would set –
“We are doing 32k today, and we are going to go full gas like it’s a bike race. To get a feel for what we’re gonna do on Sunday, it’s necessary for you guys to go as hard as possible. If you guys go 90%, you won’t have the same sensations as you do when you are on the rivet. We need you guys to go full stick.”

Ryan Anderson on the mind games a team time trial can play –
“The hardest part? It’s always hard. But if you aren’t on a great day, its even harder. I think that suffering is the biggest part of success in this event. It’s important to focus on the entire race – from your first pull to your last. I concentrate on being as efficient and safe as possible. If you are hurting bad and wanting to quit with 10k to go, now you’re maybe down to four guys, and if you are feeling the weakest of the four, you are the most important guy in the race. You have to hang on, have to keep fighting, stay mentally tough. I just hear F-Bombs in my mind. Just picturing a little cartoon character beating on my legs.”

Patrick McCarty on cornering technique –
“Turn protocol – this is something we’ve worked on with the ladies to streamline cornering. Basically, you corner as smoothly and quickly as possible, and Jonas assess whether the line is all together or not after the turn is completed. When it is, he says “On”. The first guy going though the corner, don’t start sprinting until you here “On”. If you don’t hear that, you know there’s a gap, and you wait for everything to get back together. If you are totally spent, or if you need another second and the guy in front of you is going really fast, throw your right hand up. That way Jonas knows you’re gassed, and we keep the talking to a minimum.” (Ed. note: Talking would be another form of wasted energy. Silent, instinctual communication is a must in the TTT.)

McCarty on pacing –
“The pace is critical. Attack your pulls, pay attention to the cadence when you are sitting second wheel, and pay attention to the pace on the front. If someone is losing momentum, go around him. The pace has to stay up. If the stronger guys have to spend energy picking up the pace, that’s energy they are wasting to keep the team going fast. Don’t be a hero out there. If you’re hurting and all you can pull is 10 seconds, thats your contribution, thats what we want. Pull off, recover, and think about the next effort.”

Carney on the team’s mindset for the race –
“There is 38k to race on Sunday –  shaving off 1 second per kilometer is not a lot and that means finishing 38 seconds faster. Those seconds come from riding the perfect line, being smooth dropping back, and doing your transitions properly. It all adds up, and it could be the difference between us being proud of our effort and being really disappointed. We want to beat every single Continental and Pro Continental team here. Only WorldTour teams ahead of us, that’s our goal.”

Tom Soladay on what makes a fast run –
“Staying together as a team through the corners. If the guy on the front is carrying too much speed and the guy in the back has to scrub some to start his turn, that effects the cornering of everyone else. You are drafting, so its easy to hit the rider in front of you if you don’t start easing up earlier than him. You hit the brakes too much, and the guy in front of you has already cleared his line, is accelerating and will quickly open a gap. It’s what they call the Accordion Effect, and it can have devastating effects on the team’s rhythm. What you might think is a tiny bit of wasted energy can come back and ruin everyone’s ride.”

Anderson on his thought process during a rotation –
“When I am doing my pull, I’m thinking about my speed and how long I can maintain it. On the way to the back of the rotation, I’m thinking about the best way to get back on the pace. In the middle of the rotation, I am thinking about how to stay in the draft as best as possible. When I get back towards the front, I’m trying to take in all the information I possible can. Watching how fast we are going and the guy in front of me to predict when he’s going to swing off. In that two minute cycle, the objectives are constantly changing. Once you start really suffering, you aren’t thinking straight anymore. Your brain is mush.”

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