Taylor Knibb and Paula Findlay Race Cycling Time Trials. Should You?

Cycling time trials can seriously level up your tri game, but what's different about a TT, how do you find one, and what should you do to prepare? We've got expert tips and TT-specific workouts.

Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images

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It’s not a coincidence that Taylor Knibb and Paula Findlay regularly turn in the fastest bike splits at just about every triathlon they enter, including the recent Ironman 70.3 World Championship. As it turns out, they’re also two of the best time trialists in the world. Knibb just joined Trek-Segafredo this season, one of the top professional cycling teams in the world. In her first race with the new team, Knibb finished 4th in the U.S. Pro Time Trial Championships, only 35 seconds behind Chloe Dygert, who just won the UCI World Championships Time Trial. Findlay was also at the UCI World Championships, where she finished 25th against the fastest time trialists in the world.

So why are two of the best triathletes in the world doing cycling time trials? Because cycling time trials make you stronger, faster, and more powerful in all aspects of triathlon.

In this article, we’re going to explain cycling time trials, how they work, and why you, as a triathlete, should do them. At the end of this piece, we’ll show you three TT-specific workouts, and explain how you can incorporate a time trial into your race schedule.

Cycling time trials explained

A cycling time trial (TT) is an individual race against the clock. Each rider sets off a specific start time, such as 08:30, and completes the designated course as fast as they can. Riders’ start times are separated by 30 or 60 seconds, and there is no drafting allowed.

Most TTs are 20 km to 40km, but this can vary. The UK hosts arguably the biggest time trial scene in the world, with hundreds of small towns hosting weekly fives and tens (5-mile and 10-mile TTs), for example.

In terms of time, most TTs are 10-60 minutes long, which means that most TTs are speed work for long-course triathletes. Personally, I’ve never heard of a TT longer than 100km.

At a time trial, you can expect small crowds (usually just friends and family), lots of riders warming up on trainers, and non-technical courses in and around the countryside.

As for the effort itself, a TT is as hard as you want it to be. Riders that truly push themselves to the limit ride at their red-line threshold for the entire TT. At the finish line, you can expect to see riders gasping for air, collapsing off their bikes, and falling into the grass after a 45-minute full gas effort.

How to find time trial races

Most TTs can be found with a simple web search, such as “cycling time trials near me.” For one-stop shopping you can check out sites like BikeReg’s cycling event calendars for events in the USA, or the UK’s cycling time trial hub.

In other regions, you can talk to your local triathlon club or bike shop to see what TTs are around. Not all TTs are sanctioned – some TTs are held on open (but quiet) roads. Those are the TTs that you’ll hear about through the grapevine.

Why a triathlete should (or shouldn’t) do a TT

Being fast on the bike nets you the biggest advantage over your competitors in a triathlon. That’s because the bike portion is the longest discipline in triathlon by both distance and time.

Let’s say that in a given triathlon, your swim time is 30:00, your bike time is 2:30:00, and your run time is 1:30:00. If you can go 1% faster in the swim, you will save just 18 seconds. And if you go 1% faster on the run, you will save 54 seconds. But if you can go just 1% faster on the bike, you will save one and a half minutes.

It’s no secret that being the best swimmer doesn’t make you a race-winning triathlete. But being a world-class cyclist or runner is enough to terrify your triathlon rivals. A 2019 study, titled “Cycling as the Best Sub-8-Hour Performance Predictor in Full Distance Triathlon” confirmed this theory,

Time trials are a great way to practice race your pace position and pacing, as well as gathering your bike performance data. It can be difficult to psych yourself up for a 20-minute full gas effort in training, but it can be much easier, mentally, to try and break your 20k time trial PR.

The same goes for practicing your race day routine. Preparing for a TT gives you the opportunity to practice what you have for breakfast, how long you need to get your gear ready, and what kind of warmup you do before your race. Above all, TTs test your mental strength and give you the opportunity to sharpen your mental toughness before your goal race.

TTs are also perfect for triathletes, such as Knibb, who are slightly injured and unable to run. Speaking to Trek-Segafredo, she said, “When I got surgery in January this year, I could ride but I couldn’t really run, so [TT Nationals] was an idea that I still had in mind. I could start riding at the four week mark after surgery, but I couldn’t run until the 12 week mark.“

Of course, time trials are not for everyone. If you’re debating whether or not you do a TT, ask yourself: Does the stress of doing the TT outweigh the potential benefits?

If you have to drive three hours each way for a TT, it’s probably not worth it. If you’re seven days out from your goal race, doing a TT is probably not worth the risk. Or if you’re in the middle of a key training block, a full gas 45-minute effort won’t give you any useful data – it will also hurt a lot.

But if the TT fits into your schedule, it’s relatively close by, and you want to go after your 40k bike PR, it could be a valuable addition to your race calendar.

How to add a TT to your race schedule

Weekly or monthly TTs can fit into your race schedule or training plan just like any other high-intensity bike session. But if you’re going for a time trial PR, or your TT happens to be the National Championships, then it’s best to do a multi-day taper before your TT.

Here’s what your week should look like if you want to get the most out of your TT performance:

Monday Rest day or recovery ride (90 minutes in Zone 1)
Tuesday HIIT (1-2 hours on your TT bike with 4x8 minute efforts at race pace)
Wednesday Endurance ride (2 hours on your TT bike in Zones 1-2)
Thursday Recovery ride (90 minutes in Zone 1)
Friday Openers (60-90 minute ride with 2x4 minutes at race pace)
Saturday RACE DAY (perform a 30-minute warmup up to 10 minutes prior to your start time)

Three TT-specific bike workouts

Now that we know as much as possible about cycling time trials, let’s learn how to get better at them. If you’re a triathlete, chances are you have a triathlon/TT bike or a road bike with clip-on aerobars. Either will work for a time-trial – there’s no need to go out and buy a new bike.

The key to improving your TT is specificity in your bike training. Your key training sessions should be completed in the aero bars, ideally on flat (or close to flat) roads, unless you are training for the rare mountainous triathlon – whatever race you are training for, try to train on the same type of terrain as the race course.

Here are three TT-specific bike workouts to help improve your TT pace and triathlon bike split:

4×8-minute TT efforts


10-minute easy

Main set

4×8 minutes at TT pace with 5 minutes rest

  • TT pace = 100% FTP
  • or 95-98% LTHR
  • or 9 out of 10 RPE


10 minutes easy

5×5-minute TT strength efforts


10 minutes easy

Main set

5×5 minutes over-geared Tempo intervals at 50-60 rpm with 5 minutes rest

  • Tempo pace = 78-85% FTP
  • or 90-93% LTHR
  • or 6-7 out of 10 RPE


10 minutes easy

2×20-minute TT sweet spot efforts


10 minutes easy

Main set

2×20 minutes at Subthreshold pace with 10 minutes rest

  • Subthreshold pace = 95-98% FTP
  • or 93-96% LTHR
  • or 8 out of 10 RPE


10 minutes easy

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