How to perform Intervals for Time Trials

Time trial intervals are simple yet complicated at the same time.  The simple part is going as hard as you can. The complicated part is at what wattage? We coach athletes to do both simultaneously, with real time power data and post workout analysis. Thus, blending the art and science of how to perform time trial intervals properly. The keys to performing time trial intervals (and thus time trials) is to be motivated, to concentrate, and to use your powermeter.


A time trial is called "the race of truth" for a reason. They're hard. You are by yourself.  It is just you and the bike, paving the lonely road. You've got to really want it and be ready to suffer. Only you can push yourself to the limit and those that can concentrate mentally are the best time trialists. Books upon books have been written on motivation and the best coaches are motivators. From this training tip, simply know that you are your best motivator. Motivation comes from within. When you do these time trial intervals you are practicing for the real deal. Be motivated, go hard and ask yourself after the workout how your motivation affected your power output.


It helps to have something to think about to stay focused when time trialing  For example, concentrate on keeping your cadence greater than 90 rpm's, keeping your head in an aero tuck, or not letting your wattage drop below a certain number on your powermeter (that you know you can hold). For the more zen athlete practice visual imagery. Not surprisingly, when I was on the time trial circuit, I used to visualize myself as a cheetah chasing his next meal (thus the name of our three coaching plans: hunt > chase > kill). That meal was my 30 second or minute man, a carrot to chase, catch and try to catch the next one.  I'd also concentrate on my cadence  striving to pedal > 90 rpms. If my cadence dropped, no worries, I'd re-focus an concentrate on raising my cadence.

The more motivated you are for your time trial intervals and the more you concentrate during them, the stronger your mental game will be for the race of truth.

Head low, aero, full gas.


The most important part of a time-trial, especially the longer ones is to make sure you don't go out too hard and blow up. With a power meter, discipline, and the knowledge of your functional threshold power you can prevent this from happening. We take data from athletes' 10 and 20 minute TT threshold intervals and use that to give athletes their pacing wattages. We also teach that you should time trial by feel and because when you are peaking you are going to be making power that is higher than you've ever made before.

Go as Hard as You Can but know what that is from the Power Data Analysis

The graph below is an athlete’s power data from the time trial threshold workout: 3 x 8 minutes ON 1 minute OFF, FULL GAS. With the recent introduction of individualized zones in WKO4, we've been calling these "Fatigue Resistance Intervals" or FRC's. The wattage of what an athlete can hit for 8 minutes with only 1 minute of recovery is much higher than what this athlete could achieve for 26 minutes (3 x 8 min + 2 minutes of recovery). That's what makes these intervals such good training!  But how much higher? Well that is the experiment the athlete needs to bring to these workouts: go as hard as they can, concentrate, and feel the edge between what is as hard as they can go and not blowing up.  So the "iLevel zone" is 'as hard as you can go' aka Full Gas.

As far as pacing goes, that too is an experiment for athletes to find out during the first few workouts.  Again, the athletes 'only' have to go as hard as they can, be motivated and concentrate for each and every interval.  The post workout data will then answer the question of what wattages the athletes can hit and hold. Therefore, after the intervals have been performed and the data has been analyzed, coaches and athletes will have a scientific understanding of what wattage they can hold for the duration of the interval and thus the time trial.

In the power data graph below, notice the distinct plateau shape from each of the three 8 minute intervals.  These intervals were well paced because the athlete did not go too hard to start nor did the wattage drop off towards the end of the interval. Additionally the third interval was as good as the first (actually better). From start to finish, including the two 1 minute recovery intervals, the athlete achieved 349 watts normalized.  From talking with the athlete, they reported this was as hard as they could go ('saw god') an thus for this athlete's upcoming ~24 minute short time trial the wattage to pace off of will be 350 watts.

The Art of Pacing and Optimism:

By 'pace off of' we mean, for the first two minutes of the TT , the athlete will use the powermeter to go 350 watts, not harder and not easier.  However, after the first two minutes when the effort has risen and can be felt in the body, the athlete will goes as hard as they can by feel* with the occasional glance at their power during the effort to keep them in check because we are glass half full coaches and believe motivated athletes are good for some additional watts on race day. Plus if they are truly peaking they will be eclipsing prior seasonal power data.

*the athlete will also know (from power data analysis and learning) what is physiologically unrealistic and therefore too hard.  Therefore even though they are time trialing by feel they are still using the power meter.

Putting it All Together during your Threshold Intervals

  • Warm Up easy in your Zone 2 for 20 – 30 minutes
  • Perform these intervals down in your aero position on terrain similar to your race course
  • Begin each interval by modulating your wattage between 100-108% of your FTP power*
  • After the first 2 minutes of the interval, check your effort level. Can you go harder, or is the pace just right? Find your edge.
  • Finish the interval pushing similar watts at the end as you did in the beginning
  • A properly paced interval should feel moderately hard at first, difficult in the middle and a max effort at the end
  •  Use your powermeter's readout as motivation to hold the effort
  • Don’t let your wattage dip below what you averaged for previous intervals
  • Try to maintain your power output above 100% but not above 108% (that is too hard and physiologically unrealistic)
  • After you complete your intervals ride around in zone 2 and cool down
  • Upload your data to TrainingPeaks and analyze your average interval wattage!!
  • Use the data to determine what your full gas wattages were/are

*With an accurately set FTP, 100% should be as hard as you can go for 60 minutes. And thus 108% is how hard you can go for shorter 8 minute TT intervals.

In summary, time-trial intervals should be completed as hard as you can go for the duration of the effort!  You should concentrate during the interval and be motivated. Practice how you play! Use the data from the first interval workout to pace yourself for your next TT interval workout and then bring that data to your actual time trial race. Good luck and go fast!

Copyright 2017 , FasCat Coaching

To talk with a FasCat Coach about training for your next time trial and nailing your Time Trial intervals, please call 720.406.7444 or fill out a New Athlete Questionnaire to set up a Coaching Consultation. Consultations include TrainingPeaks historical data reviews! Otherwise you may find our Time Trial Interval Training Program for $49 very helpful.

About Frank Overton

Frank founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a full time cycling coach since 2004. His educational background includes a Masters degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University, pre-med from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank raced at a professional level on the road and mountain bike and currently competes as a "masters" level gravel and cyclocrosser. Professionally Frank comes from medical school spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology. However, to this day it is a dream come true for Frank to be able to help cyclists as a coach.

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