Variable Pacing: The best pacing strategy for the Frostbite TT

Michael Hanna, M.S. uses a scientific process in helping every athlete achieve their goals. His knowledge of how the body adapts to stress, over training, environmental factors, diet, hydration, biomechanics, the cardiovascular system and the nervous system, are all important elements in his approach to training. Most important in Michael’s approach to helping athletes succeed is his ability to use a scientific process in working with every athlete, every situation.

From a few years back but still valuable!

The 2011 ACA racing season gets underway this Saturday with the Frostbite Time Trial in Fort Collins. The Frostbite TT is an 11.4 mile out and back course with rolling hills. Last year’s best time of 25:21 was set by Kevin Nicol, the best time in the 35+ 4s field was 29:10. This race has been the kick off to the ACA Road Racing Calendar for the past few years. The race’s location on the Front Range it is often characterized by strong winds. It is an ideal race for athletes to test their fitness and prepare for upcoming time trials at the Tour of the Gila and the rest of the ACA Road Racing Calendar. The strategic approach to time trialing I use with athletes is laid out below.

While time trialing is the simplest discipline of road racing, it is sometimes the most experienced racer who wins.

There are several components to competing successfully in a Time Trial. The most proven and substantial component of success is overall fitness, obtained through hard work and a structured endurance training plan. Another substantial component to performing your best on race day is strategy, the major component of strategy for time trialing is pacing. Selecting and executing the best pacing strategy for the course and wind conditions allows you to achieve your best time given your current level of fitness.

The best way to think about completing a time trial physiologically is that you have a finite amount of potential energy to complete the course. Ideally, you want to convert all of your potential energy into going as fast as possible, finishing the course with nothing left in the tank. If you can and cross the finish line barely able to push the pedals around you have succeeded.

The Start:

How you start a TT is very important and will set up the rest of the race for you. There are several different start strategies you can employ when time trialing. In shorter time trials like prologues recent research and review of World Records on the Track suggests that going all out at the start is the fastest strategy. For longer TTs like the Frostbite TT, the best strategy is to ride at a higher power output until you achieve race speed, without going over.

The Middle:
Similar to the start, there are several ways to approach the middle of the race. The most common approach is to maintain a constant effort or power throughout the entire race. This strategy, while effective and seemingly simple to execute, is best on flat courses without any wind. Rarely are courses flat or windless, especially in Colorado. Atkinson and other researchers argue that the strategy that produces the fastest times on courses with varied terrain and windy conditions is a variable pacing strategy. To use a variable pacing strategy, you should ride with an increased effort or power into the wind and over hills/climbs and then recover with the tailwind or downhill. The research also suggests that with stronger headwinds and steeper gradients on the climbs, athletes who employ a more significant variable pacing strategy will have even greater time savings. Additionally, athletes with the lowest power numbers see the greatest time savings using a variable pacing strategy.

The Finish:
The last 10s of seconds of a time trial are a good indication of how well you paced yourself throughout the race. Ideally, you want to reach the finish line with nothing left to give. This means that you should be near exhaustion at the finish and not capable of sprinting through the finish line. Both power output and speed should drop as you approach the finish line. The closer you are to the finish line when you have nothing left to give the better. If you ride through the finish line with similar or higher power output/speed compared with the earlier part of the course you should have expended more energy and effort throughout the race to maintain your race speed and increase your overall speed for the entire race.
In summary, to make the most of your many hours of hard work on the trainer or out in the cold, I suggest following these steps to achieve your fastest possible time at the Frostbite Time Trial:

  1. Arrive early and get a good warm-up and assess the wind conditions.
  2. Arrive at the start line a few minutes before your start time.
  3. Start with a relatively high power output and get up to race speed/power as soon as possible (try not to go over).
  4. Use a variable pacing strategy.
    1. If there is a headwind on the way out, shoot for 5% higher than average power and finish as hard as you can after the turn around
    2. If there is a tailwind to start, begin the race at 5% lower power than average and finish as hard as you can into the headwind.
    3. Modify this strategy depending on the strength of the wind.
  5. Use all your potential energy to maintain your speed throughout the race and finish with nothing left.
  6. Enjoy your success and review areas for improvement with your coach


Influence of All-Out and Fast Start on 5-min Cycling Time Trial Performance. Aisbett B, Lerossignol P, McConell GK, Abbiss CR, Snow R. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 Sep 2.

The effect of variable gradients on pacing in cycling time-trials. Cangley P, Passfield L, Carter H, Bailey M. Int J Sports Med. 2011 Feb;32(2):132-6. Epub 2010 Dec 16.

Pacing strategies during a cycling time trial with simulated headwinds and tailwinds. Atkinson G, Brunskill A. Ergonomics. 2000 Oct;43(10):1449-60.

Variable versus constant power strategies during cycling time-trials: prediction of time savings using an up-to-date mathematical model. Atkinson G, Peacock O, Passfield L. J Sports Sci. 2007 Jul;25(9):1001-9.

Michael’s coaching process revolves around the design and implementation of a training program, and measuring the athlete's response to training, and then adapting the training to maximize their response.
This is the scientific and thoughtful approach Michael brings to every training program, every coach/athlete decision.

Michael holds a Masters Degree in Nutrition with a focus on sports nutrition and exercise physiology from the University of Massachusetts and has accumulated several years of experience in the field of exercise science and applied sports science at Wenzel Coaching, Carmichael Training Systems, the United States Air Force Academy and the Children’s Hospital of Denver.
Michael uses his competitive experience and scientific knowledge to help each athlete succeed and understand the physiological and mental process of training, competing and winning!

If you are interested in working with Michael or have questions or comments please contact him at or 303 585 1879

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