An individual time trial is a specific discipline used as an introduction to cycling races in many countries. After a short introduction to the simple rules, beginners can ride a fair time trial.
Nevertheless, time trials are challenging to master, and even professionals can significantly improve their trialling. It’s hard to understand that one rider is much better at significant events like the prologues of the Tour de France and World Championships than his opponents.
How can we explain the superiority of Fabian Cancellara?
1. Optimal Anatomy. Big riders perform better on flat time trials because more than 90% of the power output breaks the wind. Wind resistance is enemy number one in time trials. Nevertheless, obesity will always be punished, so time trialists should be slim and fit like all other cyclists. Weighing around 80kg seems optimal for flat time trials, but lighter athletes can ride great time trials.
2. Extraordinary Physiology. Like all other professional cyclists, Cancellara must have extraordinary physiology. One specific skill that must be superior is threshold power. He can generate many Watts at his threshold power.
3. Perfect Body Position. An optimal body position minimizes the aerodynamic drag, thus, requiring less Watts to ride fast. Body position is where you can make the most significant improvements on your overall aerodynamics. So, if you don’t have the budget to buy an expensive aerodynamic bike, please remember that a good body position is much more important than, e.g., a disc wheel, etc.
4. Aerodynamic Equipment. Optimized aerodynamics includes proper materials optimized for body size, riding style, and aerodynamics. I’m not sure whether Cancellara’s materials are any better than other professional riders, but one thing that surely matters is that he continually optimizes his aerodynamic equipment. Visiting a wind tunnel is the best and most scientific way to find the right combination of bike setups.
5. Mental Power. Racing against the clock is an individual discipline that some riders love and others hate. Being good at pacing yourself throughout a time trial is a skill that should be trained and mastered to become a world-class time trialist.
6. Specific Time Trial Training. Cancellara trains specifically for time trials, and the training is optimized towards improving his threshold power. Therefore, developing a large aerobic engine requires a significant training amount and high-quality training principles over the years.
7. Tapering for Major Competitions. Instead of focusing on an excellent performance in races every single week, it’s essential to give the highest priority to very few events throughout the season and make a proper tapering protocol for these events. That increases performance and the likeliness of success.
8. X-factor. History shows that some riders ride much faster than everyone else, and we will never answer why. I know how many people think about professional cyclists, and I have the same thoughts regularly.
We have to remember that one athlete will always be the fastest. That’s the game.
Thus, there might be other reasons than doping that will explain why riders like Fabian Cancellara are so much better than everyone else at time trials. Please share your thoughts in the comments section if you have any suggestions.