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Chasing a sub 20-minute 10-mile Time Trial

What constitutes a "good time" for a 10-mile time trial? According to popular cycling website, Cycling Uphill:

[In a 10-mile Time Trial] “A good target for a fit club cyclist is to break 24 minutes on a standard quiet course. This requires an average speed of 25 mph. To win an open event, depending on the course, the most common time is something between 20.00 and 21.00. A big target is to break 20 minutes (average speed of over 30 mph).“

Judging by the list of results cited on the site, it looks like that was written back in 2017. At that time, my average time for 10 miles was about 22:44. So I was already doing okay and comfortably under 24 minutes.

However, I’ve never wanted to be a ‘club cyclist’ and so the intention was always to get faster. In 2018, I managed my first sub-21 ride with a 20:34 on the ‘cheat’ course F11/10, which I followed up a week later with a 20:36 on the P881R course.

So that was sub-21 ticked off. Fast enough, according to Cycling Uphill, to win an open. Except already by 2018 it really wasn’t! The fast guys were regularly beating 20 minutes (and even 19 minutes!) in most open events.

As I turned my back on triathlon at the start of 2019 (okay, honestly, I was still running and swimming, just doing more cycling) my sights were fixed on recording a sub-20. But it didn’t happen. The one time I got on a fast course – P881 (not ‘R’) – I recorded a disappointing 21:30. But then it was the day after I’d flown home from working in Las Vegas for a week…

Other than that, nothing to write home about and while I did score one or two course PBs, no outright PBs were claimed at the ten-mile distance (I did improve my 25-mile PB to under 53 minutes).

Enter 2020 and, well, we all know what happened. After just one race on H10/8 (course PB, still a rubbish time), everything ground to a halt. No 25-mile runs on R25/3h, no 10-mile runs on F11/10.

Thankfully, we did start club racing again in July and I re-opened my account with a course PB on H10/3a, quickly followed by a course PB on H10/3R – although both merely sub-22s.

There were two races on ‘fast courses’ left uncancelled – P881R on September 5th and F11/10 on September 19th.

For some reason I can’t remember, P881R became P881 (which I think is slightly slower, but people’s views vary) but thankfully I did get a slot! With a previous course PB of 21:32 (a PB by virtue of it being the only time I’d ridden the course in that configuration) compared to the 20:36 for P881R, I wasn’t expecting too much, but I figured my power was up on last year so a sub-21 had to be possible.

While my final preparations were underway for P881, I was rejected from F11/10. Apparently, the slowest rider to secure a place had a qualifying time of 20:08, so my 20:32 was simply not good enough. I was pretty upset, that was the race I was targeting.

But hey ho, I’ve learned that time trials are fickle and everyone is just getting faster!

So back to P881.

Thanks to Covid, the organisers had stated that you could only register 40 minutes before your start time, which left a warm up dilemma. Under my new coach, my warm ups usually exceed 40 minutes, so we took the joint decision to split my warm up on the turbo at home in the morning and then a quick 15-minute tune up before the off in the afternoon.

All good and the warm up in the morning went fine, with the Giant Trinity on the Elite Direto smart trainer, with my usual Garmin Vectors installed on the bike too (I find the Vectors read lower than the Direto, so prefer to use them for power when training indoors on the TT bike for consistency out on the road).

Bike packed. Off to race. Number collected. Suit on. Tyres pumped. Etc.

Turn on the Garmin head unit and calibrate the Vectors… Error 128. Try again. Error 8. Try again. Error whatever.

In between home and the race, the Vectors had died. Again. It wasn’t batteries (they were fresh). It wasn’t torque (always use the same 37NM on the torque wrench). Whatever the problem was, I wasn’t fixing it there and then (I’d later discover one of the pods had died, the fourth one to die on me in about the same number of years ownership).

I guess luckily, my coach had made me ride a recent club 10-mile TT completely by feel (no power, no heart rate, just cadence) only a few weeks previously and I’d managed to get within five seconds of a course PB that night. So, riding without power wasn’t perhaps as scary as it might have been.

10-mile TT on P881 photo by Huw Williams

The trick was going off hard and keeping going hard! At least I could monitor cadence so that I didn’t spin out or get bogged down grinding away (although I did still spin out on a couple of downhill sections, even with 56/11 gearing!).

The last two miles were, frankly, horrible. I was spent and I could feel my cadence dropping. Without the power, I just had to tell myself to keep pushing. Even the run downhill to the finish felt a slog but I was determined to not leave anything out on the course.

I shouted my number as I crossed the line (does anyone else still do that, or just me?!) and risked a look down at the Garmin.

20:16!!! A new outright PB for ten miles by 16 seconds and a course PB by well over a minute. Clearly not being jetlagged helped!

Could I have gone faster with power? Maybe. I guess we won’t know for a few months at least. But for now, I’m content. After two years of waiting, I now have a new 10-mile TT PB. It starts with a ‘2’ rather than a ‘1’, but I’ll take it for now.

As for the winning time in an open 10 being "between 20 and 21 minutes"? Think again. This weekend the winning time was 18:21 and the first six riders all went sub-19!!!

Next year the target has to be sub-20….

And a new 25-mile PB, and a new 50-mile PB. And maybe a first 100-miler. Not too much to ask, surely?!


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