How to win a team time trial

Picture by Alex Broadway/ASO/

2017 UCI Road World Championships

When writing Full Gas I spoke at length to Marco Pinotti about the tactics involved in riding a time trial. The six-time Italian time trial champion confirmed the oft-stated approach of starting fast, increasing the speed at halfway and then sprinting in the finale. When it comes to a team time trial, however, Pinotti says that as well as focusing on the technical and scientific aspects of this discipline, tactics also play a significant part in his planning.

Pinotti, who became BMC’s specialist time trial coach following his retirement from racing in 2013, oversaw their world TTT-winning rides in 2014 and 2015 as well as their silver medal finishes in the two subsequent seasons, and is arguably the pre-eminent TTT coach in pro cycling. In Full Gas, he explains that the first step is to inspect the course.

“Tactics depend on the route you’re facing. Some riders are quicker through corners, others faster on climbs, while the time trial specialists will thrive on wide, straight roads. I study the course very carefully beforehand, assess the riders on our team and set the strategy based on that.

“So I’ll ask a specific rider to lead the line through certain corners because he’s good at that and will maintain the highest speed, other riders will have to lead on the straights, and there will be a couple more who lead on the climbs. You have to find a balance between all of their skills.”

Pinotti plans out where all of his riders need to be at every key point on the course, and this starts from the moment they roll off the start ramp. “I tend to get an experienced rider to lead off. Normally it’s someone who’s done some team or individual pursuiting on the track because you can guarantee the ideal pace at which to begin, going smoothly and quickly, but not too fast or for too long.

The role of the second rider in the line is also critically important. “It’s particularly tough because that rider has to follow the lead man and then start to pull on the front after a few hundred metres, so it’s a very big effort. He’s got to establish the pace at which the whole team will travel. The first man can’t do that as he’s just getting the team up to a high, but not full speed from the standing start.

“Then the third rider comes through and normally his task is to maintain the speed that the second man has reached, and so on for the rest of the riders in the line.” The likelihood is that Simon Gerrans will lead BMC’s line away from the start in the Cholet TTT, with Patrick Bevin filling that vital role as second man.

With teams reduced to eight riders, times are now taken when a team’s fourth man crosses the line instead of the fifth man, as was the case when teams were nine-strong. According to Pinotti, there is no point in all of those eight riders finishing together. Four of them need to give all they have to make the other four complete the course as quickly as possible.

“It’s not nice at all to get dropped, but I don’t regard this as a failing. When I joined this team there was a feeling that the riders who had got dropped weren’t fully committed. But I think the riders who are dropped are those that should get the prize because I’m sure they’ve given 100 per cent.”

He recalls his first time coaching BMC in a TTT at the 2014 Vuelta. “We finished with nine riders but in ninth place. In the bus afterwards I said to them: ‘The next time you ride like that I’ll smash into you with the car. We’ll start with nine and we’ll finish with six. If it happens again be very aware that I’ll accelerate and make three of you crash.’”

The day after we spoke, Pinotti’s riders won the TTT that opened the 2017 Vuelta a España, putting Rohan Dennis in the leader’s red jersey. Pinotti’s meticulous preparation had paid off again.


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