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Individual time trial

An Individual Time Trial (ITT) is a road bicycle race in which cyclists race alone against the clock (in French: contre la montre - literally "against the watch"). There are also track-based time trials where riders compete in velodromes, and team time trials (TTT). ITT's are also referred to as "the race of truth", as winning depends only on each rider's strength, endurance and determination against the clock.

Starting times are at equal intervals, usually one or two minutes apart. The starting sequence is usually based on the finishing times in preceding races (or preceding stages in the case of a multi-stage race) with the highest ranked cyclist starting last. Starting later gives the racer the advantage of knowing what time they need to beat (and also makes the event more interesting to spectators). Competitors are not permitted to draft (ride in the slipstream) behind each other. Any help between riders is forbidden. The rider with the fastest time is declared the winner.

Events by terrain

An ITT event is typically held on a fairly flat course. The World Cycling Championship ITT event is always held in this type of course. However, there are also Uphill or Mountain ITT events, such as the typical last stage of the Vuelta a Espańa and a stage of the 2004 Tour de France featuring the Alpe d'Huez.

Professional time trialling

At the professional level, time trials (TTs) are frequently accompanied by motorcycles, some carrying video equipment or race officials, and riders may be followed by a team car carrying coaches and spare parts, but the cyclists are not permitted to draft behind the vehicles. Race regulations typically dictate a minimum distance behind the cyclist which the car must maintain and a minimum gap that must exist between two cyclists before the car may enter that gap.

Individual time trials are often used as stages in stage races such as the Grand Tours; these vary from short prologue time trials over just a few kilometres, to longer distance events over flat or rolling courses, to timed climbs up mountain roads. In the 1989 edition of the Tour de France eventual winner Greg LeMond made up a 50-second deficit to runner-up Laurent Fignon in the final stage individual time trial to win the race by 8 seconds, the smallest margin ever. The Vuelta a Espańa often features a final individual time trial in Madrid in which the winner is often decided, providing much drama and excitement at the end of the stage race. In recent years, Óscar Sevilla, Roberto Heras and Isidro Nozal have seen their lead evaporate in the time trial in Madrid.

The Grand Prix des Nations was a semi-Classic event; professionals may also compete in the annual World time trial championship. The individual time trial is also an Olympics event in which professionals are allowed to participate.

Many of the top stage racers are also top performers in the individual time trial, such as Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, Laurent Fignon, Greg LeMond, Miguel Induráin, Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong. Almost all recent winners of the Tour de France have been good time-trialists, with the notable exception of Marco Pantani -- winner of the 1998 Tour de France -- who was a pure climber.

Performance and tactics

If a racer catches up to a competitor, the overtaken rider is required to fall back to a specified distance (about 50 metres) behind the other or maintain wide horizontal separation so that he receives no aerodynamic shelter or help from the other.

To do well in an ITT, a cyclist must

  • maintain a steady power output for long periods

  • maintain a controlled heart rate for long periods

  • have a smooth, regular pedalling technique

  • position himself to be extremely aerodynamic

  • discipline himself to operate just below the anaerobic threshold until near the end of the course

  • blot out pain and all other distractions

Beginners are often criticized for putting in a J profile effort, meaning that they often go out too hard in the beginning, compensate by reducing their efforts in the middle, and then realize towards the end that they have not put out enough effort during the race.

Specialized light-weight and aerodynamic time trial bicycles, clothing, helmets, aerobars and other equipment are often used in ITT events.

UK time trial competition

The first UK individual time trial on public roads is reputed to have been held on 5 October 1895 over a 50-miles course just north of London, organised by Frederick Thomas Bidlake. For many years in the UK, time trials were the main road-based cycling competitions ('massed start' road racing only gained grudging approval after the Second World War), and remain popular today. Organised by Cycling Time Trials (formerly the Road Time Trials Council), the main season is from March to September.

ITTs are usually held over a specified course of fixed distance, 10, 25, 50 and 100 miles being common. ITTs can also be held over a fixed time (12 and 24 hours being most common). Many events are held on courses comprised of fast flat roads to assist riders in achieving personal bests; events are normally timed to avoid periods when roads will be busy with cars and lorries, etc - so most take place early in the morning on Saturdays or Sundays.

In UK time trials, the starting sequences are calculated to minimise the chances of riders taking pace from each other. For example, the fastest riders are 'seeded' and would normally start at 10-minute intervals (in a 120-person event, say, they will be numbered 10, 20, 30, etc, with the event's fastest rider being the final rider to start, number 120); the next fastest riders will start with numbers 5, 15, etc. In some championship events, however, the ten fastest riders are the last to start, setting off at two-minute intervals (previous racers having started at one-minute intervals).

'Best All-rounder' (BAR) competitions are also held, with senior male riders recording their best times over 50 and 100 miles, plus their best distance in 12 hours (senior women BAR competitions are based on 25, 50 and 100 miles performances). The winner is the rider with the highest average speed over all three events.

In addition to the set distances (10, 25, etc), riders can also compete in 'sporting' events held over more challenging courses of more variable lengths, often with significant climbs, along more twisting routes. These are popular as early season events, as are team time trials. Towards the end of the main season, hill climb events are also held.

Time trials may also include competitions for riders on tandem bicycles, tricycles and tandem tricycles. The aggregate fastest times by three riders from the same cycling club may also win the team competition.

Leading male British exponents at the shorter distances include Chris Boardman, Graeme Obree and Stuart Dangerfield. For many years, women's time trialling was dominated by Beryl Burton.

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