Alex Dowsett: The TT Man

In the recent Ster ZLM  Tour, a 2.1 ranked pro race in Europe, Alex Dowsett backed up his outstanding victory in the London Nocturne with a third in the prologue and an eventual sixth overall. Not bad for a neo pro at that level!

The foundation for that great result came in the time trial and Team Sky’s Alex Dowsett has shown time and time again in 2011 he can compete against the World’s best time trialists. Time Trialling is certainly his thing and VeloUK spoke to him before that ride in London recently which had many people looking for superlatives.

To begin, Alex explained that it was actually mountain biking that got him into cycling before adding,  “I got introduced to road cycling by Eric and Glen Smith of the Maldon Cycling Club and the way they did that was through time trialling.”

“It is a very easy way to get into the sport and you can do it on any bike and it was a case of  going out, 10 miles as hard as a I could and 28.01 was my first ever 10 mile time. That was when I got the bug. Don’t get me wrong, while you are doing it, it is horrible, not pleasant at all, but after the finish I get a sense of satisfaction that I have pulled everything out of myself and know I want to better myself next time”.

“That was where it started with me, on a road bike, and then I worked up to a time trial bike as well as having a stint on a fixed wheel.”

Photos: Andy Sheridan Photography

Asked how he feels time trialling compares to road racing in the UK, Alex replies “It’s huge and as big if not bigger than the road scene. It is much older than the road scene. A lot of what people don’t see is that a lot of time trials are out of the way by 8 in the morning when everyone is crawling out of bed so you don’t  see anything of it.”

“It is quite staggering when you get an event that starts at 6am and you get 120 people entering it  and then go and turn themselves inside out. That is time trialling and the buzz you get from it.”

One of the most talked about aspects of Time Trialling are the courses used which vary from country lane circuits to dual carriageways. Alex is quite forthright in saying “I think some times the dual carriageway courses are the safest. The thing about them is that there is room to give cyclists room and I have had closer calls on the smaller courses than I have on the bigger ones.”

“The best courses are single lane courses where the road is a lane and half wide whilst some of the real sporting courses are littered with hazards.”

“You have driveways and junctions and all sorts and if you ‘re rocketing down a hill, quite comfortably doing 60k an hour, on the tri bars and two hand positions away from brakes, I’m not going to stop in time if anyone pulls out and they won’t register I’m travelling that fast either. The most dangerous thing about the dual carriageways is the slip roads and I’ve seen organisers take the course up the slip road, across and back down again. I like the dual carriageway.”

Looking at the results, the same riders do Time Trials week in week out and I asked, if he wasn’t a professional, would he do the same. Alex replied, “I do already to be honest. Around my area, I could time trial every day of the week if I wanted to. The evening 10’s I incorporate into my training quite well so it’s perfect for me.”

“When I started road racing, because I had to if I wanted to progress in the sport, I wasn’t a fan of the fact that the fastest man wasn’t winning the bike race and it was about tactics which is why I like the time trial, the race of truth.”

Pacing is a key ingredient for doing a good time trial and Alex explained that he got to a point in his racing where he didn’t have to think about the pacing because he sub consciously knew he could get to the end of a 10, 25, 30 or a 2.6 kilometre race absolutely finished. “Initially, I started using the gears to make life easier for myself, not to make myself go faster, which is why Eric and Glenn put me on a fixed wheel  and that was when I learnt how to pedal.”

“Knowing your power and cadence and when you are the most efficient is the way to use your gears.”

Asked for a difference between a race here and one in Europe, Alex replied “a few cars on the road!”

“I take the same approach and the only difference is that in Europe, I might have done 200k the day before and 160k the day before that and be feeling it in my legs. Certainly I give the same amount of effort to both.”

Asked if there is anything special about the set up of a TT bike, he replies “first I make sure the brakes aren’t rubbing because you’re asking for trouble there! After that, I used to be dead fussy but in the amateur ranks I learnt that you have to be quite flexible.”

“The gap between your warm up and start for instance. I remember the Europeans in Italy 2008 I think, I started warming up and there was a torrential downpour and they delayed everyone by half an hour  and they are the sort of things you have to deal with. I learn to take each course and each situation and remember it’s the same for everyone and what I have to adapt to.”

So was there any advice he could give club racers? “There is no one big secret that is going to knock five minutes off your time. It its all about small things, the training, the aerodynamics, the diet, the kit, all the little things added together is what gives you the best results. It’s Team Sky’s philosophy of marginal gains. That is time trialling.”

Does he have any favourite events? “I would love to have done the National 10. I really would. I raced Hutch the weekend before and the gap between us was just 10 seconds less than the gap between Hutch and Wiggins so it would have been interesting. Wiggins is on top form so I’m not sure I could have beaten him but I would have been up there for sure. The other one I have enjoyed is the Maldon Hilly which is a pretty fun course, a bit of everything, climbs, descents, corners,  that makes it good fun.”

And the blue ribbon time trial in Britain? “For pure time triallists, the 25 is the blue ribbon because it’s the distance that sorts the time trialist from the non time trialists. Like you see in the pro scene in a prologue with the road riders and the time trialists mixing it, in a 10 here you have the same. A good road rider can get round a 10 pretty quickly but stick him in a 25 and that’s where heads starting falling off.”

This weekend, its Alex’s turn to be a road rider rather than time trialist although that hasn’t stopped him racing more time trials this week at home in Essex. Being good at the time trial is for sure going to stand him in good stead in stage races where a good overall will nearly always depend on a good time trial and for that, Team Sky have many options including Alex Dowsett.

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