Pacing Strategy

Cyclists Pace

1“The beauty of cycling is that you’re forced to think and to be so calculating at the same time as your body is in agony from hard effort…the important question is how you distribute that effort.” Dr. Stephen Cheung, Cyclist & Exercise Physiologist

Zabriskie zings the pace

Distribution of effort within a Pacing Strategy is a must for a competitor whose endeavor is a new personal best. Generally, when pacing is discussed among physiologists about road racing, the main focus concerns effort against the clock. Graphically, these efforts have many shapes. The most typical shapes tell a story, such as: the classic tophat silhouette of an even effort preached as salvation in the early days of powermeter analyses; a U-curve typical of self-paced efforts with a hard start then forced adjustment reducing average power output and last ditch punch in the final kilometer; and a tight sawtooth pattern reflecting a tough course with uneven efforts within a certain range. A winning ride isn’t based on a picture but on which of these or other patterns covers the distance in the least amount of time.


2Studies indicate subjective pacing without a powermeter tend toward slower times. Starting too fast is often the main culprit. Riders with pacing technology have a more complicated task devising a strategy that incorporates many details, such as air conditions, cadence, and terrain. There are subjective means to transverse that terrain based on rider strengths and intuition within a certain power output. There are objective measures using an overall average wattage coupled with time or speed splits at intervals, or max and minimum watt targets based on course features applied at starts, ascents, descents, corners, finishes etc. A mix of this time trialist intuition and the science of the numbers provides a winning formula for pacing.


Another factor to consider is 3feedback – a luxury for an amateur but precision science spoken to the rider by team staff during the event. While Pacing Strategy is applied most notably in a time trial, road races also require distribution of effort. Studies about pacing are few, but it is clear that riding like a brute out of the blocks isn’t the proper method.


Pacing varies its energies throughout the year for racing, training, psychology, goals, spiritual growth, resources – all of which must be distributed well for optimal performance.


Prayer for Pacing Strategy

“The Lord your God…directs you in the way you should go.” 4Isaiah 48:17


We ask for wisdom in recognizing our governors for optimal pacing.


Ponder What am I using to set pace? Affirm I let these markers propel and not prohibit me. Watch the details and determine pace for full potential.



1“Toolbox: Time Trial Pacing Strategies,” by Dr. Stephen Cheung, PhD posted on April 15, 2008 Stephen Cheung is Canada Research Chair at Brock University, with a research specialization in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance.

2“Pacing strategies during a cycling time trial with simulated headwinds and tailwinds,” by Atkinson & Brunskill published in Ergonomics 43:1449-1460, 2000

3“Effect of distance feedback on pacing strategy and perceived exertion during cycling,” by Noakes, Lambert, Gibson, Albertus, Tucker & Hampson in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, WK Health 0195-9131, 2005. This measures negative feedback and concludes perceived rate of exertion and heart rate did not change. I submit that any feedback, even negative or incorrect feedback, acts as an encourager but that proper feedback that includes more than RPE and HR makes a measurable difference, and would love to see a study on it.

 4The Bible, New International Version, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

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