Tom Zirbel of the BISSELL Pro Cycling Team has won most of the time trials this year on the NRC circuit and today he faces his biggest race of the year, the US Greenville Hospital System USA Cycling Professional Time Trial Championship. Last year, Zirbel finished in second place, less than five seconds from the three-time champion David Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream).
On Friday afternoon, a calm Zirbel stated that he hadn’t changed his preparation much since last year but he is more confident in himself and his abilities this year. Confidence that comes from winning and also from experience.
“I’m a year older, I still feel like I’m new at this sport, I’m 31 racing age but I got into late, this is my second full season as a pro, I had a full season in 2006, 2007 injuries, 2008 injuries, so that has helped, and it’s just time and I’m ready to take another step up.”
In 2007, Zirbel sat out most of the season with a blood clot, In 2008, he crashed out of the Tour of the Gila with a broken collarbone where upon his return he won the Tour of Elk Grove prologue, the Tour of Utah time trial and the second place at US Pro TT. He started off strong in 2009 by finishing seventhat the Tour of California Time Trial in Solvang, the only domestic rider to crack the top 10, and then went on to dominate the NRC time trials during the season.
While most time trials in North America are short, certainly shorter than the 20.7 mile (33.3 km) championship course, Zirbel doesn’t train specifically for prologues and ten-minute time trials but choses to focus on 20- and 40-minute efforts.
“If you look at the aerobic contribution of a 15-minute time trial and a 40-minute time trial, it’s about the same, maybe a percent or so different. It’s using the same system and it’s a matter of just not loading your legs with that lactic acid too soon and that comes down to perceived effort.”
One tool is his arsenal is visualization, something he didn’t practice very often last year.
“Vizualization, it kept me up a couple of nights this week, even in Utah there were a couple of times I started going down that road and ‘oh it’s a little early, we have work to do in Utah’. I knew all the corners, where you have to scrub off a little speed and how fast you can take this corner and it’s been awhile.”
Interestingly, Zirbel can’t tell if he’s setting a good time during the race itself.
“I didn’t think I was going well in Utah. I had a good first half in Utah and then the second half, out there on the track, I felt like I was creeping, I just go by perceived effort, that’s all you can ask for in a time trial is to be completely smashed at the end.” said Zirbel who did win the Tour of Utah time trial. “Not going ‘I should have done this differently or I should have went harder here’, that’s not going to happen tomorrow, I’m going to make sure of it, I’m going to make sure that I had the best race that I could of had. After that, it’s out of my hands.”
“Maybe a little vomit if you’re lucky, just keep the cameras rolling” laughed Zirbel when I asked if it was all about smashed by the end.
During the forty-minutes of so, he will keep his mind focused on thoughts such as “’am I going too hard?’, ‘am I going hard enough’, ‘I have to set up for this turn’, ‘I can take it this fast’. ” He then added with a chuckle “Forty minutes of focus I can do that right? ”
No outside input as Zirbel usually does not use a race radio. At last year’s race, he had one to get time checks but is “is leaning towards not this year.”
With a start time of 12:06pm, Zirbel is the second-to-last rider to go out of the gate, with only one rider, Zabriskie, racing the course two-minutes after him.