Does timed training really mean nothing?

Putting the mantra to the test

If you play armchair-analyst comment bingo on a World Cup weekend, one guaranteed hit will always be: “timed training means nothing.”

It’s a mantra that’s spread from journalists to commenters and back again but is it actually valid? It’s very infrequently you’ll ever see a rider ranked outside the top ten at the head of the time sheet on a Thursday afternoon, or anywhere even in the top five. So where has it come from?

Brosnan is a serial offender at the top of the timed training rankings

It’s fairly obvious nobody is hitting race pace on the first day of riding (pedalling without sitting down is pretty much unheard of) and, of course, there are no points on offer. On top of this, many riders will stop and take breaks to watch lines on course as opposed to doing full runs. It’s easy to see why you might think it’s just a bit of a lark.

The same names do keep cropping up though – Brosnan fastest five times in the past two seasons, Hart and Bruni two apiece – it can’t just be coincidence that these fast guys are consistently on top.

Timed training matters for Danny Hart

So, we decided to do some digging and find out exactly how significant timed training really is. Going back to the start of 2015 we wanted to see what percentage of riders who did well in timed training went on to do well in the race.

Here are the results from the past 20 races:

Top 5 in timed training

  • 11 wins
  • 35 podiums

Top 3 in timed training

  • 8 wins
  • 29 podiums

Winner of timed training

  • 1 win
  • 10 podiums

So, the headline news, more than half of the winners in the past three years have been in the top five in timed training, and that’s with Aaron Gwin’s laissez faire attitude to the whole thing. Suddenly it doesn’t seem so insignificant.

A typical practice shot of Gwin, a man who keeps his cards so close to his chest they’re sticking out of his back

It’s also clear that the top three in timed training go on to greater success more regularly than the top five. On average, 46 per cent of riders in the top three in timed training go on to take a podium as opposed to 35 per cent of the top five (where wins are concerned it’s 13 and 11 per cent respectively).

Of course, the statistics tell two stories. The one that sticks out is this – only once in the past three years has the winner of timed training gone on to win the race, Loic Bruni in Cairns 2015. Could this potentially show there’s a danger in peaking too soon at a World Cup?

Four races have had a winner from second place in timed training (Gwin x2, Minnaar, Brosnan), three from third, one from fourth and two from fifth (coincidentally twice in a row from Danny Hart at the end of last year).

Nobody has kept it green all weekend in the past three years but Bruni came closest in Cairns last year.

The serial offenders in the top five from the past three years are Brosnan (14 times) and Hart (11 times). They are the only two to reach double figures but Gutierrez and Bruni are also both approaching that mark. These riders may not have been as prolific winners as Gwin and Minnaar over the past few years, but they’re still always on pace on a Sunday and all but Gutierrez have ended up on the top step at some point.

So, sure, don’t stake your house on timed training, but to say it means nothing is clearly wrong, there’s at least half the story in the first timesheet of the weekend. You can definitely allow yourself to geek out on training and enjoy a slither of excitement if you see your favourite rider up there on the first day of a World Cup.

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