Believe it or not, the bike leg is the biggest chunk of the triathlon. It’s an area where hard work can really pay off, or mistakes can really set you back. Simply put, it is worth doing well, and there are a handful of things you can do to get the most out of your time in the saddle. It starts with showing up and doing the work.
Put in the Time
- Aim to ride 2-4 times per week.
- Have at least one longer session each week that builds up to the length of your goal race, if not longer.
- Working backwards off of your run numbers, aim to keep your running volume at 20 percent of your weekly cycling volume. In other words, ride 100 miles if you are running 20 miles that week.
Define Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Train Like You Race
- Sprint: Mainly threshold work and harder. Think of perceived efforts of 7 and above (out of 10). Interval lengths can fall anywhere between 1-20 minutes depending on intensity.
- Olympic: A lot of threshold work and some tempo workouts (perceived effort between 6 and 8). These intervals tend to be longer than their sprint counterparts, 5-20+ minutes.
- Half Ironman: A lot of longer (20+ minute) high tempo work with the rest periods gradually decreasing to imitate race day. Perceived effort should be around 6-7.
- Ironman: 4-5+ hour rides with some 20-30 minute tempo efforts and varying rest intervals. Ride routes that mimic the race course. Perceived effort drops down to 4-5 with some time in 6-7.
Get a Proper Bike Fit
If you haven’t done it yet and you take this sport halfway seriously, go get a professional bike fit. Your position on the bike matters. A lot. If you are not positioned properly you are probably sacrificing some power, may not be 100% comfortable and you could even be setting yourself up for injury.
A good bike fit will look at your unique biomechanics and limitations, then position you optimally so you are comfortable and putting as much power to the pedals as possible. Too many athletes leave performance on the table simply because they have not taken the time to set up their bike properly. Don’t be that person.
- A new bike: A frame specific to time trial or triathlon is built with a steeper seat tube angle which essentially rotates the body forward and allows you to get into that nearly flat-backed position you that you see the pros pulling off. Tri bikes are also designed to be highly aerodynamic in a wide range of conditions.
- Race wheels: A nice set of deep dish wheels (look for 50mm or deeper) can slice off a nice amount of time, but this assumes you can get to and maintain around 19-20 miles per hour where the benefits really come into play.
- Aero helmet: This is another investment that definitely adds up over longer distances. This is one of the best bangs for your buck when it comes to buying speed.
- Clothing: You’re talking very marginal differences here, but some fabrics are better than others. Start by just trying to find apparel that fits very well and doesn’t flap around in the wind. That alone goes along way.
Fuel and Hydrate Intelligently
- 1-2 bottles of fluid per hour.
- 200-300 calories per hour, primarily simple carbohydrates.
- As it gets hotter, make sure more of your calories come in liquid form.
- If race is shorter than 2 hours, just fuel well before and after and only do water during the race.
Stick to Your Race Pace
It’s cliché, but seriously: race your race. Triathlon is not road racing. It rewards steady, consistent efforts, not hard attacks and intense bursts. It pays to know what kind of effort you can maintain and how many matches you can burn (shorter, hard efforts). Don’t get caught up in the moment and race every person that passes you. Do not be that guy that tries to crush every climb. Be steady. Stick to your plan.
Don’t have a plan? Talk to a coach or dig in and do some research. It’s worth it!
Know Your Bike
Okay, you have your awesome bike, you got a fit and you’ve done all the work to race hard. But you can’t handle your bike? Too many times do I see incredibly fit athletes with awesome equipment who can’t descend or corner with confidence. They ride their brakes down hills or through turns, costing precious seconds and making them work much harder to regain speed. Don’t give away time because of your bike skills. Take some time to practice so that you are confident come race day and can breeze through the course.
Along with handling your bike on the road, you need to know how to handle it if something breaks. You don’t want to be stuck waiting on the neutral support vehicle to help you out. At the very least, make sure you have the right gear on board to change a tire (tubes, levers and an inflator for regular tires; sealant and an inflator for tubulars). Then make sure you know how to use it, and quickly! That means taking some time to practice in that last month before the race. Don’t let this be an area that trips you up.
Preparation Makes Your Race
Training should be harder and more intense than race day. It should prepare you as holistically as possible. Working on the ideas presented here will have you prepared for your bike leg on race day, so all you have to do is go out there and rock it. Take the time and do the work physically and mentally, and you will be well on the way to crushing it on the bike and having your best race yet.