First the bad news: the bike section is the biggest part of any triathlon – whether it’s a sprint or an Ironman distance – and therefore the leg with the biggest potential for time to be lost.
It also has a huge effect on the final run, so any chinks in your cycling armour could lead to you haemorrhaging time throughout the two longest legs of the race.
What’s more, there’s nowhere to hide in an age-group bike leg since they’re non-drafting, which means any deficits in fitness, pacing or handling skills will show up in your final time.
Depressing, right? Well, hold on a second, because here’s the good news. If you’re willing to identify and work on your weaknesses, you stand to reap big rewards, since any potential time losses can be turned into time savings. But making those savings means confronting your bike-performance demons.
Despite the fact that the bike leg in the vast majority of races is effectively an individual time trial, to be successful you have to be a balanced all-round rider. You probably don’t need the pure top-end speed of a road rider but you can’t just be a straight-line, flat-road, one-paced pony either.
To reach T2 in good time and be ready to run you need to be able to move past packs of riders efficiently and legally, hold your momentum through bends, descend quickly, safely and confidently, and climb strongly. Are you able to consistently tick all these boxes?
It’s no big deal if not because you could simply pick and choose to do only those races that suit your strengths. But if, on the other hand, you’ve got national or international age-group championships in your sights you’ll need to be able to tackle whichever courses are thrown at you. Take a good, hard and critical look at your cycling and use the sessions opposite to iron out any flaws.
So, on with the bike drills...
Build climbing fitness
Total duration: 3-5hrs
Warm-up: No need for a warm-up as the first block of this session is ridden at your Ironman 70.3 or full-Ironman race effort. Find a flat or gentle rolling loop that takes 1-2hrs to complete and brings you to the climb you’ve chosen for this session. Ride the loop at your expected race effort and note your time and power/heart-rate (HR) readings once you reach the bottom of your chosen climb.
Main session: Your chosen climb needs to be one that takes about 10-20mins to ride. You’re looking to do 40mins of climbing for the session so ride 2-4 reps. Climb at just below your threshold, holding your HR/power @ mid-Z3-mid-Z4. Use the descents as recoveries and also to work on your handling skills.
Cool-down: Repeat the ‘warm-up’ loop and try to match your performance from before. If you’re significantly slower, you may need to revise your pacing strategy, check your training zones or work more on your climbing so it has less impact on your riding once you’re back on the flat.
Increase the pace
Total duration: 1:35hrs
Warm-up: 20mins as: 0-10mins with cadence at 90rpm, building effort through Z1 and into Z2; 10-13mins in Z2 increasing cadence to 100rpm; 13-14mins easy spinning in Z1 @ 90rpm; 14-17mins building into Z3 @ 100rpm; 17-19mins ease back down to mid Z2 @ 95rpm; 19-20mins easy spinning in Z1 @ 90rpm.
Main session: 4 x 10mins alternating between 1min @ low Z4 and 1min low-to-mid Z5. Recover with 5mins of easy spinning. Ride the efforts in race position. You may find it easier to maintain a constant output if you use a gentle hill.
Cool-down: At least 10mins of easy spinning.
Surge over short climbs
Total duration: 1:15hr
Warm-up: 20mins as: 0-10mins with cadence at 90rpm, building effort through Z1 and into Z2; 10-13min in Z2 increasing cadence to 100rpm; 13-14mins easy spinning in Z1 @ 90rpm; 14-17mins building into Z3 @ 100rpm; 17-19mins ease back down to mid Z2 @ 95rpm; 19-20mins easy spinning in Z1 @ 90rpm.
Main session: Find a section of road that remains flat for approx 3mins and leads to a steep slope that takes 20-30secs to ride. Build your effort through Z3 and into Z4 on the flat approach, riding in your race position, then come out of the saddle as you reach the slope and accelerate hard up it.
If you get your approach and acceleration right, your momentum should carry you up and over the slope without stalling.
It takes practice, however, because it’s as much about technique as fitness. Experiment with gear selection, which is key especially if you’re using bar-end shifters. Roll back down and spin for 5mins. Repeat x 10.
Cool-down: 20mins ride with at least the final 5mins spinning easily in Z1.
Total duration: Most of the day
Warm-up: Use the first 10-20mins to ease into the ride, spin your legs in Z1 and gradually settle into your race pace.
Main session: Ride 200km sticking to your race pace and planned fuelling strategy (you may need to factor in a stop or two to take on drinks and supplies). Try to follow a route that mimics the terrain of the event you’re training for.
Pay attention to how you feel throughout. If it feels too tough, you’re pushing too hard for your current fitness and need to reassess your intended race pace. Back off if you need to.
Cool-down: Spin easy in Z1 for the last few kilometres and be glad you haven’t got a marathon to run.
(Images: Jonny Gawler)
For lots more bike workouts head to our Training section