bike gains responsible for quicker Ironman times
Credit: Daniel Seex
Training > Long distance

Focus on bike if you want big Ironman gains

Research finds advances in bike kit and training to be reason for faster IM times

In 1983, Dave Scott and Sylviane Puntous won the men’s and women’s Ironman Hawaii titles in 9:05:57 and10:43:36, respectively. In 2018, Patrick Lange and Daniela Ryf won in 7:52:39 and 8:26:18. The difference in of Kona-winning times is huge but, as investigated by a group of researchers, which discipline has enjoyed the greatest performance improvements in this period?

The team, led by Lucas Barbosa, analysed the top-three men and women each year between 1983 and 2018 and discovered that, perhaps not surprisingly, it was the 180km cycle leg that witnessed the greatest evolution. Men enjoyed a 16.9% boost; women, a staggering 26.4%. Swimming saw the slowest rate of performance growth – men just 3%, women 12.1%.

The reasons given for the cycle leg enjoying greater advances than the swim and run? Gear, of course, with time-trial bars, deep-rimmed wheels, lighter bikes and other aero accoutrements all cited. Greater understanding of aero positions, often via lab and wind-tunnel testing, also contributed.

Interestingly, women are catching the men thanks to an overall improvement of 20.8% versus the men’s 13.3%. An increased pool of talent is one reason given for the closing of the gender gap.


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