Stronger, faster, fitter 3/5: Bike
Now is the time to analyse your racing year and set yourself up for your best season ever in 2013. Part three is bike
The bike leg is where you’ll usually spend the lion’s share of your time during a triathlon, so there’s potential to lose or gain a lot during the ride. There will be possible issues around equipment with all the finely tuned, lightweight, mechanical gear involved, as well as your fitness and preparation.
Consider how you approached both your bike equipment prep and training in 2012 in relation to the problems and solutions below, and whether any changes in routine could help next season.
Problem: Not 100% comfortable in the aero position
If you’re not entirely at home on the aerobars, not only will you fail to put out maximum power output, you’ll also struggle to run well when you exit T2.
Ride your race bike (or a training bike with identical set-up) more often. Many athletes save their race bike for best, logging most of their training mileage on a bike that bears little resemblance to the one they’ll be using on race day. This can lead to all sorts of postural issues (especially in long-distance races) and can ruin a good run, too. Get a set of training wheels and use your race bike at least once per week for a good hard ride. You’ll soon see the benefit in events.
Problem: Poor technique getting onto the bike
Quite often you see athletes making a hash of mounting the bike out of T1 and struggling to set out on the ride.
Coming out of a swim you often feel disorientated, uncoordinated and in a hurry. This is not a good combination when seeking smooth passage onto the bike. The two main things you can do to improve your T1 abilities are firstly to practise mounting your ride, with shoes attached to the pedals, time and time again over the winter, until it’s second nature. Secondly, keep the cliché ‘more haste, less speed’ at the forefront of your mind when in T1, as nowhere is this saying more appropriate.
Problem: Struggling on hills, climbing or descending
Few athletes have major issues with riding a flat course but when the ground tilts up or down by a significant margin things can start to go awry.
To improve your climbing, the overwhelming priority is power-to-weight ratio. This is obviously improved by either increasing power output, decreasing weight or both. Firstly, have a look at yourself and your bike to see if either could benefit from a diet.
If you’re trimming mass from the bike then shedding rotating weight (in the wheels and tyres) has marginally more influence than the frame, forks and other static components. But be sure to look at the rider as the number one priority – most have way more spare tyres to lose than their bikes!
If you struggle when descending due to nerves or lack of skill, get out and ride with more experienced roadies and pick up some tips on bike handling. Although age-group triathlon is run in a time-trial format, the courses are not normally out-and-back dual carriageway affairs, so a little bike handling skill goes a long way.
Problem: Unable to deal with mechanical issues
Simple breakdowns like a puncture and even a snapped chain should not be complete showstoppers, especially in long-distance races. But if you can’t carry out roadside repairs then they will be.
Learn to change an inner tube (or tubular tyre) in double-quick time. Time yourself at every opportunity to see how fast you can do it. Also figure out how to use a chain breaker or a snap link to mend a broken chain and how to thread the chain the correct way through a rear mech (not as easy as you’d think the first time you try!). Make sure your bike is specced up with decent tyre levers, a high pressure hand pump, a set of Allen keys and chain tool; all of which have been tried and tested to ensure they’re up
to the job.
Feeding on the bike during winter training is a hotly debated topic. Some advocate riding in a fasted state; others say you should be taking in gels and drinks as you would in racing to keep energy levels up. Working out what’s right for you is the key, and depends on your aims and the type of sessions you’re doing.
If you’re undertaking long, steady rides with the idea of losing weight and teaching the body to burn fat, then heading out on an empty stomach and feeding minimally on the ride is a good idea. Just bear in mind that if you intend to train again later in the day (or the next) then completely exhausting your glycogen stores will impair performance in the next session. So you may wish to top up with something light.
This time of year is also good for experimenting with race fuels for next season, as the consequences of getting it wrong are none too serious and faster training sessions are the best time for this to go on.