When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Home / Training / Bike / Biking Brilliance with Phil Graves

Biking Brilliance with Phil Graves

He came from nowhere to romp to victory at Ironman 70.3 UK. But who is Philip Graves and what can we learn from him? Nik Cook finds out…

One of the shock results of recent times was seeing 20-year-old Philip Graves storm to victory at Ironman 70.3 UK, riding away from such names as Anderson, Bayliss and Cartmell. And yet, frustrated at a lack of results in triathlon, he was almost lost to full-time cycling. Luckily for triathlon, he decided on one last throw of the multisport dice for the 2009 season.

Graves’ doubts

Like many young triathletes, Philip Graves’ background was in swimming and running. He achieved national success in biathlon before discovering cycling at the age of 14 and racing his first triathlon in 2004 as a 15-year-old. Since turning those first pedal strokes, his talent on the bike was obvious.

By 2007/08, though, he was demoralised as a triathlete and keen to see what he could achieve on two wheels. For six months he rode for three hours every day but couldn’t quite fully abandon his multisport roots. Deciding to race at the British University Triathlon Championships, he put in two training runs and managed to win (although he admits that the run “almost killed” him).

More frustration followed at the London Triathlon where, having made the front pack on the bike, he punctured. He genuinely thought the 2008 National Junior Triathlon Championship would be his last tri but a storming bike earned him fourth place and provided enough encouragement for him to give triathlon his all in 2009. And with Ironman 70.3 UK in the bag (with a 90km bike split of 2:29:24, four minutes faster than Bayliss and co), that decision is reaping dividends. Here he talks us through the secrets behind his bike prowess…

On time trialling

“It’s hard to say how much effect doing time-trials has. It’s just about riding your bike hard. It’s pretty simple: the best way to get good on a bike is to ride further, harder. People don’t need a coach to tell them this. So make every second count!

“Triathlon is a different style of riding, though, with the swim before and a run to go, compared to riding a single 10-, 25- or 50-mile effort all-out. Nutrition in time-trialling has only a small part to play. I wouldn’t even drink on a 25-mile TT and may only consume 400ml on a 50-mile TT. But when you’ve a 10km-plus run off the bike ahead of you, it’s a different story. You do need to be taking fuel onboard constantly.”

What you can learn… Time trials provide an ideal way to get a fast-paced training session and a true test of your biking form. To learn more visit www.cyclingtimetrials.org.uk.

On equipment

“I’m always looking to improve my performance and I’m a right pain when it comes to bike equipment. I prefer to ride Campagnolo and demand a big gear on my bike. At the moment I’m riding 56 x 11, but I’m thinking of going up to a 57 – I need it for the tailwind sections!”

What you can learn… Don’t expect an off-the-shelf bike to be perfect for you. Tinker with your position, the gearing and anything else until you get your perfect personalised ride for the course you’re racing on.

On fuelling a 70.3

“I know from experience that I’ve about 4:30hrs worth of glycogen in my muscles (this is worked out by going out riding and not eating until you get the hunger knock), but in a race you’re going much harder so

you burn more glycogen. I don’t eat excessively, though. I think at Ironman 70.3 UK I had two gels and a caffeinated PowerBar. I like the Gatorade Endurance Formula as it has just as much carbohydrate as a gel, but you can drink it from a bottle.”

What you can learn…

Philip’s approach to race nutrition is old school, but it obviously works for him. Experiment in training until you find what works for you.

On his team

“Team ActivInstinct (www.teamactivinstinct.com) was set up to help developing athletes who had ambitions on longer distance events or were on the fringes of making it onto the World Class programmes. It’s been really successful, and the impact we can all make is increased tenfold when we have the support of a team structure. Look at Tri Dubai and Team TBB. Hopefully we can be up there as a global force with Commerzbank and race for world titles, not just in long-distance tri but also duathlon and other endurance sports.”

What you can learn…

You might not be able to join an elite sponsored team like Philip, but by joining a club you can get similar support and advice and meet like-minded people. Go to www.britishtriathlon.org for more info.

On the psychological battle

“Getting an aero helmet and shaving your legs gives you the real pro look. Half the battle is a mental one, so if you can go into a race looking good and feeling good mentally, then you’re already halfway to a new PB!”

What you can learn… Having tested it in training, save your best kit for race day. It’ll make you feel good and, if you feel good, you’re more likely to race well. Have a massage the day before to loosen up, and try to treat yourself like a pro. You’ve done the training, after all: this is your big day and you deserve the best.

On the future

“It would be great to go for a near four-hour ride at Roth in 2010 and get the Hawaii bike record, this year or next. But this season’s all about learning the long-distance circuit and getting results along the way. I’m not putting any pressure on myself – not just yet.”

What you can learn…

Constantly set yourself goals to keep your motivation high. Make sure they’re tough enough to be worthwhile, but realistic enough so that you don’t always fail.

Nik Cook is a freelance sports writer and an experienced competitive cyclist, triathlete and duathlete

Profile image of Matt Baird Matt Baird Editor of Cycling Plus magazine


Matt is a regular contributor to 220 Triathlon, having joined the magazine in 2008. He’s raced everything from super-sprint to Ironman, duathlons and off-road triathlons, and can regularly be seen on the roads and trails around Bristol. Matt is the author of Triathlon! from Aurum Press and is now the editor of Cycling Plus magazine.