What makes triathlon’s strongest cyclists so fast?

Ever wondered what propels the world's fastest triathlon cyclists to eye-watering PBs? Nik Cook has the answers…

Cameron Wurf competes on the bike leg during the 2018 Ironman World Championship in Kailua Kona, Hawaii.

I might be biased as I’m primarily a cyclist, but, especially in middle-distance and long course non-drafting events, it really is all about the bike.


Time-wise it constitutes the biggest proportion of the event and not only can a strong rider make up huge chunks of time on the ride but, if they’re able to put in a decent bike split without having to bury themselves, they’ll have more left in the tank for the run.

It’s not surprising then that some of the most dominant athletes at the Ironman World Champs in Kona have been ‘über bikers’.

These athletes have obviously done well in the genetic lottery but they will also have put the hours in, dialled in a great riding position and, by training in that position, developed an ability to stay rock solid in it for hours on end churning out massive watts.

How do you cycle faster in a triathlon?

There are whole books written on this subject but the simple answer is get out and ride.

If you compare the time and effort it takes to claw back a few minutes on your swim time to the comparatively huge gains you can make on the bike – especially if you’re not a strong cyclist – it just makes sense to skew your training to the bike, sorry swimmers and runners!

The two cycling must-dos are to train in your race position – out on the roads and not just on the turbo – and not to neglect your top-end.

VO2/Zone 5 work will give you a bigger engine and, if you’re looking to cruise fast for hours, do you want to be driving a Renault 5 running at max revs or a V8 Grand Tourer that’s just ticking over?

Why are triathlon bikes faster?

Well, it’s not really down to the aero-tubing, internally routed cables and deep-section wheelsets, it’s because they allow the fleshy blob – which accounts for about 80% of the total set-up – to ride in an aerodynamic position.

This is down to frame geometry, which allows the rider to rotate forwards, lowering their front end and flattening their back but maintaining an open hip angle for power production.

What makes pro cyclists fast?

Again genetics and time spent riding are a huge part of it but don’t underestimate the bike handling skills they have too. Whether it’s cornering, descending or simply being relaxed on the bike, the time and energy savings really add up over a long ride.

This is definitely something a lot of triathletes should work on – get off your turbo and, if you really want to up your skills, hit the trails.

How are pro cyclists so powerful?

Big engines often in relatively small bodies! If you look at the current generation of riders – Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel, Tadej Pogačar etc. – they’ve moved away from the traditional massive volume training approach and do far more high-intensity work, including racing cyclo-cross in the winter, to develop staggering w/kg outputs.


Top image credit: Al Bello/Getty Images for Ironman