Though not a lot of racing has happened in 2020, a lot of people are looking to work on their weaknesses and using the extra time to improve strength on the bike. I’ve outlined a few helpful hints and tips that will help get your bike split down towards the sharper end of the Age Group field.
Having been sub 5 on an Ironman bike multiple times, close to the 2 hour barrier on a 70.3 and other time related cycling accolades, I’ve learned a few things on how to get a bike split down to the pointy end. Though I often have a weak swim, I’m usually in the first group off the bike. Though we’ve all been lined up at a race, you have what you feel like is a good swim, get to your bike, and everybody takes off.
Every course is going to have a different set of demands from handling and drafting, to consistent power for 4+ hours. Here’s a few things you can work on to get your bike split down.
As mentioned, every course and discipline is going to have a different set of demands. If you’re racing a sprint distance triathlon then every second is going to count, and you’ll need to be able to operate in some uncomfortable zones for the duration. If you compare that to a flat Ironman, it isn’t quite going to be as punchy from the gun!
Training specifically for your event or course is going to have a huge positive impact. If it’s a particularly technical course then spending a lot of time training bike handling might make all the difference for no extra effort. As well as building some specific power goals into your training.
For Ironman and 70.3 racing you’ll need be able to keep the chain tight and work hard for up to 10 hours. So building some longer efforts into your training will prepare you for that. As well as long days in the saddle so your body becomes more used to it. Though long days don’t need to be too much more than 4/5 hours. Riding for 10 hours a day doesn’t have a huge amount of benefit in Ironman racing, despite what the average age grouper or old school hitter might try to tell you.
One of the biggest forces to overcome in cycling is drag. We’ll come on to kit later but one of the best ways to overcome this drag is by working on your position. A good bike fit will solve a lot of your problems and make sure your efficient on the bike, but also aero drills can help you keep your race position for longer.
There’s not a lot of benefit in having a super aggressive racing position if you can’t hold if for the duration of the race. If you find yourself sat up half way round the course then you’ll be working a lot harder to go the same speed. Spending time riding in a race position can make this easier, but if it’s still too uncomfortable, you’ve probably got the wrong position!
Learning to Ride.
Now this sounds trivial, we all think we can ride a bike. But, watching the top professionals it’s clear to see that they’re often another level. You only have to watch a descent of the Tour de France or the 70.3 Ironman World Championships in Nice this year to see that there’s a lot more to riding a bike to pushing hard.
Also you’ll find if you’ve spent a lot of time on Zwift, you won’t always be using your power efficiently. Bradley Wiggins has often been quoted in an interview saying the problem is people don’t quite know when to push in a time trial. There’s more to it than hammering the pedals.
Spending time on fixed gear bikes, working on technical descents or following faster athletes can all help you improve your skill and efficiency on the bike. You’ll know when you crack it, because it’s free speed!
This is especially important for new riders or people that have recently purchased new bikes. Making sure that you’re using the right muscles will stop you picking up any unnecessary injuries but also make sure you’re getting the most out of your body.
You should be activating the big muscles like your glutes when cycling, and not overworking the small muscles. This will stop overuse injuries. As well as a good bike fit, you can achieve this by building strength and conditioning into your weekly routine.
Strength and condition doesn’t necessarily mean throwing weights around a gym either, you can make sure your muscles are working properly with a few band exercises, drills and a core circuit in the garden. This is something a lot of people have achieved very successfully though lockdown.
Buy Nice Kit.
Well, I didn’t want to say it. But… it’s true I’m afraid. Though buying nice kit doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go straight for the kill of a £10k bike, because although we’d all love to do that, it’s just not realistic.
There are lots of ways you can spend your money that will have a good positive impact on your bike split. And though it might only be a few seconds or a minute here and there, it’ll all add up! Things to consider include trip socks/aero calf sleeves. The data shows these actually work if you buy the right ones, though not much use if it’s a none-wetsuit swim as they’re banned below the knee.
A nice aero suit can also give you a lot of benefit, as well as an aero helmet. Fine, all these things are specifically designed for aerodynamics, but anything you can do to overcome drag will help. Also things like moving your bottles to behind you, on your seat. Taking it off the handlebars, adding clip on aero bars (though not recommended without a bike fit as it changes your positon) can all add up.
There’s a reason top time triallists tinker and experiment with literally hundreds of tiny variations in kit & equipment, it’s because it works! It has to be functional, but it’s worth checking out.
Hopefully you’ve found something useful in the above tips to improve your bike split. Whenever it is we can get back to racing, I’m excited to see what you can achieve! Stay safe and keep riding.