Welcome to my first post in Tri Talk Tuesday a link-up with Courtney at The Trigirl Chronicles, Cynthia at You Signed Up for What and my client and friend Miranda at The Cupcake Triathlete They started this link-up as a place for triathlete bloggers to get together and chat about all things tri. As the “voice of authority” aka a coach, I thought I would share my two cents. I missed out on the first one “The Swim” but am here for #2, predictably, The Bike (actually T1 might make for a good column on its own, but perhaps soon enough) So without further ado:
You didn’t miss your alarm, you made it to the start line in time, you survived the chaos of the swim and managed to rip off your wetsuit and remembered everything in T1. Its time to get in the saddle and engage in the most technically complex, arguably dangerous and most likely, lengthy leg of your race. The bike. While swimming creates the majority of up front fears in the minds of most triathletes, once in the water and underway, the most difficult swimming skill remaining is sighting. The rest is simply forward propulsion and proper form.
Its the bike that will generally provide the most challenges and requires the most attention during the race. Its also where nearly all penalties are earned and just a few seconds in another racers draft can cost you many minutes of your race. Before racing (or really even training) on public roads two skills must be mastered well before starting out with any intensity or distance. The first is the most obvious: knowing how to actually ride a bike.
I don’t mean just the ability to remain upright while moving forward and turning the pedals on a smooth road with no disruptions. I mean being comfortable enough to navigate through a wide variety of road conditions, traffic, weather and countless other variables. This is where “roadies” have a leg up on triathletes and also when they tend not to trust us. Single sport cyclists developed their skills through hours of riding alone and also in groups on many different terrains. The majority of them rarely time trial (what we do our bike leg) opting instead for crits or group distance races where constant attention must be paid and they rarely ride head down and all out. Triathletes on the other hand might have started out as swimmers or runners and only knew how to ride a bike recreationally. If there is any experience at all with clip in pedals it probably came from indoor cycling classes. Therefore, its imperative that the athlete becomes comfortable with outdoor riding and training before entering their first race. These skills include:
Learning the rules of the road/USAT drafting rules
Cornering, tight maneuvers
Mount and Dismount, clipping in and out
Appropriate clothing choices
Being comfortable with a variety of road surfaces and conditions like:
-Sand, gravel, silt
-Pedestrians and cars while training
-Other cyclists while training and racing
-Rain, Sun glare, Wind gusts
Once these skills have been developed and you are able to make adjustments for any condition you find yourself in, you are ready for the second important group of skills: bike maintenance. This dosen’t mean you have to become a certified mechanic but you should have a working familiarity with the basic systems including the drivetrain, steering and of course wheels and tires. ‘ Triathletes are known to be self-reliant and independent both with transport and often nutrition and hydration as well. Going out for a solo ride requires you to be able to repair any basic issues your bike might have lest you be reliant on the kindness of strangers.
The most important and often needed repair is a flat tire. Not only do you always need to carry the parts necessary, you need to know how to use them. There are often basic classes that your LBS (Local Bike Store) will give or have a more experienced friend show you. Even YouTube has plenty of tutorials. But there is a big difference between watching how its done and actually doing it. If you have a time trial bike or something on the newer side, removing the rear wheel and more importantly putting it back on can vary greatly from bike to bike. Improper reattachment can leave the tire rubbing against the frame stealing away precious energy with each stroke. (I’ve heard first hand 70.3 accounts of this) Take some time and practice both in the comfort of your home and (at least once) on a training ride on the side of the road. Its a vastly different experience.
The other common and minor issue you may come across is dropping a chain. Improper or rough shifting can cause this and its an easily solved problem provided you know how to put it back on. Ideally you should be comfortable with any of these issues so you dont have to rely on the repair wagon to come along during a race (it could be hours)
Now that you are set with the basics, you are now free to concentrate on the most important aspect of the bike leg, pacing. Besides overall strength and skill, this is the element really separates the front of the packers from the rest of the field. You can totally destroy a run with an incorrect effort on the bike. Things can fall apart very quickly. In addition to experience, this is where good training comes in. In the leadup to the race you should be monitoring efforts in one form or another during your rides. At the minimum RPE (rating of perceived exertion on a 1-10 scale) but ideally HR Zones and the gold standard of cycling effort measuring: Power. Directly out of the water and T1, your HR will be very high due to the fact your heart is not only pumping quickly from the vigorous swim, but you are no longer in a horizontal position. Your heart has to work against gravity now, a physiological transition that must be made. This is generally felt as a higher BPM. Additionally your brain will be in race mode coming out of the chaos of T1 and the energy of all the people around you flying-mounting their bikes and sprinting off. In the first few minutes it will feel awesome and you will want to move. You must resist the urge to go all out and ride like the wind. As soon as you can settle into your predetermined race effort (notice I didn’t say pace) and try to focus on the task at hand.
As early as you can, start taking in fuel and liquid. You will be dehydrated from the swim (especially if its saltwater) and the more calories you can take on the bike as opposed to the run, the better. Your GI track is largely shut down during running as the blood flow gets shunted away from your organs and into your muscles for oxygen and skin for cooling. Shoving in food is a great way to have to stop a lot during a run. Biking is the best time to load up. In training, make a plan for calories and hydration and stick with it.
Other than that, ride within your training and stay to the right at all times with the exception of a few instances:
You are passing
You are coming up on a left turn
You are avoiding debris or potholes on the right
Believe me, unless you are in the top 5% of cyclists, you will be passed by riders throughout the race and, just like in driving, nothing aggravates athletes more than people going slow in the left lane. What is “slow?” YOU (and me) at any speed unless you see a pace car in front of you with cameras. Then you can do whatever you like because you are awesome.
The last section of the bike leg is another technical area, the dismount into T2. Again, stay to your right and remember to unclip at least one foot as you start to slow down. Be sure to dismount at the line and no further. Leave your helmet on until the bike is wracked. Make this a habit because it’s the same in every race. Take a breath and execute your transition. If you are a strong enough cyclist, you can make up lots of time on the bike or you can simply keep pace to ensure your legs are ok for a blazing run.
Which ever you choose, make it efficient and safe. Don’t forget to look up every once in a while and enjoy the passing scenery!