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How to Get Ready for Triathlon As a Cyclist: Biking

By Jiří Kaloč

Cycling is the second leg of a triathlon race and the longest one. That’s good news for all of us cyclists! Some might be even tempted to say to themselves: I’m pretty good, these triathletes have nothing to teach me when it comes to riding a bike. You might be surprised. If you don’t adjust your riding style to fit a triathlon type of race, your advantage can easily disappear.

The transition from the bike to good running form on race day is a major subject of stress for most triathletes just after the frightful swimming start. It sounds contrary to logic, but as a cyclist, saving your legs during the biking portion of the competition is one of the secrets. But how do you do that? And what are some of the other things a cyclist can do to get an edge on the competition? Let’s read on to find out!

Know your advantage as a cyclist

It’s safe to say that as a cyclist you’ll be passing people during the bike portion of the race. But different biking experiences give you an edge in different aspects of triathlon. For example road cycling, and time-trialling especially, creates great mental strength that will help you in long ironman triathlons. The surface is usually asphalt, and it’s forbidden to draft, so you’ll be able to use your experience in pushing the pace alone.

Those of you with mountain biking background will best utilise their superior bike handling skills in off-road triathlons or shorter road courses where it’s allowed to draft and a lot of maneuvering is necessary. Cyclo-cross teaches you the skills required for a quick transformation, so knowing how to jump on an off your bike quickly will come in handy for sprint triathlons where seconds in the transition zone can make a difference.

Ready to go.

Be in great biking condition

If you are a cyclist, but have been concentrating more on the bike and the run for your upcoming triathlon, your cycling form may have suffered. You may think you can cheat through the bike leg, but not being in your best cycling shape at the start means you’ll be physically and psychologically weakened at the end when it comes to start running; 180km isn’t chump change.

The bike portion counts for about half of the total of the three sports, so make frequency part of your training plans. There is no need to up the total time spent doing bike sessions, just reduce them in duration but increase the number of rides per week. This is where a smart home trainer can really come in handy to get some efficient and quality training time Each week in a short blocks.

Know your ideal pace

You probably know your optimal cadence on the bike, but how about when you run? It is vital you learn to run at a steady pace to manage your energy. And the less energy you burn when you are turning the pedals, the more you’ll have when it’s time to transition to running shoes. Just like on the bike, the key is keep your effort as regular as possible, and this takes lots of perseverance and practice.

During the build up phase before your event, make pacing sessions, twice a week at least, an integral part of your workouts. Use defined heart rate zones or power output over a fixed distance to help you find your optimal pace. Keep the range fairly strict, in the neighbourhood of plus or minus five beats per minute (or watts) over the blocks of distance chosen. Start out easy and up the speed, focusing on your running technique and economising energy by limiting upper body movement, until you hit your goal. Keep race pace workouts to once a week only, especially if it’s your first triathlon.

Get comfortable on the aero bars

When you train for a long course ironman triathlon (and you should do one, just because it contains a 180km bike leg), you will need to get comfortable on aero bars (aka the “skis”) to stay competitive. If you don’t have any yet, head to your local bike shop and pick up a pair or scout what’s available online. Keep in mind the key to efficient aero riding is core strength, flexibility, and many hours of practice spent in the correct position.

Don’t be like the people who buy a crazy expensive triathlon bike and then ride on their handlebars because their back starts hurting once in position. The goal is to remain in your aero tuck on the flats and change position for hills. In the end, aerodynamics mean very little under 25 km/h (15 miles per hour), so just owning the bars, bike, helmet and wheels isn’t enough.

parody drawing of a cyclist doing a "superman" on his bike, so he laid out straight on his bike, thighs on the saddle and arms on his aero bars

Give your legs a break at the start and into the transition

Start the bike leg in a gear you know is comfortable for you to hold for a long period. This is particularly true for ironman and half distance triathlons. You can even apply the same theory in a shorter sprint triathlon. You’ll be saving energy and building up toward the transition into the next leg. Incorporate this with an even and good run technique for a faster segment time while prepping yourself for the run.

When coming close to the transition area, start pedaling at a greater cadence with almost no power. It will help reduce the lactic acid build-up in your legs. You can also try focusing on pedaling only on the way up through the last kilometre or so. That way you use your hamstrings more and your quads will be a bit fresher to kick off the run.

Practice riding right after a swim

Transitional workout sessions are key for novice triathletes. The more times you do a short run off your bike, the better. The same goes for going for a swim before a long cycling session. If you want to go all out on the transition training, find a fitness centre that has a pool and do a mini triathlon in there. Do 10 minutes of each discipline transitioning as quickly as the lifeguard allows.

Don’t forget to stay fueled. Observe how your stomach feels as you make the transition from swim to bike as this shift in activity is said to cause the greatest amount of GI upset in triathletes. Switch up intensities as you gauge your results to learn just how much you can push yourself on the bike without feeling ill, and at what point after the swim you know you can safely fuel to keep your performance going. If everything goes pear shaped, then you may need to take a second look at your nutrition plan and needs.