How to improve your triathlon cycling (spoiler: not by cycling)

I know that by now its October and triathlon season is definitely over. But with the competition season over, its time to start training for the next year, and I thought my learned advice might actually be of use for other triathletes or those who are considering participating in their first triathlon in the next season.

Last summer, I’ve participated in my 21th triathlon.  Its not like I won any of them, and I’ve only done the shorter versions (up to Olympic distance so far) but I had a great deal of fun participating and have gathered a bit of experience as an amateur triathlete. Over the years I have become better in using that experience rather than sheer muscle power to boost my performance. Triathlon is an endurance sport, but there are quite a few technical sides to it. Of the triathlon components, cycling is my poorest discipline, and I have therefore focused on trying to improve that. So for what they’re worth – these are my suggestions to improve your triathlon finishing time, at least, as far as the cycling part is concerned.

On of my first triathlons... more than 10 years ago

On of my first triathlons… more than 10 years ago

The biggest difference between “normal” cycling and triathlon cycling is the switch. Changing from swimming to cycling and from cycling to running requires a transition between rather different sports, with a different body position and a different set of muscles working. It takes your body (and mind) an effort and time to perform the switch.

Start switching while swimming

Let your body start the adjustment before you exit the water. In the last tens of meters of swimming, lower your legs to start adjusting to the more vertical cycling position. Slower your arm work and power up your legs. This will start redirecting the blood stream to your legs, that will have to do the work from now on.

After leaving the water

Don’t let the adrenaline rush to blind you. Run to your bike, but not too fast – you just stood up and all the blood is flowing to your legs. Besides, there are dozens of other (disoriented) athletes around you running to their bike around you, and accidents are best to avoid.

Some Parc fermé's get very crowded

Some Parc fermé’s get very crowded

Gearing up

Put the helmet on first! Practice the “gearing up” procedure at home as part of your training routine. This will make sure that on the day of the race you know what goes where and in what sequence, so that you can put your stuff on and cycle away “on auto pilot”. Come well in advance and rehearse the procedure a few times at the race location and make sure you know where the exit of the Parc fermé is (you’ll be surprised how many people lose time looking for the exit).

Its not about your gear, its about how you use it... a fixie can be a triathlon bike too

Its not about your gear, its about how you use it… a fixie can be a triathlon bike, too

Mounting your bike

Only AFTER leaving the Parc fermé! Here, there are basically two options – putting the shoes on first, or clicking them into the pedals and putting your feet in while cycling. Which you use depends on personal preference and the type of shoes you wear, but again, this you can test at home to get used to the technique.

On your bicycle

Start on an easy gear and give your body a few minutes to adjust to the position and pace. This is something you can train as well – go to a park and lay down flat next to your bicycle for a minute. Do a few push-ups to get your heart rate up, then start off. Time how long it takes you to cycle at your regular tempo.

Switching to run

Just like the switch to cycling – start preparing in the last minutes by standing up a few times to get used to the upright running position. To shave off a few more seconds, you can pull your feet out of the cycling shoes before dismounting. And, again, start off easily, as cramps are not uncommon at this stage.

And, of course, most important is to remember to enjoy the race! Hope my suggestions help you improve your next (or first) triathlon and I would appreciate any feedback and other suggestions.

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