The bike leg of a triathlon is often the place where you can really make a difference to your overall placing and also hit the run with less leg fatigue than your competitors. However it is notoriously hard to pace it just right. The same goes for pure cycling time trials which are a huge test of mind over matter in most cases.
Practice makes perfect - you can’t expect yourself to pace the bike leg perfectly if you don’t practice. Get yourself out to some local cycling time trials and get comfortable being in that zone of hurt. If you’re an indoor cycling fanatic there are opportunities there too for individual time trials against others. You always go that bit harder with a number on your back than if you were just asked to do 20mins hard in a training session so these practices will really help show you what you can do.
What goes up must come down - There isn’t much flat land near me with most 10mile TT courses firmly in the ‘undulating’ category so keeping momentum over any rises is paramount to cracking a good cycle leg. The key to this is keeping the power over the crest of each hill as this will mean you’ll pick up speed quicker on the descent than if you had just spun the legs easily once you reached the top.
Ditch the Data - Most athletes are all too reliant on data to tell them whether they had a good ride/run/swim/session or not. Get used to going by how you feel, practise this plenty of times before race day. There are too many uncontrollable's that will affect your average speed such as wind, weather, road surface, traffic, illness or other competitors. If you are just fixated on the numbers you’ll find yourself with seconds or even minutes slipping away. The one thing you can control is your effort, if you know you’re working in the zone despite what the numbers are saying then you’ll have a good ride.
Be Comfortable - All too often you’ll see athletes scrunched into tiny positions that they think are aerodynamic but actually come at the expense of power and so lose time overall. If they’d made their position a fraction less aero but ultimately more comfortable they’d see better average speeds and be able to really attack the bike leg. There are also safety implications involved with riders looking down to relieve neck tension caused by the contorted position (or looking at bike computers - see above). Go and see a bike fitter that can work with your level of flexibility and body dynamics to get the best balance between aero and power. Over time and with focused stretching and mobilising you may be able to move that position to be more aero. This is one area I have really worked on over the last two years and have been able to get lower on the front of both my TT and road bikes than I did before.
Be mindful of frustrations - Linking in with ditching the data above there are so many things that can cause a frustration on the bike leg. There is often not a lot we can do to avoid the problem itself but we can control how we react to them. One of the faster TT courses near me features crossing over two roundabouts then encircling another before returning back. This means there are so many instances when a “good time” is hampered by oncoming traffic. So rather than getting angry about it, ease on the brakes and make sure you get yourself in the best position to get back up to speed quickly. This will invariably mean a gear change so you can pull away quickly, then changing back to your bigger cruising gears. Mechanicals are another cause of frustration and one I personally experienced at my first 70.3 triathlon. I was sat on the side of the road for 45mins with a wheel alignment issue that I couldn’t fix myself. At that time I thought about getting angry but that wasn’t going to achieve anything at all so I accepted the situation and then made a game of seeing how many people I could pass once I got up and cycling again. My overall time was way below what I intended but I wasn’t disappointed in my efforts. So next time you encounter a frustration or feel anger brewing mid-race, thing about what you can do to get yourself back on track quickly or reevaluate your goals.
Mind over matter - Finally, remember that your head will give up on you long before your legs do. All too often we get a little voice saying “this is hard” or “I can’t do this”, when you most certainly can. Practising being in the hurt locker can really help quieten those voices or introduce new positive ones “I can do this!”, “I will do this!” and “I did this!”
By Kara Tranter - British Cycling level 2 coach and British Triathlon level 1 coach