I regularly check the analytics on my blog to see what people are searching for when they come to my blog, it gives me a good sense of what people are interested in and what they’d like to read about on here.  One piece of information that seems to be pretty popular is the Ironman Canada and Challenge Penticton Bike Courses.

I can’t speak directly to the 2013 Whistler Ironman Canada Bike Course, but I do have the elevation profile here and I can talk about how it looks like it’ll stack up against Challenge Penticton (old IMC bike course).  I’ll talk quickly about the latter first.

Ironman Canada 2012 / Challenge Penticton 2013 Bike Course

This bike profile was taken right from my Garmin from the day that I raced Ironman Canada in 2011.  You can see that the overall profile for the first 40 miles is mostly downhill with the exception of Maclean Creek Road, which is the big bump around the 10 mile mark.  That first climb at 10 miles is very abrupt and very short, its also the location of the first bike aid station, which in my opinion is well placed since you’re not flying by the first aid station at 40kph.

Richter around the 40 mile mark, and Yellow Lake around the 90 mile mark, are legitimate climbs that reward patience and favour athletes that are in sync with their bodies (or their power meters).  For anyone used to riding in the Rockies they’re business as usual, but if you’re used to flatter courses like IMAZ or IMFL, they might seem a little more intense.

After Yellow Lake the ride is virtually all downhill and you have ample opportunity to rest your legs, get some calories in you, and maybe take a nature break.  In that sense, its more of a 100 mile bike course than a 112 mile course.

A good way to think of the Challenge Penticton bike course is that its a flat time trial type course with two intermediate climbs worth training specifically for.  I rode it in 5:44 on my P2 with a standard 53-39 crank up front, and a 12-25 cassette in the back.  My average power on the day was 174 watts which was probably about 75% of my ftp.  On the climbs my goal was never to exceed 200 watts.

With that gearing for both Richter and Yellow Lake a specific part of my training included climbing on the TT bike in a big enough gear to keep rpms around 60-70 while holding around 200-220 watts.  This prepared me for the type of climbing the course had in store.  For me it was important to be able to do those climbs with big gears since I felt going with a compact crank solely for Richter and Yellow Lake would cost me too much top end gearing for the flat and downhill segments which realistically make up most of that bike course.  With that sort of mismatch between gearing and riding, its important to be able to work the bike from side to side with your arms using your body weight to move the pedals rather than just your legs, this allows you to keep your heart rate and total power output low while keeping your momentum.

For anyone with a functional threshold power less than 200 watts, or anyone who thinks they’ll ride the course in 6:15 or more, I’d definitely recommend a compact crank for Challenge Penticton, with a 11-25 cassette if you’re around a 6 hour rider, or an 12-25 or 12-27 if you’re a little longer on the bike.

For another in depth look at the Ironman Canada Bike Course, check out this post from back in August.

Ironman Canada 2013 – Whistler Bike Course

Oddly enough it seems the Whistler bike course actually has a little less total climbing than Challenge Penticton.  I created a copy of this map in MapMyRide and had a look at the two major climbs to see how they stack up against Challenge Penticton.

The first climb, beginning around the 13 mile mark, roughly the same time that cyclists will be hitting Maclean Creek in Penticton, is roughly a 1100 ft climb over 8 miles, is actually a lot closer in length and grade to Richter than it looks believe it or not.  Ironman Canada veterans will be in familiar territory here but that much an ascent that early in the ride is sure to rattle some riders if you haven’t done your homework.

The second climb, around the 30 mile mark is 560 feet over about 6-7 miles.  So not too bad of a climb, but shortly after the first climb is sure to spread the field out a little more and wear some riders down.  With almost 1800 feet of climbing in the first third of the ride the course certainly won’t be an easy start and it’ll need riders to find their legs pretty quick in the race.

After Whistler’s second climb its smooth sailing for quite some time.  Riders will ride back through Whistler to be cheered on their friends and family and the route then follows the Sea to Sky Highway along a river valley making for a down hill to long flat ride for almost 50 miles.  This is where riders with a good time trial position and solid threshold will come into their own.

At 90 miles, the last big test begins with a 1400 foot climb over 17km.  Between Challenge Penticton and Ironman Canada, this is the biggest climb and will probably take the most mental fortitude of any of the ascents.  Not much can be said about the climb (since I haven’t ridden it), but such a big climb so late in the course, a calm, tactical approach to the climb will be crucial for a good run split.

The key to Ironman Canada Whister’s bike course is going to be conservative pacing in the first half of the ride to leave plenty in the tank for the long time trial and climb in the second half.  Though the total elevation is less than Challenge Penticton, I do think that Whistler has the tougher of the two courses, but only narrowly so.  In large part this is simply because of where the climbs are in the ride, the two major climbs are early, and late in the race, making getting a good rythm for the bike and run a bit of a task.

I’d probably recommend running the same set up and applying the same recommendations for gearing as I did for the Challenge Penticton course on this one, the big difference will be in the strategy and mind of the rider for IMC Whistler.


As always, I’m going to throw in there that a power meter is an invaluable tool for racing Ironman.  Not so much in shorter races, but for technical courses like IMC and CP, I think that they’re great tools to have for both the months of training leading up to the race, and for race day itself.  For all the money that triathletes spend on gear, an $850 powermeter is worth far more than a fancy set of Zipp 404’s or drag reducing wetsuit that makes you look like a superhero.

Both races are well over 9 months away from today.  But its never too early to start doing your homework.  When gearing your bike, shopping for a trainer, looking for a coach, take into consideration what you’re working towards.  Choose your races and plan your season accordingly over the next few months.  Triathletes who take the time to have a shot as a cyclist at rides like Gran Fondo Highwood Pass or Gran Fondo Rockies will be rewarded for their foresight come late August.

Joe Friel said in a recent blog post that he believes Ironman is just a bike race with a swim warm up and a jog to finish it all off.  Though that’s a bit of a an exaggeration, I get what he’s saying and for the most part I actually do agree.  So do your homework, even if its not the physical work yet, start thinking and planning your season and training for the big day.