2016 sees the first year of the Lakesman (click here) full iron distance (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42km run) triathlon centered around Keswick. While I'm not participating this year I thought I'd take a look at the bike leg and offer up my thoughts and advice for anyone planning to do the event. This is a pretty comprehensive look over the bike leg and it's nuances which might be a bit intense but I hope their is something here for everyone. All feedback welcome!
Edit 01/11/16. On race day the organsiers have traffic management in place so all lights and cross traffic turns noted in the review should not present any delay for competitors.
The Course (in detail). The bike begins on Lake road next to Derwent water. The initial couple of km through Keswick allow time to get settle on your bike, maybe eat and drink a little and with all left hand turns there are no real traffic complications. Filtering on to the A66 after 2.5km is where things really get down to business, now is the time to firmly adopt your aero position and prepare for quite a few hours of unbroken effort. Heading west on the A66 the road condition is excellent and traffic will be light at this time of the morning. There is plenty of room on the road and visibility is good so while it is one of Cumbria's primary roads it isn't bad to ride on. It will be very familiar to local time trialists as it is in regular use as part of a 10m & 25m TT course. Although wind affected in places this is going to be one of the easier sections of the course before the turn at 21km on to the A5086.
The next 15km are perhaps the most consistently rolling of the entire route and actually includes the course high point but it should largely be aero bar territory. At this early stage make a real effort to hold yourself back on the short inclines and resist the urge to jump out the saddle to push over them, you will pay for it later! At 45km you join the A595 for a short out and back section which is roomy, in good condition and invites pedaling for the whole duration including some quick roundabout straight-lines. Even the turn is conveniently position at the top of a rise so no need to scrub of speed with your brakes. After retracing to the point you joined the A595 you continue on up the first real sustained climb on the course. It is not at all steep and although it might feel a little unnatural I would say the advantage is to remain on your aerobars regardless of wind direction. Over the summit of this and the A595 takes you to km 64 on good but not especially quick roads with a couple of sets of traffic lights and filters (you have to keep to the centre lane to carry straight on as the left hand lane filters off).
Left on to the A597 and after a very short incline the only real un-peddlable bit of the course: a steep descent with parked cars to a set of traffic lights follow somewhat frustratingly by almost certainly the steepest climb on the course which you'll be lucky to carry any momentum in to (so make sure you're in a low gear!). Here if anywhere is where I'd say it is worth upping your effort and getting out of the saddle for a couple of 100m (don't sprint up it but do work a bit harder). That done your pedaling should remain uninterrupted, but for a round about or two in leaving Workington, on the A597 & then A596 until you arrive in Maryport at km 79. Here you cross traffic for the first time with a right on to the main street which ups the interest a little with a short climb with paved sections but nothing to worry about, they are no Paris-Roubaix cobbles. After a left & right in quick succession you rejoin the A596 before filtering left on to the B5300 to Allonby and then Silloth at 98.7km. The surface here becomes a little rough and despite being flat takes consistent effort to keep rolling. Pray you don't have a NW wind as this section is exposed and will catch it full on. (prevailing wind is SW so fingers crossed!). On my recce this was probably 'view of the day' looking across the Solway at Dumfries & Galloway. Quite how long the view would sustain you into the teeth of a gale remains to be seen, I had only a light head wind for my recce and after 18km (10 of which you will be doing again on your second lap) I was struggling to enjoy it. A cross traffic right hand turn has you heading South for the first time in a while. The visibility isn't great on the corner and whether you get held up or not depends on the traffic by that point in the day and if it is within the marshals remit to stop on coming traffic for you.
The road quality takes another hit here as you ride the 10, still very flat, km on the B5301 to Westnewton and start of the loop. While there a blissfully few 'wheel breaker' potholes on course there are definitely a few bits which will rattle your bike so make sure all bottles, fuel bags & computers are secure. Just over 3km has you back in Allonby, where on a nice day you might be tempted to stop for an ice cream, and brings up km 115. You then repeat the same 20km section of B5300 to Silloth and B5301 back to Westnewton at which time you gleefully continue South sparing a though for anyone who is just making their way on to the loop. You're tired now however well you have paced things and unfortunately you are also effectively still at the course low point. The next section is going to be grippy & sapping. 3km past Westnewton and you're in Aspatria at km 138. Crossing the A596 and continuing on the B5301 you get a brief respite descent, which although possible to pedal down few will. The road quality improves here and although it is rolling again it actually seems to get a bit easier. At km 151 you rejoin the A roads to navigate Cockermouth with the route taking you up the high street which is quite pleasant when not waist deep in flood water. The final haul of the day takes you from the outskirts of Cockermouth over to Embelton (a climb which will be familiar to anyone who has done the Cockermouth road race as the finish line is at the top) on the B5292 before rejoining the A66 at the western end of Bassenthwaite Lake. KM 164, only 14km to go! 12km on flat good surface should be fine, as the prevailing wind is normally a westerly, and will take you to the Keswick roundabout. A couple of km through Keswick, hopefully with people shouting encouragement at this time of day, allows time to spin down the legs and eat/drink anything you have left before the marathon. And that is it, enjoy your run!
Course map & GPS download. https://ridewithgps.com/routes/8609273
Summary. While the organisers have made a great choice in avoiding the passes of the Lakes a 112 mile bike is never easy or to be underestimated. It still has over a 1000m of climbing and while the roads are above average for the area they are not the quality you would find in a European race and as such make for hard riding. The route is definitely one for the 'strong' women & men who are comfortable just grinding it out. I'm thinking of typically UK time trialists and those from a swimming background as a bit of extra weight is going to be no real hindrance. There is no doubt that the course will be defined by the wind; in ideal conditions (a totally calm day) the course could become (almost) fast and I would expect to see sub 4:40 bike splits from the best cyclists but if the wind conditions pick up the exposed nature of the course will result in a very hard ride despite the lack of major climbs and being out there for 7 hours plus is entirely likely.
Bike: The course definitely invites a proper tri bike and at the very least you should use your clip ons as for all but a couple of sharp digs you will be able to hold an aero position. It is important to use a position you can maintain for the full distance. Going too aggressive with a very low front end set-up which you have to give up on in the latter stages will in the end be slower than using a higher, perhaps less aero, position which you can ride all the way back into T2.
Tyres: Although the debate on which tyre width & pressure is fastest remains an open one the quality of the roads on the the route favor a wider profile, 24mm minimum, run at a pressure between 85 psi (front) to 105 psi (rear) (add 10 psi if using tubulars). This is no place for 20mm tyres at 160 psi as they will beat you up over the length of the course and they will not roll quickly on the often rough & broken surface (although largely pothole free as far as Cumbria goes). I'd suggest a high performance tyre as the puncture risk is low with limited potholes and road debris. A supple lightweight tyre rollers significantly better than those Conti Gator Skins you have been riding this winter.
Wheels: Wheel choice is, as always, a bit weather dependent. If calm to moderate I'd go as deep as you have with a disc on the rear if you have one. If the day is looking very windy then it is best to go conservative with the front wheel due to exposed nature of course. Managing a front end which is being blown around for 120 miles is going to be mentally and physically exhausting and negate any aero benefits the deeper profile might offer.
Gearing: No 'real' climbs but a few short digs which you'll want a low gear to tackle to help keep your effort down even if if they can be conquered in bigger gears. I think an 11-28 spread on the cassette would be a wise choice for most people. A 50 X 11 will keep you pedaling almost all of the time and anything bigger than that will be a bonus for tailwind sections and descents.
Pacing. Just ride steady, don't spike your effort on the climbs (bar perhaps the one I mention in the course breakdown) and for goodness sake stay seated unless it is a comfort stretch. In an ideal world we could all ride with a power meter and on a course such as this with no prolonged climbs or recovery descents it will ultimately be fastest and least fatiguing (and best for your run) to ride a totally consistent power on the flat, up climbs and down hills using your gears to maintain a comfortable cadence. In practice this is pretty hard to do so I tend to have a target power which I try to hold but I have a window of 10% either side which I'm allowed to stray into (e.g. target average power 280W, minimum power of 252W, max of 308W). Obviously this only applies to the privileged few so for those using a HR monitor keep a close eye on it a make sure it is at the low end of what you can sustain in the early stages of the ride and you are not inadvertently increasing your effort on uphill sections. Obviously it is going to be a long endurance effort so you would expect to see HR drift (an increase in HR for a fixed power output over time) so allow for this. For example in the early stages of the bike I would ride at 145bpm but by the end it would have risen to close to 160bpm (these numbers are specific to me, don't use then as your guide!) while my power output remains constant and my perceived exertion increases. For those without power or HR to go on (may god have mercy on your souls) then use your gears and as a basic guide go easier than you think you should up hills and avoid coasting on downhills.
As this is the first article of this type I've done I'd love a bit of feedback from any readers. Is there any other area I can cover or a particular detail which would be useful? Please use the comments or my website contact form.
Good luck to all competitors, have a great day and ride safe.