This article comes courtesy of professional triathlete Braden Currie. The Challenge Wanaka triathlon is one of the most celebrated in New Zealand. For the 2021 edition, the race organizers switched things up with a new bike course. Having years of experience racing the event, Braden was asked by other competitors and fans which type of bike would be fastest on the new course: a triathlon bike or a road bike. So, he made it his mission to find out. (Photos: Roy Schott /@shotbro_nz)
Challenge Wanaka has one of the most spectacular courses in the world, and I love racing in my own backyard. This year will mark my sixth year of racing Challenge Wanaka and, for the first time in many years, the course has changed. The event is now based at Glendhu Bay. The new bike course features five laps, with each lap gaining 237m in altitude.
I’ve been contacted by quite a few people in the past couple of weeks, asking my thoughts on whether the course is better suited to a time-trial/triathlon bike or a road bike. The reason many are pondering this is due to the new course’s undulating terrain (constant ups and downs), and also because it’s a five-lap course—naturally, this will lead to congestion. I found that I couldn’t give them a straight answer. So on Sunday, February 7th, I went out with my coach, Val Burke, and put it to the test.
Being in the middle of a training block, I definitely wasn’t riding with fresh legs. But we did our best to create an accurate test scenario to evaluate and compare the performances of the Felt IA triathlon bike versus the Felt AR aero-road bike on Challenge Wanaka’s new bike course.
Here are the details of our efforts, and how we conducted the testing:
It was a beautiful day with no wind. Therefore, we didn’t have the effects of wind contributing to the result.
We completed the test within two hours without any significant increase in ambient temperature.
Hydration and nutrition pre-testing were controlled and the same for each ride.
Four (4) tests were performed on the bikes in the following order:
Lap 1 Felt IA—Glendhu Bay to Treble Cone, 9kms
Lap 2 Felt AR—Glendhu Bay to Treble Cone, 9kms
Lap 3 Felt AR—Treble Cone to Glendhu Bay, 9kms
Lap 4 Felt IA—Treble Cone to Glendhu Bay, 9kms
Between laps, I rode at 50% max HR back to the start area. I spent 10 minutes hydrating, taking on nutrition, and ensuring my lactate was close to baseline.
Lactates were taken before and after each test.
Effectively, the combination of Lap 1 or 2, combined with Lap 3 or 4, amounted to 1 complete lap of the Challenge Wanaka bike course.
Lap 1 vs Lap 2—The Felt IA triathlon bike performed better than the AR road bike. The time difference was 19 seconds, and my normalized power was 10 watts lower on the IA (meaning I produced a faster time with less effort). HRs were the same on both laps.
Lap 3 vs Lap 4—The Felt IA time trial bike was 26 seconds faster than the Felt AR road bike. My normalized power was 20 watts lower on the Felt IA. Laps 3 and 4 had less climbing and less overall altitude gain, for reference. This enabled me to ride in the aero for a longer duration of time, which is likely the reason for the bigger speed differences seen on the IA.
Other Notes—I produced significantly less lactate post-triathlon bike ride compared with the road bike on both the out laps and the return laps. Also, if we combine Lap 1 and Lap 4 (the triathlon bike legs), I was 45 seconds faster on the Felt IA time trial bike, resulting in a 3% faster time compared to the Felt AR road bike.
I’ll be riding my Felt IA triathlon bike at this year’s Challenge Wanaka. Historically, I have always chosen my triathlon bike for any 70.3 or half-distance event. However, this event with its new course definitely challenged my train of thought. But now I am very confident going into this race that, for less effort, I’ll create more speed and a faster time with less lactate build-up and a lower average heart rate.
Here’s my suggestion for those who ride a road bike more often than a time trial bike: note that there was a 3% difference in time between my two bikes, but there will be a lot of congestion on the course because of the five laps. So if you feel more comfortable on your road bike and you’re not looking for a top-three result (in other words, you’re just happy to be out there riding), then I’d perhaps consider sticking with the road bike. And, of course, these recommendations are solely based on my experience on this particular course—but it hopefully demonstrates that you can gain some insight into your race prep with some experimentation.
I hope everyone has a great race and a fantastic season, and I’m looking forward to seeing you all at Challenge Wanaka!
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