By Marc Lindsay
For triathletes, there’s a lot you can learn about cycling from watching La Grande Boucle. Here are a few things to look for during this year’s Tour de France that just might help you become a better cyclist out on the road.
- Cadence is key to climbing fast.
Other than being extremely light, if there’s one thing you’ll notice about the guys who get to the top of legendary climbs like Alpe d’Huez the fastest is that they use a high cadence. On long climbs, using a cadence above 90 revolutions per minute (rpms) can prevent fatigue and save your muscles for the rest of the race.
- Cycling is a team sport.
No one wins alone. While in most triathlons don’t allow drafting and helping others, in the professional peloton it’s essential to have teammates willing to grab bottles for you from the team car and shield you from the wind. Even though you may not be able to put this into practice during your next long-course event, watching the way the peloton works can be a big help on those occasional Sunday group rides.
- The Tour de France is an eating contest.
Whether it’s those huge pre- and post-race team meals or all those feedbags full of goodies that are handed out during the race, to get through 21 days of the Tour you’ll need to eat all the time if you want to stay ahead of the pack. This advice is no different if you’re looking to finish your first IRONMAN.
- Know when to suffer.
Like triathlon, cycling is a competition of suffering. But while you watch the big race, notice how those big moments when the pros go into their pain caves are carefully chosen. Pick the wrong moment and you’ll end up looking up at the podium instead of standing on the top step.
- Sit high when you climb, get low when you descend.
While you probably won’t have as many handlebar options on a tri rig as you would a road bike, there are a few things you can learn by watching the pros go up and down mountains. Sitting up with the chest high opens up the lungs when you need that extra oxygen for climbing, and using the drops when you descend will lower your center of gravity and increase your control at high speeds.
- Like running, perfecting your technique will make you a better cyclist.
At first glance, there’s not much you can mess up technique wise when you’re pedaling in circles. But to maximize your cadence and power like the pros do, you’ll need to become as efficient as possible at pedaling in circles. Watch how the little the pros bounce around on their saddles at high cadences for an example of how single-leg pedaling drills should quickly become your best friend.
- Wider tires are the way to go.
Even for those extreme weight weenies in the Tour de France peloton, wider tires have their advantages. Better handling, increased comfort, and a decrease in road vibration are often worth the weight penalty. Keep in mind too that most aero wheel manufacturers are recommending 25mm tires for optimal aerodynamics.
- The perfect position is highly individual.
Yes, most of the pros in the Tour opt for a pretty high saddle and a pretty low stem. But if you look closely, there’s a high variance of stem length, handlebar width, crank length, and saddle position. Just because a certain position works for one cyclist doesn’t mean it’ll work for another. If there’s one thing you shouldn’t try to mimic from what you see in Le Tour, it’s bike position.
- Power meters are for pacing.
Other than eating, if there’s one thing that can keep you from bonking in a triathlon it’s pacing. Notice how pretty much all Tour riders, especially during time trials and uphill efforts, rely on power meter metrics and heart rate monitors to perfectly pace their efforts.
- The right gear matters.
Breathable aero helmet for hot days? Check. A packable rain cape for rainy descents? Check. Shallow rims for a day in the mountains? You bet ya. Cycling is a gear driven sport, and part what helps top cyclists succeed at the highest level is having the right gear at the right moments. While you’ll need to plan accordingly, test out as much gear as you can before race day to see what works for you.