IRONMAN France Preparation – Part 2 – Gear Selection

In Part 1 of my Ironman Preparation, I focused on my broad training structure which led me to have a successful race.  This part explores my gear choices which can often be very important to the success of a race.  I think I agonized over my choice of gear almost as much as my training.  During an 11 to 12 hour race, equipment is key and I carefully considered virtually every part of my equipment.

My Custom Race Kit by Aquaman

My Custom Race Kit by Aquaman

For the entire race, I stuck to an Aquaman long distance top and bottom suit.  I was lucky enough to be able to make a custom one with my name in the back.  This was a special enough occasion and having a custom suit certainly made it feel special.  You’ll even notice the “Fortuna Fortes” logo on it.  I had raced twice with it in both Mallorca and Deauville and the suit fit me well without any chaffing throughout the disciplines.

For the swim, the choices were rather simple.  With the water wetsuit legal, I stuck to my regular BlueSeventy wetsuit, speedo goggles and the race-provided swim cap.  For the run, the choices were just as simple: Socks, my ASICS running shoes with speed laces, race belt, Oakley sunglasses and a visor.

The hard part for the bike was truly the bike setup and equipment.  The Nice Bike portion of the race is an interesting course and many people struggle with the choice of bike.  In fact, I had looked for advice on the internet without necessarily finding clear answers.  The choice was therefore mine alone to make.  There were lots of people on road bikes but several in Time Trial bikes, it appears that it wasn’t a cut and dry selection.

The first part is a nice flat 10k and then there is a sharp hill pushing 15% which you will very much feel.  It’s a good thing that it’s short because it can surprise quite a few people.  Beyond that, the hills aren’t very sharp and usually hover around 7-8%.  It’s not hard enough to be compared to regular mountain stages but the total elevation of around 6700 feet will get to the legs.

Of course, my son was very helpful in testing out my gear!

Of course, my son was very helpful in testing out my gear!

The other notable feature of the course is that the descents are not very technical.  Of there three major descents, the first two are not technical despite perhaps a couple of tight turns.  The third one is a bit more technical but nothing too scary.  Many racers, including teammates of mine chose road bikes, but others preferred TT bikes.  In fact, as I discussed this with several people, it seemed that those who were very strong climbers opted more for roadies but those who seemed to be time-trialists veered towards their preferred TT workhorse.

For me, I don’t tend to be a very good climber but I am a good Time Trialist.  It was therefore important to make the best of the flat parts of the course, while a road bike wouldn’t have given me a significant advantage on the hills given my level.  With that in mind, I took my TT bike on a reconnaissance ride of the course and I felt that it was better suited for me given the specifics of the course.  It really allowed me to play to my strengths on the flats and it’s a bike I’ve grown very comfortable on over the past four years.

With that said, weight is a major factor with so much climbing so I set out on a large effort to reduce the weight of my bike.  Before I set out on this effort my TT bike weighed in a 9.03kg which is far from being light.  I made three major changes to the bike to reduce the weight.

  • I went with a ROTOR Power Meter for its weight, L/R measurements, and overall cost.

    I went with a ROTOR Power Meter for its weight, L/R measurements, and overall cost.

    I had been looking at power meters for quite some time and since I was about to invest, I chose the ROTOR power meter.  The reason behind it was based on quite a bit of research but the quality of the data, separation of Left and Right Channels as well as the reputation for great service were key choices.  Additionally, and not the least, the weight impact is lower than most other power meters as well and the impact on the wallet.  I have been very happy with ROTOR although I haven’t yet tried any oval rings, instead, I’ve stayed with my FSA 53/39 round Rings.

  • The second change was around the group-set.  With Shimano Ultegra and 105 components, it was time to upgrade to something lighter.  Of course the choices were between Shimano Durace and SRAM Red and from a pure weight standpoint, SRAM took it by a landslide.  Additionally, I was very attracted by the R2C shifters on the front end despite the slight weight impact (40g if memory serves me right) and the costs.  The drawback was for a potential future upgrade to electronic shifting but I’ve set this aside for now.  So I went with the 2013 SRAM Red groupo and I have been very happy with it.  One note on the setup, I do recommend having it installed by a local bike shop, especially the R2C shifters which are tricky.  Overall, the weight of the bike dropped by around 500g which is a very significant drop.
  • Testing out my bike in full race configuration during the Deauville Olympic two weeks prior to the big day.

    Testing out my bike in full race configuration during the Deauville Olympic two weeks prior to the big day.

    The third change are the wheels.  I studied long and hard my options and weight impact of the wheels.  I can get into the physics behind it but for climbing stages, rotational weight can count as twice the normal weight.  So wheel weight is worth twice other weight.  As such, I considered my Zipp 808 a bit too heavy for this race and had been looking at an alternative.  I came across a fantastic deal with used 2012 Mavic Cosmic Carbon Ultimate for roughly a third of the price of new ones.  The wheels are incredible and very well rated.  At less than 1200 grams the pair, they are amongst the lightest and the 40mm depth is much better for those few technical turns in the race.  The tubulars were new to me but with a bit of practice I became comfortable with them and I even must admit that it’s easier to change a tubular than a clincher.  Overall, this dropped my bike’s weight by another 700 grams.  I also have to say that handling of these wheels is just phenomenal, truly an experience to have once in your lifetime.

Overall, these changes dropped my bike’s weight to 7.8Kg which is fairly good for a decent Time Trial bike.  To get below this would require a new frame and perhaps a new saddle, but I like my Adamo despite the slight weight impact.

The final two pieces are gear and helmet choices.

For the gear I opted for an 11/25 (with a 53/39 up front).  The 25 was sufficient for most of the climbs.  It’s tricky for that first screamer but it’s short and you can push through it.  Beyond that, I was mostly in the 23 but sometimes used the 25 to spin the legs a bit more.  The 11 was actually very useful on the downhills.  It would be very easy to spin out on a 12 and the 11 enabled me to continue pushing past 35mph which was useful as I past countless racers downhills and even some referees on motorcycles.

My Bike setup during the race with my road helmet.  Here on a climb with the hands on the elbow pads.

My Bike setup during the race with my road helmet. Here on a climb with the hands on the elbow pads.

Finally, as for helmets it was a tough choice.  You could go either was between a road helmet or a Time Trial and not go wrong.  I personally opted for the road helmet for two reasons.  There was a chance for heat and the road helmet is more ventilated.  During the climbs, overheating was a possibility and I chose to play it safe.  It turns out that on race day, we didn’t have a scorcher but I’d still play it the same way.  The second reason is that my road helmet is 200 grams lighter and with all the work I did to drop weight on the bike and personally, it would have been a shame to add 200g unnecessarily.

Overall, the difficult choice for the Nice Ironman course is around the bike and what to choose.  The course can play to people’s strengths or weaknesses and one should choose your bike gear accordingly.  I have some very good friends who ride their road bikes but they tend to be very good climbers and descenders.

For my part, I was very happy with my choice of gear and it served me well on race day.