Valens Triathlon Bike Course: Not So Flat

Associate Coach Mike Mahoney on Superflag, The Boulder Experience 2013

by Mike Mahoney

The inaugural Subaru Triathlon Series Valens Triathlon is coming up, and seeing as it just happens to be in my usual training area, I’ve been out riding the bike course a few times. It’s a great course, but there are some nasty surprises in store if you haven’t had the opportunity to scout it. Here’s what I’ve learned from scouting the course and some of the advice I’ve given DZ athletes doing the race.


First, a word about Valens. The race is new this year, added to the Subaru Triathlon Series lineup to replace Victoria’s Duathlon and the Muskoka 5150 that were cancelled for 2014. The race runs out of Valens Conservation Area off Highway 97 (Old Beverly Road) between Cambridge and Hamilton. If you’re gunning for a Subaru series title, heads up: this race gets you double points.

The only unfortunate thing about Valens is that it runs the same day as TTF (the Toronto Triathlon Festival). That’s not to say that Valens can’t stand up to a bit bigger race on the same day and not far away: from the looks of things, Valens will be a great race with plenty of athletes signing up. Quite a few DZ athletes are racing Valens, so I’d say this race is around to stay.

The Valens bike course.Everything else about Valens looks good. The conservation area is beautiful, the water is good, and the bike course is well thought out, fairly fast, and on decent pavement by southern Ontario standards. It’s also easy to navigate: once you’re out of the conservation area, it’s a simple turn-right-four-times rectangle. The run is a bit more challenging on trail and boardwalk with bridges.

Valens starts with your standard 750m swim, and transition is neither far from shore nor far uphill. Once you’re on the bike, there’s a slight uphill followed by a gentle downslope, perfect for getting into your shoes provided you keep in mind that some athletes may carry plenty of speed into the first right hand curve. As you head through the gate, you’ll be happy with the absence of speed bumps. Out of the gate there’s a curve to the left that you can take fast, but might not want to as just ahead is the 90 degree right onto Old Beverly Road.

The Valens bike course.Advice: Don’t think you have to mount as soon as you cross the mount line. It’s likely crowded and dangerous with people wobbling around as they try to clip in. Hold your bike by the seat and run your way around the human obstacles, find a good spot and mount just like you did in training. If that means stopping to get on, do so at the side so others can get by. Get into your shoes on the downslope into the main gate.

Now you’re out on a bike course the race website calls “…relatively flat, with a few ups and downs but no substantial climbs to worry about.” True enough, looking at a course profile; there’s certainly nothing like Milton’s Sixth Line hill. But “relatively flat” isn’t the same as “flat” and in this case “relatively” is all saved up for the end.

Advice: Unless you’re Mirinda Carfrae, hammering over a lot of short steep rollers late in the race is going to fry your legs for the run. So don’t.

The fact is that the course is pretty gentle as you bike around most of the 25km. You’ll get a rise on Old Beverly just out of the conservation area, and gentle pitches and trends as you roll along. Viewed on a map, the course is a skinny rectangle and you’ll start at the beginning of a long leg, so no turn for km. Cooper Road crosses the course about in the middle, so when you hit the Cooper Road intersection you know you’re halfway through each long leg.

Long and straight means that wind is likely to be a factor. Every time I’ve been out, there’s been a headwind on Old Beverly, which being straight does nothing to shelter the rider. After Cooper, the pavement on Old Beverly is rough in spots, though new asphalt patches went in last week and the surface is now much improved.

Advice: Mostly flat and windy mean aero matters. Stay aero and concentrate on generating consistent power.

Turn right onto Shellard Road. This is a short stretch where you’ll get a taste of what’s to come as the road rises and dips. It’ll be tempting to power your way over the rises and take advantage of the downhills on the other side, especially if you’re used to cycle races or are a good climber. The last rise on Shellard Road has the right turn onto Clyde Road is at the bottom, so the amount of speed you can carry through is going to be limited by your skill at cornering, other athletes in your way, or both.

Advice: Don’t get suckered in when people start coming out of the saddle and hammering up the rollers. You’ll see them again. Level effort and concentrate on clipping the apex so you can carry some speed around the corner.

Once on Clyde Road you’re back on a long leg and back to straight, gentle, relatively flat road where a good aero position and consistent effort level can really save you some time. Once again, you’ll cross Cooper Road halfway through this leg, but be aware as police will have to stop traffic on Cooper to let the race go through. You’ll crest a hill just before, so if the officer directing traffic is a bit slow to spot you, (race leaders and trailers especially) or there’s a hesitant driver, you might have to brake or wait.

Advice: Snap back into aero the second you’re around the corner, and stay there. Spin the pedals and downshift before the rises get ahead of you – if you’re grinding away at low cadence in a big gear, you’re losing time. Keep an eye out crossing Cooper.

The Valens bike course.Now comes the “relatively” part I was talking about. True, there are none of what I would call big climbs, but there are a bunch of steep little rolling hills that are both fun to power over and steep enough to burn your legs for the upcoming run. And they’re stacked up one after another here at the last quarter of the bike course.

Advice: Don’t get seduced. It’s a lot of fun to power your way over these rollers, and more fun yet to speed down the other side. But it’s going to cost you on the run, so if your goals are your race time and not having a good time, chill out and climb steadily.

Advice: Whether you level your effort or power your way over, don’t you dare let off at the top! I see this every race: inexperienced cyclists push to the top, then as soon as the grade starts to level off they let off the effort. This is the worst time to take a break, you’re sitting at the top of a downhill going slowly, seconds ticking by. I’ve even seen people work hard to pass me on the way up, then let off at the crest and take a drink or something. No problem! Continue level effort over the top, gear up, back into aero, easily pass on the downhill, and see ya later. I’ll take my rest and drink at 40kph, thanks. And my legs will be just fine on the run. On this course, there are plenty of ups immediately followed by a down. Push over the top, gear up, snap right back into aero and don’t let off until you’re zipping along downhill. Then take your break or your drink. In aero, of course.

Whether you power your way over and take the speed or level your effort and save it for the run, when you come to a gentle S-bend with a picture-postcard farm on your left, you know you’re approaching the biggest hill on the course. At the top is the right turn onto Valens Road, but wait, that’s not the top! Once you turn there’s some more uphill, so be aware.

Advice: Power over this one only if you’re such a great runner or such a slow runner that starting with burnt legs doesn’t matter, or if you’re so light and such a good climber that this is too small to burn your legs. Otherwise, gear down and level effort will get you the best overall result.

The Valens bike course.Be aware also that the turn from Clyde onto Valens has been consistently sandy with loose gravel every time I’ve ridden the course. The Subaru Series team are good about sweeping corners.

Advice: Take care – it’s uphill anyway so nobody will be cornering at full speed.

Once you hit the crest Valens Road is a downhill trend all the way back to Old Beverly. There’s one rise which is in easy coast range if you are quick about getting back up to speed and back into aero. You’ll see the lake on your right, which means you’re almost done the bike.

Advice: Spend a few watts to speed up once you’re over the top on Valens Road. It’s worthwhile because you can hold that speed all the way back to Old Beverly. Easy spin in a big gear and let the downhill do the work. Once you see the lake, it’s a good time to get out of your shoes.

The Valens bike course.The Valens Road leg is short and will go quickly due to the downhill trend. Turn right onto Old Beverly Road and there’s one more short rise before you turn back into the conservation area.

Advice: Use the downhill trend on Valens Road to calmly hydrate, get nutrition, get out of your shoes, stretch, and do whatever else. Once you turn onto Old Beverly there’s an uphill and curves into the conservation area, and things may be too tight and too crowded to manage everything.

Now that you’re in the conservation area, it’s up a small rise and coast into the dismount line.

Advice: You don’t have to pull a flashy running dismount inches before the line. The rule is that one foot has to be down before the line, but that doesn’t mean both can’t be. If it’s crowded, dismount a few meters before the line and run in. The time cost is very small whereas the time cost from a crash can be very large.

That’s the Valens bike! It’s a lot of fun and I hope everyone has a great race!


Mike



Before his first Marine Corps Marathon, Mike Mahoney’s idea of running was something a sergeant forced you to do in a rucksack and boots. Triathlon just kind of happened from there. His proudest moment is being talked into a 50k at 9pm the night before. Mike is an Associate Coach with Discomfort Zone and is currently training towards a belt buckle.

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