Monday, July 15, 2013

New Calgary 70.3 Bike Course

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The recent flooding in southern Alberta has forced a lot of Race Directors to spring into action and make some serious course corrections on their routes.  Unfortunately a number of events have been cancelled altogether such as; the inaugural Gran Fondo Canmore, the Hi Hostels Kananaskis K100, and the Banff Marathon.  Other events like Gran Fondo Highwood Pass have received serious changes in the routes.

News came out yesterday that the Ironman Calgary 70.3 route will be getting a big overhaul.  The debris accumulated at Ghost Lake made the swim course impassable for the number of athletes expected for the race.  I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the revised route, and I think anyone who lives on the south side of the city who is familiar with the route would be on the same page as me.  It's one of the best routes around with stunning scenery as you climb through the foothills to right to the base of the Rockies.  Race Director Paul Anderson has also been doing an incredible job making the race a reality in light of the hectic few weeks the city has had.

Here is a link to the proposed revised route.  You may want to open another window and go through the map while reading this post at the same time.

So here are a few pointers on the revised bike route, though it is subject to change as the route is pending city and provincial approval.
Highway 22x heading west later in the day

  • First and foremost, athletes should be happy that the frigid waters of Ghost Lake are being replaced by the bathwater of Mackenzie Lake.  Last I heard water temps were around 19C, and with the warm weather expected in the next two weeks, expect to be racing in water temps closer to what you'd get in Penticton for Challenge/IMC
  • Riding south out of the city from Lake Mackenzie to Highway 22x will be pretty flat on controlled community streets, nothing fancy here. Just find your legs, calm yourself down, and get set for the ride.
  • When you're headed westbound on 22x is still technically in the city.  There is a short descent, and a steep climb out of of the Bow River/Fish Creek Valley, followed by a number of other rolling hills until you hit the 15km mark.  At this point in the ride you should still be finding your legs from the swim. Take it easy on these hills.  Between km10 and km15 its easy to burn your legs up so you should be on your easiest gear and spinning here.  There will likely be some traffic control as your cross the overpass, but don't stress, after this you're pretty much cruising.
  • When you hit km15 you'll start a long gradual descent.  This is where you can make up time from the climbing you've done so far.  The prevailing winds are out of the west in Calgary, but usually don't pick up until mid-morning so if you're putting down 200watts here you could easily be cruising along at +40kph (25mph).  You'll have a great view of the countryside and the mountains in the distance here. Every once in a while there will be a turnout from a gravel road, hopefully its all swept before the race, but just in case, keep your wits about you.
  • At the 20km mark you're into the foothills which means rolling hills that sometimes seem to come out of nowhere.  You'll being doing a lot of going from your biggest gear to your smallest gear so keeping momentum and knowing your shifts will save you a lot of energy.  I really mean that, you'll go from your biggest gear to your smallest in the course of 300 meters in some spots here.  Know how to smoothly go from the big ring to the little without losing momentum by being able to shift your rear derailleur at the same time as your front.  Some of these descents will be quite shallow, if you're an average cyclist, this is a great time to recover from the punchy little climbs. If you're a strong cyclist with a powermeter, or are running a standard (53-39) crankset, you can probably spin in your biggest gear and hold a lot of your momentum.
  • The hill from km30 to km35 (Strava name "Lower Cowboy Trail") doesn't actually seem like a hill when you approach it but it's actually a grade of about 2-3% over 5km.  It's hardly anything remarkable by cycling standards, but for a half Ironman its a climb that you can definitely end up burning matches on.  It's also a curved hill with a flat section right before the steep part, so you can't actually see the end of it and you might think it's over before it actually is. Once again, be smart with your gears and ride this hill conservatively, the hill isn't over until you're going downhill.  Also, as you crest the hill and you start your descent, take a moment to enjoy the scenery.  This is one of the most beautiful points on the course with ranches along the highway, and the mountains and foothills right in front of you.
  • The descent from km35-km37 is fast, and curves to the right. I would strongly recommend you ride the horns on this one rather than descent in aero position unless you're a very strong cyclist.  At this point you're entering a valley and the crosswinds can seriously throw you about here.  I'll say it again because it's really important, be smart about your descent here, you can gain some serious speed faster than you anticipate and you need to keep in mind that you may be passing people who aren't as confident as you are descending.
  • At km37 you hit another climb (Strava name: Cowboy Trail Climb") that averages about 3-4% for about 3km.  I'd say this is the most serious climb of the day.  You'll be in the easy gear on this one and I'd probably put it on par with the Cochrane hill climb if you've done the race before.  The key here is patience.  Focus on using gravity and your body weight to pull you up the hill by dancing the bike left to right with each pedal stroke.  You'll gain back the time soon enough because in about 10 minutes this course is going to get very fun.
  • Km44 is a descent, and then you turn north onto Highway 22 towards Bragg Creek and you're now around the halfway mark.  Once you pass the Shell station at Bragg Creek you begin a long false flat descent.  If you paced the first half of the course well you ought to be flying here.  Up to the traffic circle at km60, 200 watts could easily net you 45kph in some spots.  This is the only time you'll have a true crosswind but the trees should actually protect you from most of it.  
  • One you turn back east after the traffic circle you'll be on another long false flat descent.  As the temperature rises throughout the day the prevailing winds out of the west begin to pick up and should really push you along.  In the evening when the winds get really strong I've definitely done out and back rides on this stretch of road averaging 20kph at 220 watts on the way out, and riding back at 50kph on 160 watts on the way back.  This is a good time to refuel and start preparing yourself mentall and physically for the run.
  • A little past the 75km mark there will be a couple more short hills where you may to push a bit out of the saddle, but you're just about onto the run now so the end is in sight.
  • Route stats: 85.6km distance, +749m ascent, -678m descent, prevailing winds out of the west.
Overall the entire bike course has great pavement, and while it's not really what you'd consider a very technical course, you'll definitely be using your biggest and smallest gears quite often.  So you may want to invest in a quick tune up and the local shop before you head out to the race.  The shoulders are very wide and I'd consider these roads to be some of the safest stretches around.  That being said, the speed limits on these segments range from 70-100kph (40-60mph), so when passing be sure to keep to the right of the white line and be conscious of where there are rumble strips at the line.

If you have any questions at all feel free to post them in the comments section below.

Once again I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Paul Anderson and all of the volunteers striving to make this race happen.  For those of you coming from out of town, it's been a crazy three weeks in Calgary and many of our communities are still recovering from the floods, but come hell or high water we'll do our best to make your stay, and your race, one to remember.


  1. This is a fantastic report - everyone doing 70.3 this year should give it a read. thanks Raf!

  2. Fantastic Raf! Big thanks for taking your time to put this together for all the athletes racing this year! =)

  3. awesome report Raf. Having just rode up to and over Cowboy Trail Climb yesterday, you've described things perfectly!

  4. Thank you for the report. Very informative.

  5. Thanks, Raf. As an out of towner (and former Calgarian), I appreciate the detailed breakdown. Cheers!

  6. This is a fantastic set of notes for the new course! Especially being from out of town. Thank you very much!

  7. Very informative and most appreciated for an flat lander out of towner (New Orleans).

  8. Thanks Raf. As someone who's ridden this course a number of times, I can't emphasize enough how important it is to be in the right gear for these deceptive hills and how the wind can help/hurt your effort throughout. As well, some of the rumbles strips are wide and deep, so be sure to keep to the right so anyone passing you doesn't have to "hit" them to get by.