There is the endless old war: pure road cyclist versus triathlete. Can we play on the same grounds? Can there be crossover? Who is the “better” cyclist? Can you go from one sport to the other?
I think a lot of factors come into play on this topic. We won’t cover everything in this enormous topic here, but I hope you’ll walk away from reading this with a bit more knowledge of what it might look like if you are a triathlete who is curious about entering a bike race.
First, you must fully understand the two different sports. Yes, they both ride bicycles. However, they are completely different sports and that must be respected. A helpful example is one involving ice skating: figure skaters, speed skaters and hockey players all use skates and the event takes places on ice, but they are as different as oranges and apples when it comes to the basic principles of each sport.
When it comes to the question, “Is it possible to cross over the two sports?” whether it be for training, changing sports all together, or to have the goal to do both at the same time, I think the response should always be, “It depends.” It depends on the case and the athlete. It is most important to fully understand each sport and know yourself as an athlete before going into it.
Let’s look at the basics athlete characteristics for each sport and a few simple differences.
Must do three sports, bigger upper body from swimming, more fatigued legs from running, very specifically dialed into an efficient steady state across a long distance. Must have focus to go solo at a hard effort over a long period of time.
Must have skills to race time trial, criterium racing and road racing. Must be able to tactically ride in a group, have repeated high end efforts, carry as little weight as possible in the upper body and the lower body is trained specifically for riding only.
If you are a triathlete who would like to bike race, I do think it’s possible and can be helpful in your development as a cyclist for your sport of triathlon. I personally did both when I was racing professionally as a triathlete. I raced the national road races, and I even raced a few a World Cups while I was also still a top competitive triathlete.
When transitioning from triathlons to bike racing, it’s a good idea to fully understand tactics and the goals of this sport. Cycling is a team sport where triathlon is an independent-athlete sport. There are a lot of tactics and dynamics within a bike race. It’s key you fully understand and respect how all of it works.
Your training will need to change if you want to be a successful bike racer. You’ll need to be prepared for repeated attacks and top end speed. You’ll also want to learn good group, cornering and downhill skills. You’ll also need to understand the type of bike race you are entering — criterium, road race, circuit race, stage race or time trial — the rules and type of racing are different for each.
These will all be important factors to train before entering your first bike race. Both triathlon and bike racing are amazing sports. They both offer a unique challenge that I fully enjoy. Go into them open minded and listen to the people who have been doing it successfully for a long period of time. Learn from both and have fun at both. You’ll be a fitter, more well rounded athlete for it in the end. The more tools you have, the better athlete you are.