One epic 180km single loop
The return to Penticton is complete and, in 2021, Ironman Canada athletes universally stamped their approval, lining up to sell out the 2022 race within 24 hours of general opening.
The classic IMC bike course, sponsored by Ventum, has remained. Almost. There is a small route change but, arguably, the new course does away with some of the more mundane highway after Yellow Lake and adds even more scenery, with the newly paved Twin Lakes Road section replacing the Keremeos out-and-back.
The old course demanded patience. The new course, even more so. But more on that later. What you can look forward to are some epic climbs and thrilling descents. Stunning British Columbia scenery. Vineyards, farmland and beautiful lakes. We’ll take you through the ride stage by stage in this ultimate guide to the Ironman Canada bike course.
Just for posterity. Here are some links to the OLD Bike Course GPS data in GPX and FIT files
Segment 1 – Penticton to osoyoos
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0 km – With the Swim a damp and distant memory, you head out of T1 through a cheering crowd of onlookers. It’s a spine-tingling moment and one that dumps a not inconsiderable amount of adrenaline into your system. Needless to say, now is not the time to be a hero. Tuck the cape in and stick the plan.
The ride starts with a gentle climb out of town. Stores, coffee shops will speed by; as will a few good athletes and another bunch who think they are better than they are. Let them go, stick to your plan.
6 km – The shallow grade continues to Skaha Lake, where a few short, sharp bumps will have you punching for lower gears. These are small though, and soon a fast, sweeping left-hander delivers you to a long flat section with a historically poor road surface, some of which has now been repaved. Look for smoother road here for better rolling resistance.
14 km – The only real climb in Segment 1 is a pig. Starting at around 14km, McClean Creek Road spikes the HR with around 3km of sharp climbing that can be a real grind for this with less gearing. A poor surface compounds the feeling of inadequacy as you fight for a nice, clean straight line. Another few km of shallow climbing brings you to a sharp right and a highly entertaining descent that is fast and fun.
24 km – The rest of Segment 1 is an absolute walk in the park. So much so that it’s tempting to dump in some extra watts. Many a screwed up IMC bike leg started with an overbike on the way to Osoyoos.
There is around 40km of nice road coming up, mainly a negative grade. A great chance to find some rhythm, start to enjoy the ride, take on plenty of fuel and watch the South Okanagan mountain, farmland, lake and vineyard scenery sweep by. Enjoy. This is as good as it gets. I would say it’s all downhill from here but there’s a lot of uphill so …
PB+J COACHING TIP – The urge to go fast on this initial part of the ride is high. Don’t. The layout of this bike course is one that rewards patience. Keep your focus on your pacing, fuelling and hydration and strategy. [Questions? Contact us.]
Segment 2 – Richter Pass
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Distance: 7.3km / Average gradient: 3.5% / Maximum gradient: 9.9% / Elevation Gain 271m
64 km – Lots has been said about Richter Pass. But the fact is that it’s simply a gentle giant. The main chunk is just under 7.3km with around a 3.5% grade on average. But it’s not a total slog. The grade, generally, allows for some slightly higher cadence than you might expect and a few shallower sections allow you to spin your legs out a little and get some respite.
Don’t feel totally in the clear though. A couple of sections are steep, briefly hitting 9%+ in someplaces.
There is an element of ‘sneaky’ to Richter; in that it hides its peak around a couple of corners. There is always one or two more than you think. Also, watch out for ‘Spotted Lake’ on the left as you climb, with its freaky circular mineral deposits.
In years past, Richter has a few nice spectator sections to keep you pumped, along with a stunning summit. As you crest Richter the valley below opens up in a not inconsiderable amount of glory. The view is more breathtaking than the climb.
75 km – From the summit there is a fast 7km downhill. Keep your wits about you. Watch out for other riders. This is a no pedal, tuck yourself in, thrill ride. A chance to recovery some energy from the climb. Be safe.
PB+J COACHING TIP – 10km is a long climb and climbing usually requires low cadence and greater muscle tension. Being able to break up this continual tension will pay dividends. Any time you are going to be forced into low cadence, use a higher cadence leading up to the climb to shift some of the load to your cardio and respiratory systems. When you hit the shallower graded parts of Richter, ensure you spin the legs back out again, rather than simply gearing up and maintaining low cadence. Try some low effort standing to stretch out too. Changing up your power and RPM is a great way to help avoid over-fatiguing the system. [Questions? Contact us]
Segment 3 – Richter to keremeos
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82 km – After dropping into the stunning valley you are literally around 2km from the US border. If you don’t like rollers, take your passport and take that road south from here. This is the home of the infamous ‘7 Bitches’.
The first climb is around 2km at a 3% to 4% grade, taking you through some stunning scenery and dropping you just past Nighthawk Road. From here it is another wild descent to a series of rollers that skirt the Similkameem River.
87 km – The rollers are another fabled aspect of the Penticton Bike Course. The truth is that these tend to be mental rather physical protagonists. The fast descents highlight how slow the climbs are. The ups are long enough to play tricks on your mind. The downs fast enough to go by in the blink of an eye. What you are left with is a lot of time climbing and not much time descending. Those who are mentally fragile will struggle, this is the playground of the endurance bunny.
These are not rollers in the true sense of the word. You don’t get to speed down and momentum your way back up. Well, you do, but only a little. These are climbers, more than rollers. Speed sapping ‘rollers’ that have an adverse effect on your bike computer – somehow making the distance digits tick by slowly and the timer speed up. Sorcery!
Thankfully you will have Mount Kobaou to the right, Snowy Mountain to the left and a valley bottom of farmland to keep you company. Dig in, enjoy the scenery, take stock of your fuelling and hydration, spin the legs out when you can.
98 km – The rollers are finished. You now have around 10km of occasionally windy, false flat usually below 1% grade. Maybe it’s the distance into the ride, maybe the wind, maybe the false flat, maybe the rollers that precede it, but; I always find this part of the course sucks.
108 km – Keremeos starts to gain a few spectators, which boosts the spirits a little. The old course out-and-back disappears to your right, throwing you straight up Highway 3a and onto the Yellow Lake Climb.
PB+J COACHING TIP – There is time to be made on the rollers and this forms part of the coaching that we prescribe entitled ‘Riding the Course’. The peaks and troughs can be used to your advantage. It has been proven that applying greater than target power on an uphill and reducing below target power on the downhill has an advantageous effect on total time. Simply put, apply more power when going slow and less when going fast is the rule of thumb. The longer the hill, the more conservative I would be with how much extra power you apply. Don’t forget, some of these climbs offer a completely free wheeling rest period on the descent.
Time can also be gained at the brow of each hill. While many people simply roll over the top, we encourage athletes to get a decent 10 or 12 pedal strokes to bring them up to speed quicker. Starting the downhill up to speed gives you a significant advantage, multiply that over each hill on a 180km course and you might gain minutes on your rivals. [Questions? Contact us]
Segment 4 – Yellow Lake
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Distance: 7.8km / Average gradient: 2.7% / Maximum gradient: 8.5% / Elevation Gain 219m
115 km – The Yellow Lake ascent is a long one – 7.8km. As soon as you hit Highway 3A the climb lulls you into a false sense of security. It starts slow and builds. Think of it as tantric hill climbing. There are a couple of flatter sections between 119km and 124km. It is essential to take the opportunity to break things up here, spins the legs, hydrate and fuel.
125km – This is where the climb starts in earnest. Just under 8km at around 3% grade but peaking in places at around 8.5%. This is where you know how well you paced the bike so far!
Delivering yourself well to Yellow Lake climb is a key component of the IMC bike pacing in Penticton. Have a good climb here and you will enjoy an energy recuperating section back into town and start the run feeling good. Hit Yellow Lake on the back foot and it’s going to be a tough slog, doubling down on the hole you dug for yourself during the rest of the ride.
On the plus side, this has traditionally been the Penticton bike course support at its finest. The crowd is up close and personal, right in your face, and possibly the best performance enhancer money can’t buy. Think costumes, sound systems, signs and generally tomfoolery from those free of a days racing in their legs.
As you crest Yellow Lake an absolute oasis of an aid station awaits sun drenched athletes; or it awaits athletes shivering through hail and frozen rain. It just depends on the year really. Mountain weather, eh!
PB+J COACHING TIP – My biggest tip for the Yellow Lake climb is to be mentally prepared to dig in and stay focussed. It’s a long way and feels like a constantly increasing grade. As before, spin the legs out when you get the opportunity, and on the shallower sections ensure your cadence is a little higher than usual, allowing the legs a small amount of respite and shifting the load to the respiratory and cardio system. Now is a great time to take stock of your fuelling and hydration needs, adjust accordingly and keep in mind – this is the last tough section, the road back into town is a net downhill with a few shorts climbs [Questions? Contact us]
Segment 5 – Back to Penticton
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140 km – The 2020 course change see the previously mentioned out-and-back in Keremeos moved to this point in the race.
You leave Highway 3a and turn onto Twin lakes Road, grind past the golf course and through some rolling stereotypical Okanagan back road terrain. The road surface used to leave a little to be desired in places but a brand new surface will see you skimming downhill through some great scenery with your fillings intact.
The out and back is next to meadows, 250m past Green Lake Road. Turn it around here and head for home. The downside is that after all the downhill to the turnaround there is a little more climbing to get back out. Rather than a full out and back to Highway 3a you will turn right onto White Lake Road. More great scenery, but many are going to find this next section very difficult.
Any exuberance displayed in the opening section of the bike is going to come back to bite you here, and athletes touted this section as being the most difficult – mentally and physically.
If you played your cards right, and had the willpower to be patient we mentioned earlier in this post, you’ll have enough beans to overcome this section. But not with ease. Once you do, you’ll glide back onto Highway 97 and see the glistening water of Skaha Lake shimmering its welcome.
156km – From Hwy 97 onwards, gravity is mostly on your side, but that’s not to say it is all plain sailing. There are still some climbing to be done. It’s important not to get summit fever at this point. Take control. Fuel and hydrate really well in preparation for getting off the bike. Focus and settle in. The looped course can make it feel like you are home and dry. But there is still 26km left to ride. And a marathon after.
Finally, you crest the top of Penticton Town Centre and descend towards Okanagan Lake and T1. You are home and dry, the final few kilometres all downhill and cheered on by people who knew better than to sign up, all standing their with their coffees, baked goods and ice creams, enjoying the sunshine. It’s all fun and games for them, yet you still have a marathon to do, but that’s what you signed up for, right?
PB+J COACHING TIP – With the forced low cadence you experience during the Yellow Lake climb, now is the time to spread the RPM bandwidth a little. Spin the legs out a little higher than your would averagely ride and relax into the downhills, there is little benefit to dumping in much power at high speed. If you did overcook the rest of the ride, take the time to recuperate as much as you can when you get some gravitation assistance. The reduction in HR during the downhill sections is also a time at which your digestive system might allow a little more fuel. If you feel under-fuelled, don’t dump a load of calories in, but you can certainly take advantage of a low HR to catch up a little if necessary. Basically, this section is a great time to take stock and start preparing yourself for the run.
[Questions? Contact us]
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