Ironman Wisconsin Triathlon Bike Course: 5:54 Bike Split

Excerpt from the book "Racing Ironman Wisconsin: Everything You Need to Know"

To many triathletes, the Ironman Wisconsin bike course has appeared relatively easier than other north American courses such as Ironman USA Lake Placid and Ironman Canada, at least when considering course maps. But when triathletes arrive to race Ironman Wisconsin, they are inevitably surprised at the difficulty they face on the bike course.[for proof, see Ironman Bike Course Average Times]

While the elevation changes on paper are quite more significant in Lake Placid, the tricky subtleties in Wisconsin make it such that an overall bike split on both courses can be very similar.

What the Ironman Wisconsin bike course lacks in vertical elevation challenges, it more than compensates with the challenge of never letting up; the course chips away at you with a continuous series of slight gains, turns, and technical challenges that constantly serve to damper hopes for a bike course PR.

What It's Like

On September 9, 2007, I returned to complete my fifth Ironman Wisconsin, my 29th Ironman race since July 1997.  

This time, I wanted to do something different. Experience the Ironman in a unique way. And I did: I shot photos on the bike course, and I tracked the entire 112-mile ride with a Garmin 405 GPS Watch. 

As a result, the 2007 experience presented here gets to the nuts and bolts of the bike course, perhaps Ironman Wisconsin’s most daunting feature.

Personal Race Data Summary

My overall bike split in Ironman Wisconsin 2007 was 5 hours, 53 minutes and 57 seconds, about 19mph.
  • Overall Splits: First 56 miles: 2:52:49 riding time, 19.44 mph; Second 56 miles: 3:01:08 riding time, 18.68 mph. 
  • Equipment: Softride Rocket 650TT, Zipp 909 wheels, Sidi shoes, Look pedals, 2 bottle cages and 2 pouches. 
  • Fueling: 4 PowerBars and 8 GU packets on bike; bananas every other aid station; water/Gatorade every aid station. 
  • Hammer Factor: limited; I rode comfortably; never pushed it too hard, never bonked, never suffered. But I also did not hold back; it was a solid ride for my fitness at the time.
Ironman Wisconsin 112-Mile Bike Course: Rider’s Perspective

The 112 mile Ironman Wisconsin bike course starts fun and fast, then gradually eats away at you over the miles. It throws no serious difficulty your way, but it refuses to yield over most of the course. Go out too fast, and you can suffer later.

With that as a sort of warning, the first 16 or so miles, out to the two-loop section, are a good warm-up, taking riders to the west of Madison, from the small city toward classic Midwestern farmland. Some small rollers stretch your leg muscles, and a couple of pretty steep but short downhills will give you a speed boost, but also provide warning that they may hurt you a little on the way back. Here’s my data from those first miles:

Reaching the 39-mile loop section, you’ll continue west on relatively tame terrain until you approach the town of Mt. Horeb. Approaching mile 30, you’ll be faced with about a 1⁄2 mile long climb that veers to the left then right, where you’ll be greeted by aid station volunteers. Get what you need, then prepare for five miles of work.

Miles 30 to 35 (and 70 to 75 on the return trip) take riders through relentless up-down riding that I like to call The Rollercoasters of Witte Road and Garfoot Road. Passing between and through farms, these miles toss it all at you: fast declines followed immediately by sharp uphills again and again, with short stretches of reasonably flat road connecting the little challenges.

At first, it’s fun. Then getting over the next hill gets tougher each time. You’ll think you’re done, then there’s more. You’ll see when you get there. You don’t want to be bonking the second time you ride this section. It’s a bad place to be on the rocks.

Next up is a slightly dangerous fast, swerving downhill on northern Garfoot Road. You’ll wish you can take it at full-speed, but only the most expert of riders can do it. It’s too easy to lose control on the sharp turns here. Sacrifice a few seconds for better control.

The course flattens out on the top half, east-bound road for a few miles, allowing you to relax a little. You’ll need the break, because when you make a right turn at Country Road KP to begin a southward path toward the start of loop two, the course’s most challenging climbs await.

The climbs – at Old Sauk Pass and on Timber Lane – aren’t very long, but they can be quite taxing. When you arrive there, settle into your easiest gear, sit back, and pedal as efficiently as you can.

Stay steady for the next few miles until you reach the town of Verona, where you'll be greeted by a cheering crowd that treats you as if you are a Tour de France rider. Savor the moments, smile at spectators and enjoy your short time there. Because after it's over, you get to do it all again on lap 2.

You'll finish lap 2 at about 95 miles, with 17 more to go. Depending on the heat, wind and your nutrition and hydration at that point, those last miles may be relatively breezy or can be very challenging.

Don't let the apparent downhill back to town on the race website course map fool you. It's more work that you'll expect. Be prepared mentally and physically at that point, and you'll do fine.

For more, return to our Ironman Wisconsin coverage.