A Slow Age Grouper’s Experience on the New Ironman Couer d’Alene Bike Course
I’m just going to skip over the poetic excuses and call it like it is. Life has been way too busy lately. For the first time in a long time, I’ve had those lunches when I feel it would much easier to stay and finish another paper or chart instead of hitting the pool. And if you know me, that means I’m really being clobbered by work and school.
Alas, suffering through these challenges is the spice of life. And I like spice. So, before hitting the sack, I thought I would get a post out, especially with the time sensitive nature of the topic at hand: the new Ironman Coeur d’Alene bike course.
Okay, disclaimers. (I am physician and thus a master of disclaiming). When it comes to Ironman, I am a middle/slightly back of middle of the pack type of guy. I’m a fairly slow rider and that background is my basis for this review of the course. So I’ll call this post the “slow age grouper’s preview of the IM CDA bike course.” Warning, the IM CDA course review may not be for everyone. Serious side effects include boredom, flatulence….oh wait, sorry, got stuck in my groove.
Okay, now that I have that out of way, let’s get rolling. I met up with my buddy Michael at CDA the first weekend of May. Both of us have done the IM CDA twice, in 2009 and 2011. That was the old course. The course I hated. Look, there was nothing really wrong about the communities and landscape we went through. I just found it kind of boring. I especially didn’t like the part through Government Way. Nothing says fun like strip malls. It had been sunny and warm all week, so naturally, it was a steamy 42 degrees when we started. I have to also give a quick shout out to my buddy and his patience. Of course, I forgot my helmet and I didn’t realize it until 30 minutes before our planned start time. Major FACEPALM. It was painful facepalm too as I had no head protection. Anyhow, after an hour delay, I was able to pick up a new one and off we went.
As prior, the course is still two loops. The initial portion of the course that heads out along Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive to Higginspoint is the same. This was my favorite part of the course. In the morning, it is a good time to get settled in. There a few rollers on this section, but nothing too memorable. As you’re rolling along the lake, the wind has the potential of picking up pretty bad. That will all depend on what Mother Nature has in store for you on race day.
It’s after you head back into down CDA when the majestic new fun starts. Instead of heading north to Hayden, which is pretty sick of us triathletes, you now head south. After passing transition, you will head north west on, who would have thought, Northwest Boulevard. It’s a slight grade up along this road, but not really a hill by any means. From there, you will go up a highway on ramp to get on US-95. I imagine there is going to be an interesting jumble of people at this section on the first lap. After you turn onto US-95, you will cross a bridge that goes over the lake. Be careful here as the pavement is a little rough in sections.
After that, it’s into the real hills. The new portion of the course is basically 20 miles out and 20 miles back. After a brief downhill into Cougar Bay, there is a short flat. Get ready here, because its pain time soon. The first hill starts here and is about one mile long with roughly 530 feet of gain per my Garmin. In the old course, there were frequent short hills with some intermittent steep grades. The climbing is totally different in this course. The grade isn’t too bad. It just takes a while. What’s more, the first climb is one of those hills with sweeping vistas. In other words, you get the demoralizing view of how high you have to go from the bottom.
Overall, I think the first hill is the best on the course. It’s not too steep, not too long, and that sweeping vista gives you that feel that you are doing some classic climbing rather than tackling some random foothills along the lake.
The adage that what goes up must come down is especially true for this course. After you crest over the top, there are some false flats. Then it’s time to descend. Just like the hills, the descents are long and you can build up some serious speed. I’m a complete wus when it comes to descending and I topped out at 37 mph. My buddy left me in the dust. If you have good descending skills, you should exploit this.
After the first descent, it’s back up again. This second climb is a more brutal beast. Again, the grade isn’t too bad; it just goes on and on. To make matters worse, after you “crest” you are greeted with a long false flat. This is followed by another, albeit shorter, climb that takes you to the turn around.
On the way back, things were much faster. First, that gradual uphill with false flats that takes you to the turnaround basically turns into a fast downhill all the way to the backside of the first hill. You can see how the speed differs after the flip at around mile 20. And that wasn’t all due to wind, which I’ll get to in a second.
The initial hill on the way out is pretty much the only main uphill on the second half of the loop. Here is a closer look from my Strava page:
As you can see, it starts with the typical climb and then is followed by some good false flats. All together, the entire up is about 3.3 miles. I was hurting coming back into town. Of course I haven’t been training for something like this and this was my longest ride since Ironman Arizona. But rest assured, this climb is going to be a Sufferfest on that last loop of the day.
Then comes the real highlight of the course. After cresting the top of the hill, you get to the fun of descending back into Cougar Bay. This descent has curves, speed, and most importantly, rumble strips (kind of like one of my ex-girlfriends….just kidding…..sort of) If there is anywhere on the course you could bite the bullet, this will be it. When you combine the descent with fatigue and thousands of riders, this is a place you need to keep your wits about you. This is where my buddy reached 47mph.
Once you reach the bottom at Cougar Bay, there are some flats and annoying little bumps. Then it’s time to run.
Okay, let’s summarize. These are my take away points from my experience on the new course:
- Less steep climbing, but longer.
- Two big hills on the way out.
- The 2nd hill on the way out is followed by a long false flat.
- The beginning of the ride back into town is mainly downhill for a long time. Plenty of speed.
- There is one big hill on the way back in. It is followed by a false flat as well.
- There is a fast, curvy, rumble strip laden descent back into town. BE CAREFUL.
There is one last thing you should know about. WIND. The wind on our ride was gusting moderately; nothing enough for the weather guessers to warn about. But out among the open spaces of the farm lands, the wind was horrendous. You should pray now for no wind on race day.
For those that are planning on heading out to try the course before the race, it’s a pretty friendly road to ride. There is a wide, clean shoulder pretty much 90% of the time. For God’s sake, don’t be a jackass and ride in the middle of the road. That is how we get a bad rap. If we keep it up, the course will get changed to loops around the Silver Lake Mall. Also, about half way out on the loop, there is gas station that looks to have plenty of refreshments if you need to refill or to take a potty break.
All and all, I think the new course is awesome. It has some great climbing and it will be nice to be able to see the other riders for most of the course. Ironically enough, just be ready to go downhill. Have fun and best of luck on race day!