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Riding the Ironman Canada Whistler Bike Course

Dan Smith of LifeSport Coaching breaks the course down into 5 manageable sections.

I had a chance to recon the Whistler bike course this past weekend and what a route! The scenery and venue are spectacular! It is surrounded with now-capped mountains which are cut by deep gorges, flowing mountain rivers and despite the number of Don’t Feed the Wildlife signs, not much in the way of animal distractions.

This is a bike course that demands patience and making sure one maintains control, especially in the beginning. The course is undulating everywhere and there is only one section of the entire course that is flat and that is 90km into the ride!

One of the easiest ways to tackle any race is to break into smaller and manageable sections that have similar terrain or characteristics. This event is no different – I found the IM Whistler bike course can be broken into 5 distinct segments.

1. T1 – Callaghan turnoff

Athletes will swim in Alta Lake and then head out on the bike. Leaving transition riders will immediately roll into a small climb, then turn right onto Highway 99 and then through Whistler proper. Keep in mind, this part is just a warm up and to stay calm and relaxed. Most of the road to the Callaghan turnoff is downhill but it is more like stepping down as there are number of short ups as you make your way towards the turn. This will be early in the race, before racers spread out so aware of other riders and potential congestion as there is large rumble strip separating the bike lane from car traffic on the shoulder to contend with. The last bit of the decent is quite fast and wide open.

2. Olympic Park

Once the athletes make the right turn towards the Olympic Park it is up hill for almost 14km (260m climbing). The climb isn’t one steady grade but a number of pitches, some are fairly steep making it crucial you keep the early race excitement in check and maintain a consistent heart rate or power. Racers ride right into the park going past the Nordic Ski Jumping venue and turning around at the end of the road at the Biathlon site. Racers should take care within the park as the road is quite narrow and there are lots of sharp bends. Then it’s back downhill to the main highway. Some sections are quite fast and riders will want to be careful as they approach the intersection with Highway 99.

3. Hwy 99 to Pemberton

Athletes now have to retrace their route and ascend back up to Whistler (200m climbing). Not particularly steep, similar to Keremeos to the bottom of Yellow Lake. There a number of waypoints like Function Junction to give racers targets to check off. The few flat spots on the climb help give the legs a break – just remember to maintain cadence and even pressure on the pedals. Lots of gear changing on this course. Once riders pass through Whistler (60km into the race) the road flattens out then descends towards Pemberton. The road winds its way down the valley and depending on the wind direction could be really fast. The pavement condition changes here, quite a few cracks and the bike lane is tacked on to the edge and is pretty rough in places. Riders are treated to even more fantastic views throughout the descent. There are two railroad crossings on the way down to Pemberton, both are pretty smooth. Almost at the bottom is one short but sharp climb out of the Corkscrew, which is a series of curves just like it sounds.

4. Pemberton Meadows (out and back 60km)

Racers are now reaching the halfway point! (90km). Bear this in mind as you pace yourself for the next 60 km on the dead flat road which most likely will be hot. There could also be a breeze making it a headwind/tailwind or vice versa. The pavement is excellent with two freshly paved segments. Riders continue right to the end where it turns to gravel.  This is the portion of the race where one has to remain aero for a couple of hours, so be patient here keeping a steady pace and staying in control. It is important to keep focussed and maintain your nutrition/fluid and sodium intake regimen. Otherwise it will come back to bite you!

5. Hwy 99 to Whistler (550m Climb)

This is where the day can go from being great to miserable if you haven’t paced yourself well and stayed on nutrition plan for the previous 150km. The climb comes at the end of the ride, it is long (30km), hot, and the grade out of Pemberton is steep. Recommendations are for at least a 27t cassette. The road winds constantly so it easy quite easy to focus on the section you are currently on and knowing the grade constantly changes. There are a few flatter bits to recover, spin the legs more and continue with eating and drinking. Another part of the nutrition plan is to be prepared, knowing where you will get your calories from on the climb. Gels or liquids make the most sense here as it is often hard to be chewing a bar while climbing with the sun sitting directly overhead. Once you hit Green Lake you are almost back to T2 and the road flattens out enough to enable racers to spin their legs out.

This course will reward patience and those who stick to their race plan.

Some notes about the Whistler Ironman

As this race is held in the Coast Mountain ranges, expect cooler temperatures race morning. Alta Lake will be chilly but not too cold by the end of August. However, it will most likely be cooler than what most athletes are used to swimming in at the tail of the summer, the lake is still being fed by glacier run off.

It is cold at night so bring warm clothes

Restaurants, gas stations and bars don’t take debit cards, bring cash or credit.

If you plan on staying at the Whistler Hostel for prerides or race week, it is located 18km by road from T1 and the route there is quite hilly. It is much flatter and quicker if you ride your bike on the Valley Trail (less than 20′). Turn left on Lake Placid Rd and get on the trail to the left of Nita Lake Lodge. Keep left where the trail splits at the south end of Alta Lake and it will take one right to Rainbow Park

Whistler is a huge resort and is filled with mountain bikers, hikers and sight seers. The summer months actually generate more visits than winter. Plan your meals, accommodations accordingly. Late August is generally very busy

LifeSport Coach Dan Smith has been around endurance and high-performance sport his entire life, and started coaching over twenty years ago. For the past 7 years he has been coaching triathlon, running, cycling and mountain biking on the West Coast of Canada.


Besides coaching, he is a top AG finisher in all distances of triathlon having competed in Ironman, 70.3 and Xterra World Championships. Complementing his extensive sport experience is his technical knowledge especially in cycling having been involved in that industry for many years. If you would like to be coached by Dan or have questions for him write Dan@LifeSportCoaching.com