It definitely won't be triathlon accessories that win the race for you, it'll be perseverance, training, passion and determination. But you'll certainly need the right equipment, technical clothing and a great triathlon bike to compete at your best.
Do you already know what you need?
Before the start
The race is about to begin and the adrenaline kicks in. Check you have everything you need in your backpack - or rather, in your transition bag:
- hydration kit and food;
- bike repair kit;
- race number holder (the most comfortable are single-shoulder versions, which can quickly be moved from back to front);
- GPS watch and sunglasses.
Ready. Let's dive in.
Swimming: triathlon bodysuit or wetsuit?
Swimming is the first challenge where you'll be up against yourself and others.
The rules vary according to the national federations and events you're taking part in. The Italian Triathlon Federation, for example, regulates clothing and race accessories in minute detail.
In some competitions in very cold water, it's obligatory to wear a wetsuit. In others, where the water is warm, it's not allowed. A triathlon wetsuit is designed to insulate heat and prevent the entry of water, minimising friction and facilitating floating. These wetsuits are very different to those used in surfing or diving.
However, more often you'll find it's preferable to wear a triathlon bodysuit to make the transitions easier. This garment is designed for comfort during the swimming, cycling and running stages. The three-function bodysuit is water-repellent, high-performance, breathable and quick-drying.
Some races also allow the use of a two-part suit (shorts and top).
In addition to the bodysuit or wetsuit, the triathlete's gear in the water always includes a swim cap and goggles.
Want a tip to avoid the wrong clothing? Always read the race regulations very carefully. Failure to do so means disqualification.
Running: how to choose triathlon shoes
You've just jumped out of the water and it's time to start running. If you're wearing a bodysuit, you can continue without changing your clothing. Get your shoes on and run, there's another challenge ahead.
One of the main problems encountered by newcomers to triathlon is adapting to normal running shoes: in fact, there are no specially designed triathlon shoes.
So you should choose running shoes that are:
- suitable for the shape of your feet.
A useful trick is to choose shoes with rapid lacing (or self-locking laces), because they're quicker to put on during transitions, and there's no risk of them coming undone during the race.
In the cycle stage, accessories make all the difference to your triathlon bike.
We're in the final stage of the race. You feel the road rushing under your wheels and your quads pushing strongly. What do you need to maximise your performance?
Beginner triathletes tend to use racing bike shoes with cleated soles, and perhaps pedals with toe clips. But when you want to take a step up in terms of quality, we recommend investing in a pair of triathlon cycling shoes, which are designed to be put on quickly, even without socks, and have an extremely fast pedal locking system. These are flexible shoes with good ventilation and breathability, to keep the feet more comfortable during the race.
Helmets are compulsory in cycle races. The most important thing is that it must protect your skull properly, so you should buy a helmet with EN 1078 certification.
Some newcomers to triathlon use racing bike helmets. More experienced athletes prefer tear-shaped helmets, for their aerodynamics.
The triathlon bike
There are triathlon bikes designed specifically for our sport: the best are highly aerodynamic time trial bikes which, with the right wheels and tyres, can also achieve excellent stability in the case of side wind, without wasting energy.
But if you're a newbie to the sport, you could adapt a racing or mountain bike, adding the components needed for triathlon. Obviously, a road bike is more suitable for fast routes, while a MTB is ideal for uphill courses.
What are these accessories?
Extensions are bars fitted to the handlebar to adapt a road bike or MTB to the discipline (triathlon bikes already have them). They allow a more functional and more aerodynamic position for the back.
Two other key elements are the saddle, which should be comfortable first and foremost, and also aerodynamic; and the pedals, with rapid locking systems.
Lastly, and essentially, are the wheels, which will take you from one end of your race route to the other.
The choice of wheels is not merely a technical decision to allow you to reduce your time, it's also a matter of preference. Through the wheels you feel the road underneath you, and their turning becomes as one with the work of your muscles.
So to choose the wheels that are right for you, you should consider three options:
- Deep-section wheels recommended for high-speed courses, including long distances. These are extremely aerodynamic and resistant, and are made in carbon fibre to reduce weight and enhance performance. They are particularly valued in Ironman, for example, where knocking a hundredth of a second off can change the race;
- Shallow-section wheels, less fast but good for absorbing shocks and bumps. These are normally preferable for uphill races or those with sudden changes in direction or speed;
- Medium-section wheels, a good compromise between the two. These do not have the same aerodynamic qualities as deep-section wheels, but they guarantee greater stability, especially in very tough challenges.
Now you know what to choose according to the race you're entering, you just need to learn the final secrets for the perfect wheels. What really makes the difference in a race?
- The materials used to make the wheels, preferably carbon fibre or titanium;
- Technologically advanced design and development;
- The hub and the spokes, which can optimise performance when meticulously designed and built;
- The tyres: tubed for stability or tubeless for speed and agility.