This year's Ironman World Championships are going to be a bit different with two locations and a whole new course.
The women’s race will still be in the iconic location of Kona, where athletes will swim through the clear waters of Kailua Bay, ride along the wind-swept coast, and run through the barren lava fields of the Island of Hawai`i, providing a unique setting for the ultimate test of strength, grit and heart.
Meanwhile, the men will be tackling Nice this September, taking on the technical and tough climbs of the Cote d’Azur. Racing from the Mediterranean to the Mountains. The new grounds will test athletes across different terrains and conditions, providing athletes a varied race course, in the pinnacle display of triathlon racing.
We decided to talk to our experts and Parcours professional athletes, Ruth Astle and Laura Siddall and get a lowdown on what to expect from the courses and even more importantly, what factors might influence your wheel choice!
Laura Siddall is our expert for this course, having raced it four times in various conditions she has a great idea of how conditions play a part in the tough course and what wheels suit the testing conditions the best.
What has your experience racing on the course been?
I've raced Kona, four times now, most recently in 2022 where I finished 10th, my highest result. I feel the years that I have raced (2017, 2018, 2019, 2022) we have been incredibly lucky with the conditions. Every year I say, this is the year we are going to have a battle, and I'll say it again this year. I mean every year in Kona, of course it is a battle, but in terms of the conditions I think we've been lucky, relatively, to what conditions have been like in previous years of racing. I'll say it again that this will be the year and I'm going to expect, chop in the swim, extreme heat and humidity, and then brutal winds on the bike.
The course itself isn't technical. It's not the most 'difficult' Ironman course, but it's a combination of the course, the conditions, the World Championships, the hype and circus around the race, the stellar women and number of women lining up - that makes it tough.
The bike itself can be split into sections. It starts with what almost feels like an Olympic distance race, or a crit race with a 11km lap around town that can be a little frantic as people try to work out where they are and who they are with after the swim, and get into a good position before you hit The Queen K. Then 53km of the rolling Queen K, and hoping for favourable winds and conditions early in the day. From the end of The Queen K, you start the 30km (approx) climb to Hawi and the turn. It's not a horrendous climb and you can still make good time (wind depending), but it rolls and steps up and curves around the coastline of the island, and the wind can start to pick up and can be head wind for the last 10km or so. Obviously then you do all that in reverse back to town. Again the descent from Hawi, is fast but there are some pitches, and you still need to pedal. You can also start encountering cross winds off the ocean blasting through the gaps in the terrain. There's a 2km climb up from Kawaihae back to the Queen K, which is a cauldron of heat and can cook you if you're not careful. Then the 50-60km back along the rolling Queen K. Temperatures are up at this point and the wind can play havoc, changing direction as you go along the coast back to town, normally ending with a tough head wind for the last part - just when you need it the most, right? But if you pace the race well, time can be made here.
What wheels would you run for the course?
Unfortunately in Kona, disc wheels are banned. So the best option would be the Chrono wheelset. If, however, predictions are for a particularly windy day, you could swap out the front Chrono for a Strade at the front
Last year I raced the Chrono wheelset.
Editor's note: The Parcours Disc2 enables athletes to ride a faster, smoother, and more stable wheel setup. The Disc2 is designed from the ground up to be fitted with a 28-30mm tyre and a 22.5mm internal rim width makes this the widest disc wheel currently available. Parcours testing, carried out in partnership with Nottingham Trent University Sports Engineering department, has also shown that running a rear disc wheel has a material impact on overall handling stability.
What would you be thinking about when choosing a race set up?
A few factors go into deciding my race set up, and that's where the expertise and close support from the Parcours team is invaluable. Wind of course is a consideration and particularly around how shallow to take the front wheel. Obviously as in Kona, disc wheels are banned so specific race rules/regs need to be considered or at least known.
Probably the next thought goes to how technical the course is, or how hilly. If it's hilly or technical (lots of turns/corners) and so accelerating all the time out of a corner, it may not be the best idea to run a disc. But if you can still keep and carry speed through the hills, and corners, then the disc could still be the fastest option (even when climbing).
Road surface would also affect the tire pressure you run, and again the Parcours team are great at advising here, depending on how rough or smooth the surface is. Most tubeless set ups can run at a much lower pressure than what we are used to and to what people think.
Editor’s note: When combined with a wider tubeless tyre at a lower pressure, the Disc2 allows an athlete to minimise the physiological toll of racing, staying fresher and less fatigued for longer therefore putting an athlete in a better place for running a marathon.
The Nice course is new this year but being similar to previous years of Ironman Nice, Parcours triathlete Ruth Astle who raced as an age group athlete is best placed for sharing her experiences of the type of riding that will be involved and how this will affect wheel choice.
Your experience racing the course?
I have raced both the full Ironman and the 70.3 in Nice, so am familiar with a fair bit of the course being used for the World Champs. The course and setting is amazing, and one of the best courses I have raced. The sea swim is usually pretty calm and a lovely temperature and you then head out onto one of the most spectacular bike courses.
The first 10km or so is flat along the coast, taking you out of the city before turning inland and the fun of the climbs. The main climb is brilliant - nothing too steep but winds up a gorgeous valley before you get to the top and have some rolling roads at the top. You then hit the long, technical descent heading back towards the coast road you came back on. This is definitely a course for people who love riding bikes, and people that spend too much time on the turbo trainer will be in trouble!
What wheels would you run for the course?
I would run Chrono Max and the Parcours x Classified Disc2 wheel setup. The Parcours Disc2 enables me to ride a faster, smoother, and more stable wheel setup. The Disc2 is designed from the to be fitted with a 28-30mm tyre and a 22.5mm internal rim width makes this the widest disc wheel currently available and the best for this kind of course.
Pretty much the only scenario I wouldn’t run a disc wheel is where it isn’t allowed, and the minimal weight difference between Chrono and Chrono Max means I would opt for the deeper section to get slightly more aero advantage on the flat and rolling sections.
Editor’s note: A course like Nice is an interesting one to think about optimal set up. You have the exposed coastal sections, more climbing than on other courses and some very technical descents to consider.
Firstly, whilst weight is important when climbing, the aero benefits of a deeper wheelset or Disc wheel will outweigh any weight penalty. Don’t fall into the trap of forgetting that what goes up must come down and also all of the flat sections.
Secondly, whenever a course runs along the coast you need to be ready for potential cross winds. We know from our research and testing that running a rear Disc actually enhances handling stability whilst the front wheel will have the biggest impact on stability. Ultimately, you should choose the deepest front wheel you would be confident handling if the wind gets up.
One area where we expect the leading contenders will really stand out is on the descents. The introduction of disc brakes will allow for later and more responsive braking whereas if you’re running rim brakes our textured braking surface will maximise braking performance into the corners.
Lastly, our Classified enabled wheelsets, including the Classified x Parcours Disc2 are made for this course, you can benefit from the improved aerodynamics and drive train efficiency without compromising on gear range for the climbs.
What do you think about when choosing a race set up?
So for me, my honest answer would be the only consideration really is how experienced a bike rider you are, and what you are comfortable with. Ie - disc wheel and deep section front is always the fastest, it just depends on whether you are comfortable riding that in various conditions. So if you are a lighter rider and get blown around a lot and don’t like it so therefore sit up and lose your aero position, then you are better on shallow rims so you can maintain position. Technical elements may be a consideration of disc brake vs rim brake, more technical courses have lots of corners, so more braking. Disc brakes allow for later & more controlled braking, especially in wet conditions, so are better here but again for most people it isn’t a choice because they just have one bike?
Ironman World Championship racing kicks off this weekend, September 10th, in Nice with the pro men’s field starting racing at 6:50am. The women’s championship in Kona will then follow next month on September 15th.