22 July 2009 11 Comments

The Ironman UK Bike Course – my impression

Note: the bike course has changed quite a bit since this article was written although the sections to Chorley remain the same.

Despite living less than 30 miles from Bolton, yesterday was the first day when I had a chance to go and actually ride the course. Unfortunately, when I got there the weather was so abysmal that the bike stayed in the boot and I decided to drive the route instead. If you are planning your own recce, then I suggest you park at Great House Barn (see map in previous post). It’s free and has a great tea shop (I recommend the hotpot – great post ride/drive food). I was equipped with the official map printed from the Ironman website with which to navigate. I actually found it quite a hard course to navigate on my own and would recommend that you take a navigator with you if you’re planning on driving it. On race day the signage and marshals will make it all much easier.

For ease of reference I’ve split the route up into sections.

Rivington to Belmont

The most obvious feature of the bike course is Rivington Pike, the hill that dominates the scenery hereabouts and you’re going to climb it three times. The climb begins as soon as you cross the reservoir and rises for almost two and a half miles gaining over 600 feet. It’s never too steep though, and I can’t imagine that anyone would need a bigger rear sprocket than a 25 tooth. By the third time up you’re really going to feel it.

The descent from the top is fast, but quite technical – there are some tightening bends to look out for. The real problem is at the bottom of the hill where the road narrows and the surface deteriorates badly – in fact, just before the junction at the bottom it is really appalling. If you hit this too fast, you’re in big trouble. Avoiding the temptation to stop at the Black Dog pub, you’ve got a very sharp left onto the main Bolton to Blackburn road.

Belmont to the M65

The A675 is a fast road and this section will be pretty rapid for most. There are some gentle rises and descents on here, but nothing too serious. As you drop in to Abbey Village towards the northern end of this section there is a zebra crossing on a fast desecent that you’ll need to look out for.

M65 to A6

At the M65 roundabout you turn back on yourself and take the first exit followed by a gentle climb up to Wheelton. There follows quite a fast section with various crossings, narrow bridge and curves etc. through the village. The next major point is the right turn into a narrow lane across a dual carriageway (at the Malthouse Farm pub). This could be tricky, but it does say that it’s a Police point on the official map. Immediately after the turn there is a single file canal bridge to look out for. The left turn on to the A6 itself is also a tricky one as you have no visibility to the right as you approach the Stop sign.

The outskirts of Chorley to Croston

This section, I imagine will be the course planners biggest challenge. Once you are on the A6 you make a right turn at traffic lights almost straight away. After that there is another set of traffic lights into the local area general hospital. This is an A & E hospital, so ambulances will get priority on this junction – I’m not sure how it will be managed, if at all. I think I went past the hospital when I made one of my navigational errors. Thereafter there is another long and fast section through an industrial area and new housing development until you come to yet more traffic lights turning right onto Southport road. It’s all flat now and apart from a sharp turn to the left you’ll hit Croston at speed.

Croston to the M6

As you sweep in to Croston you’ll see some old stone gates in front of you where you turn left into a country lane. It’s still all flat through here, but is quite technical as there are lots of bends with poor visibility to contend with. As you approach Mawdesley you’ll need to break hard to turn left into Dark Lane and another twisty section of road.

M6 to Rivington

This is another tricky section for the course organisers. Once over the M6 after about a mile you turn hard left onto the A49 towards Coppull, but before you get there there is yet another right hand turn across the traffic into Coppull Moor Lane. After a mile or so you turn left onto another A road and a fast few miles before what amounts to almost a dead turn right into a narrow lane. This lane takes you into Adlington and a crossroads on the A6, which you go straight across (poor visibility on the approach). You’ve got a short hill up to a right turn into Adlington town centre and a left turn at the traffic lights. It will be interesting to see how they manage this whole section as it could potentially cause quite a few holdups.

At the traffic lights you turn left and are faced with quite a long hill that climbs up Babylon Lane to the M61 after which there is a freewheel down to the reservoir to begin your next lap or head into transition.

Overall Impression

I have to say that the course is better than I expected it to be. In general, the road surface is good, with some quite smooth sections. The obvious exception is the bit outside the Black Dog in Belmont which really is shockingly bad as you approach the junction (at least it’s only 75 metres or so) Resurfaced now. There is lots of fast and flat riding to be had and the hills are all gentle inclines, even the big one at Rivington Pike. Where the route suffers is in the number of right hand turns across main roads, I can count 7 including a crossroads. You would expect this in such a developed area, but it represents a big challenge to the organisers.

Hopefully, I’ll get to actually ride it tomorrow!


11 Responses to “The Ironman UK Bike Course – my impression”

  1. redbikes 22 July 2009 at 1:21 pm #

    That sounds viscous enough without the swimming and the running!


  2. Simon Lewis 23 July 2009 at 8:31 am #

    Are most rides in an ironman on a tough course. Three times up Rivington Pike seems hard going. I guess there is a reason its called ironman 🙂


  3. noel higginson 23 July 2009 at 9:40 am #

    My wife and I have been trying to suss out the routes for our son, he is doing I.m.U.k. for fifth time. It seemed easier at Sherbourne. Thanks for this it is better than the official one. I see a girl was banned for being critical, not good eh?


  4. John Sutton 23 July 2009 at 6:09 pm #

    Thanks for the comments folks. @simon – I think this is likely to be one of the fastest routes on the Ironman circuit. You want hard? Checkout Ironman Lanzarote.

    @noel thanks for the comment – map updated


  5. Stephen 27 July 2009 at 12:39 pm #

    Don’t be misled by the ‘fast’ sections. These are my cycle racing training roads. They’re ‘heavy’ tarmac on minor b-roads,especially the croston area sections and the bits to & from the transition. There won’t be any records broken on this course. Pace yourself… the third lap will be a killer!


  6. Stephen 27 July 2009 at 12:43 pm #

    Oh, and the NW weather here has been bad recently and forecast so for the weekend. If it’s wet and windy this will make it a tough course… maybe the blog author should have actually ridden the course instead of driven it!



  7. john Sutton 27 July 2009 at 2:43 pm #

    Thanks for the comment, I have ridden the course (see later post). The NW weather has been truly dreadful but the long term forecast I’ve seen forecasts 18 degrees, a force 4 westerly and only 5% chance of a shower. Fingers crossed.


  8. Rue 17 March 2010 at 6:16 pm #

    Are the hills gentle enough to use a tri-bike or are the decents fast enough that a road bike would be the way to go?


  9. John Sutton 17 March 2010 at 6:36 pm #

    The only big descent is off Rivington down to Belmont Village, but it’s a decent road surface (except at the bottom). The rest of the course is fast and sweeping and a tri bike is definitely an advantage if you.ve got one. Not that the 2010 course is quite different, but still includes the descent from Rivington. I’m hoping to ride the new version of the course at Easter.



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