One of my favorite things to do each year is take a look at the bikes that win the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Which bike happens to belong to the winner is a confluence of many factors, including that rider's career path (which determines which bike companies can even afford to sponsor that particular athlete), the life cycle of the bike company's current product (and whether there's something brand new they could give to the rider), the competition from other bike brands (which can influence what each company is developing at any given time), etc.
The first year we covered Hawaii, Chris McCormack won aboard the beautifully minimal first-version nosecone Shiv. It was the first time in several years that such a minimal build won the race. The following year, another Shiv took the title, this time the tri-specific version we know today. Both years, the humble Cannondale Slice took the title on the women's side, first under Mirinda Carfrae and then Chrissie Wellington. Last year's winning rigs were definitely not the coolest machines in the field. Pete Jacobs won aboard the Boardman AiR TT, and Leanda Cave on the Pinarello Graal. In my opinion, the most standout feature for both bikes is their messy front-end cable management. The Boardman has that nasty loop of cable for the sidepull brake, and the Graal has cables everywhere (as a side note, Boardman's new TTE is a dramatic improvement, and actually very cool-looking - I really hope to review one in the near future).
This year is a real return to form. Frederik Van Lierde is on the Cervelo P5, a very nice rig about which we've written several articles, including a very slick custom build. And Mirinda Carfrae's Felt IA might just have claim to be the fastest tri bike ever made. We made sure to provide some serious coverage when the IA was launched, and we've had our eye on it ever since. This year's Kona victory is a huge validation for Felt's newest flagship, and its aerodynamic advantage may have been a real part of Carfrae's victory, by allowing her to limit her bike losses to cycling powerhouse Caroline Steffen.
But the most significant aspect of these rigs isn't their integrated brakes, or their hidden cables, or their fancy aerobars. In my opinion, the most newsworthy item here is the fact that both of these bikes are illegal to race under UCI rules. In the case of the P5, this is barely true, since it can be made legal by swapping out the fork. But Rinny's bike is a ground-up tri-specific bike that can ONLY be used where the UCI's limitations don't apply. We saw another tri-specific design recently, when Craig Alexander took the 2011 title aboard the built-for-tri Specialized Shiv. But this year proves that the Shiv wasn't a fluke. Manufacturers have finally come to the decision that the heroes of triathlon are big enough to sell frames all by themselves, and that our sport no longer needs to ride the coattails of the Pro Peloton. You can see it throughout the pro field, with all kinds of tri-specific designs. And this year, for the first time, that trend has reached the top step of the podium for both the men and women.
More than anything, I'm just delighted to see such slick, advanced pieces of equipment beneath the athletes who took the win this year. These are some of the best bikes on the market, and they deserve to be represented by the best athletes. Have a look at the gallery for a closer view of the components.