IHAVE TO ADMIT that I have loved watching the renais-
sance of the bike leg in our sport over the last few years. Those of us who have been in the sport for a while can remember when ITU races often featured large packs of athletes cruising around the bike course waiting for the chance to rip out an amazing 10 km run in search of the podium. Our very own Simon Whitfield was a big part of changing that dynamic – he was keen to have Colin Jenkins on the Canadian team for the Beijing Olympic games in 2008, not so he’d have someone to sit behind, but because he wanted Jenkins to help him make the bike ride as hard as possible – he wanted everyone to start the run as tired as possible.
Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee have continued that trend over the last eight or so years, dominating the last two Olympics and numerous ITU races thanks to aggressive splits in the swim and bike, followed by suffer-fest runs. Flora Duffy has been virtually unbeatable on the ITU race scene for the last 18 months thanks to incredibly aggressive riding – she routinely pulls away from the rest of the field on the bike and then remains ahead through the run.
It’s not just in short-course racing that we’ve seen a shift in the status quo. While the old “bike for show, run for dough” adage continues, it’s almost impossible to win an Ironman race these days unless you’re very solid on the bike. Remember those days when the chase pack would
trail a few German uber-bikers to T2 on the pier in Kona and then run them down? Those days are long gone. (Yes, I hear you – Patrick Lange’s sub-2:40 marathon splits in Kona over the last two years have netted him third- and first-place finishes, but it’s not as though his bike splits aren’t up to snuff – last year he set an overall course record in Kona after a very credible 4:28 bike split.)
What excites me about this trend is the fact that to excel in our sport its never been more important to be proficient in all three legs of the race. Lionel Sanders might not have won Kona last year, but who would have thought that a man who was dead last out of the water at a 70.3 world championship would, three years later, lead the chase pack at the end of the swim in Kona and come oh-so-close to taking the title? Sanders’ recent “schooling” (his word, not mine) by Jan Frodeno at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside once again proved that to win at the highest levels you simply must be an excellent swimmer, cyclist and runner. Frodeno led the entire day in Oceanside, dominating all three disciplines on his way to the win.
Fresh off a solo breakaway win at the ITU World Triathlon Series opener in Abu Dhabi, Henri Schoeman didn’t exactly do a ton of work in the breakaway at the Commonwealth Games (probably knowing that Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee weren’t in their normal run shape and had to push on the bike), but was part of the lead group of six. Only an insane 14:36 5 km split got Jacob Birtwhistle to the silver medal. The women’s race on the Gold Coast also saw the race won on the bike – Duffy and England’s Jessica Learmonth turned a 42-second gap out of the water into a 1:20 lead off the bike to take the first two spots.
Can Lionel Sanders beat Jan Frodeno in Kona later this year? He learned how hard that will be if he’s a bunch of minutes down after the swim. Can anyone beat Flora Duffy at a WTS race? Unless she crashes, as she did in Abu Dhabi, the only way that seems to happen is if that person comes off the bike with the Bermudan star.
It’s an exciting time in our sport, one in which you have to swim, bike and run to earn your dough, exactly the way it’s supposed to be.