On Vegas-specific preparation
Cliff: I’ve always been a big believer in the specific preparation for that course. You’re dealing with the heat but you’re also dealing with a tougher course and the run, which is a really interesting run. It’s something that I’ve definitely taken into the training—finding the same grades, and making sure that we can run well all the way through the half-marathon.
Lance: I think athletes really have to prepare to be back-half strong for this bike course, to make sure that they have legs left for that run, because that run is basically three two-mile hill intervals. It’s going to be running hills, but it’s also training to run efficiently and economically on the downhill, and building some resilience in the legs.
Matt: Vegas favors the strong over the fast. You have to be strong to be successful here. The one mistake that I think many athletes of all levels make on the run course is that they run up the hill a little too hard and then try to recover on the downhill—there is a lot of time to be had if you just control the hill a little bit. It requires training on specific terrain. You can’t just go and do it and say, ‘I’m going to attack the downhill’ without being prepared. There’s a real opportunity there.
Lance: I think that the swim plays a much greater role in these races where things tend to get a lot more spread out. There may be a couple of athletes who may come through—Sebastian Kienle was a good example last year of being a bit off pace for the swim—but if you’re out of contact for the swim, unless you’re an absolutely dominant cyclist, it’s pretty hard to get back. And this swim is pretty challenging, because it’s not only non-wetsuit, it is like thick soup and you can’t see in front of your face. A non-swimmer is going to pay the price.
Matt: Absolutely, there are a couple of athletes who are ‘non-swimmers’ that have potential to come through—labeling Heather Jackson as a ‘non-swimmer’ is not very fair, but Heather is someone who could do very well on this course. You’re going to have to be a good swimmer, biker and runner—that’s the way the sport is coming. Anyone that’s not balanced is going to have a difficult time.
Cliff: I’m really intrigued with the women’s field—the Nordens, the Luxfords, the Riveros, there’s a really interesting amount of ITU girls that are coming across.
Matt: I think it’s excellent for the sport, and I want those girls to be there. There seems to be this aura around short-course athletes coming to long course—like all of them are just going to come up and dominate, and that’s just not the case. It’s forcing the long-course girls to step up their game a little bit, but also emotionally be ready to realize that they can race against these girls. I was really proud of Meredith [Kessler] in St. George because she had absolutely no fear of any of the competitors. We need to embrace the fact that it’s going to be a more balanced sport.
Lance: It’s been interesting to watch which sort of short-course athletes successfully make the transition like [Michael] Raelert, and those who maybe struggle a little bit more and just don’t have the strength. They are the speed versus the strength athletes. The one thing about ITU-style racing is there is incredible depth there, there are a lot of very fine athletes so it’s neat to see them come up and fill up the rankings. It’s learning a new craft, racing long, and there are years of adaptation and strength that happen as well, so these gals just can’t go and concede those spots.