From toils at the Commonwealth Games to tears in Leeds, it’s largely been a season to forget for Jonny Brownlee in 2018.
But the affable Brownlee has been on reliably-good form here at the Beijing International Triathlon in China, mixing with the locals at tourist sites around the city and with the healthy pro contingent vying for some of the healthy prize purse.
We’ve been lucky enough to spend time with Jonny and the pro field in Beijing ahead of our races in the Chinese capital on Sunday 23 September, where the younger Brownlee will join Alistair in a non-drafting challenge on the bike course in a strong pro field of 30 and 220 will be bringing up the rear as part of the 2,000-strong age-group field.
220: So you’re on the Scott Plasma tri bike tomorrow.
Jonny: I last raced on a tri bike back at Abu Dhabi International in 2014, and I’ve put it in the cupboard since then. I since got a new bike sponsor in Scott Bikes and I got it out before the Gold Coast race. I’ve only ridden it eight or nine times as I’ve been concentrating on the World Tri Series.
But here we are, and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable on it than I thought I would. The first time on it I felt really good and I’ve enjoyed riding it. I tell myself that it’s pedalling, strength and power and, if you can do that on a road bike you can do that one a TT bike. But I haven’t made it easy on myself in this field, with one of the strongest non-drafting fields I’ve seen in a long time.
We’ve done a tour of the 40km course and it’s going to be a technical one out there.
I’d actually much prefer a technical, up and down course that a pure flat and straight one. That’s where I’ll struggle against the strong TT guys like [American non-drafting specialist] Cameron Dye as they can put down their power.
How much have you done in terms of TT bike positioning and wind tunnel analysis?
Absolutely nothing. My focus was the Grand Final, and that didn’t go as planned, but when I take non-drafting racing more seriously than that’s something I certainly do with the help of Scott bikes. But so far I did it all myself and with the help of [fellow Brit pro] Mark Buckingham. I was in my garage and Bucko came and took some videos of me.
From the outside it seems to have been a tough season for you, starting with missing the top five at the Commonwealth Games. How do you assess it?
It’s been the worst season of my career. I made a lot of mistakes and have had some bad luck along the way. I’m not used to getting ready for a race as early as the Commonwealth Games in April. I’ve a tried and tested way of peaking for August, so this year was different for me. I panicked and tried to train too hard before April and then got a stress response in my femur and that meant six weeks off from running.
And then there was your emotional DNF in Leeds in June.
I went home and set the reset button for Leeds and was feeling really good before that, until I got sick from a stomach bug before the race. Going into the race I didn’t feel quite right, but athletes are the best people in the world at lying to themselves. I quickly realised I wasn’t fine in the race and was on an IV drip as soon as it finished. I’m hoping to get all my bad luck out of the way in 2018.
What’s left for you in 2018?
Positively I want to rescue my season here in Beijing and my remaining races at the Super League Triathlon races in Jersey and hopefully Malta and Mallorca. The Super League events are great fun and a different challenge.
Is it hard to stay motivated going back to the ITU World Tri Series when you’ve had races such as Beijing and the Super League?
I’ve been to the same races and places for many years now with the ITU WTS. I still enjoy it and it’s still real top-end racing and hugely competitive. My main goal over the next couple of years is to go to Tokyo and get an Olympic medal. And I have to do the ITU racing to achieve that. After that I’ll be ready for a change.
Meaning you’ll follow Alistair into Ironman 70.3?
Yes. I’ve enjoyed being out here in Beijing and the relaxed side of it; the smaller field and everyone being out here together. Ask me tomorrow after the race and I might hate it, but I’ll definitely be ready for a change after 2020 to the longer stuff.
As for Tokyo, has the heat preparation started already?
I’ve turned my conservatory into a head chamber, so heaters in there and wall paper strippers. We’re looking at pre-race camps to go out to before the race. But I believe with the British Triathlon system we’ve got that I’ll go out there as prepared as I can be.