Inspired by both the Brownlees and his own parents racing in Hyde Park, Crewe-born, Shropshire-raised, Loughborough-based Connor Bentley did his first triathlon aged 11.
Fast-forward another 11 years and he’s on British Triathlon’s World Class Programme with a world title to his name, studying maths and economics and training with some of the best triathletes on the planet.
We caught up with him at home shortly after his return from a training camp Down Under to talk the financial balancing act of going pro, Olympic ambitions and his thoughts on the Norwegians…
220: So you’ve just been in Australia for training with the British Triathlon World Class Programme. How did that go?
Connor Bentley: Yeah, it was really good, a great environment. We were down in Queensland on the Gold Coast, a place called Burleigh Heads, and we were working with one of the Surf Lifesavers there, Phil Clayton and basically trying to learn as much as we could from him around open-water swimming.
It seems to have moved on all sorts, like my physiology and skills. It was just a really solid camp.
220: And who was with you?
CB: It was pretty much the Loughborough athletes, so there was Ben [Dijkstra], Alex [Yee], Sophie [Coldwell], Liv [Mathias], Sophie Alden, Harry Leleu and Sophia Green [the latter two are part of the Loughborough performance programme].
220: So all your buddies anyway, right?
CB: Ha, yeah! Week in week out. That’s probably why it was such an easy camp environment.
220: How did you first get into tri?
CB: It was through my parents, they took up age-group racing. My mum was a runner and after her career she just tried to stay fit so her and my dad did the age-group stuff.
I watched them race in the world champs in London [in 2013], and I’d also watched the Olympics there the year before. I was kind of swimming and running a bit at the time, so I gave it a go and then just moved through the various ranks. Since I was 18, I set my mind on going down the professional route.
A few of the lads who I came to Loughborough with, we all came through the programme together, and Alex, Ben and Liv, they were the athletes we were looking up.
220: What is it about the sport that you love?
CB: The racing’s always exciting because there’s so much that can go on. With tri, the races really progress in different ways. But it’s not just that, I love the training. I like staying active and there’s not really a better sport to do that.
220: And have you finished your studies now at Loughborough?
CB: No, I’ve got until the end of this summer. I’m doing maths and economics. My dad always told me to just make sure that you’ve got something to fall back on. Cause you’re only one injury away from potentially not being able to carry on with a career.
220: So you finish your degree this summer and then you’re a full-time triathlete on the World Class Program. How does the financing work?
CB: Well that’ll certainly help, for sure. But I’m fortunate enough that I’m getting in some rent now as well. The rest is generally geared around how well I’m going to be racing this year.
But it’s something that I’m going to have to look into seriously. I’ve been in a dream state as a student, but yeah, I’ve got to be earning, I’ve got to be self-sufficient.
220: Do you think you’re in a luckier position because there are now so many races to choose from?
CB: Yeah, it is useful. But the issue with some of them is that they’re sometimes all bunched. Because of that, I can only pick a couple races. So when it actually comes down to it, what fits best in my training block is still only a select, few races.
220: What about Super League? Have you had an invite through?
CB: I had one last year, but I turned that down in preference for racing the World Cups over in Asia. At the time, that was the best option to support my development as an athlete.
I speak to Tim [Don] every so often and he’s been pretty supportive around the racing, so I’ll keep my options open for Super Legaue.
220: What have you learned from training with Alex [Yee]?
CB: I think the main one is that these phenomenal athletes are actually just normal people. Alex is the most down-to-earth guy I’ve ever met.
It keeps you in a sort of reality check; he’s got his medals and stuff, but at the end of the day, he’s still just one of the guys who’s at the training centre. But you really can’t ask for a better role model.
220: Let’s go back to the U23 Champs – did you go into the race thinking you had a shot of gold?
CB: No, honestly, I went into that race just looking to get experience. I’d had had a tough year, following two shin stress responses. All I wanted to do at that point was just get through the season, learn as much as I could and go through to the next.
But that said, that race, everything everything went to plan and I was able to execute a perfect race that day.
220: How did it feel when you crossed that line, knowing you were world champion?
CB: Honestly, it didn’t settle in for a few minutes, because once I crossed that line I was in so much pain. I was just relieved, it really was the confidence boost I needed.
220: And you join a great line of British, U23 world champions. No pressure, but are you even considering Paris [Olympics 2024]?
CB: Obviously it’s in there somewhere. But the thing I need to do the most – and it’s what I’ve learned these last few years – is just focus on my own processes. I’m going to take each year as it comes.
The Test Event (in August) is not on my plan. It’s not suited to my development, so I’m going to keep ticking off races as they come, and if the door opens, the door opens, then I’m more than happy to step up!
220: So what is your plan for this year?
CB: The first half of the season is pretty much set. So I’m not going to race until mid-May just with the nature of last year’s [late] season.
We’ve highlighted what I need to move on, which is my threshold, but they’re not going do that in a few months. So I’ll open up with two European Cups [Connor won them both – Caorle in Italy on 13 May and Olsztyn in Poland on 27 May], but then I’m going to target the European Games [Poland, 27 June-1 July].
Following that, I’ll see if I can get my first WTS [World Triathlon Series] start in Sunderland [29 July].
I actually had the pleasure of being able to race there last year for the British Champs. The biggest shock to me was that during the swim warm-up we could see dolphins swimming out at the back of the back of the bay.
I couldn’t believe it was still in Sunderland until I got in the water when it was cold.
220: So if you could borrow any other triathletes’ abilities, whose would you choose and why?
CB: I’ll pick the obvious here. So, I’ll take Alex’s run. It is a gift, that, and it’s awesome to watch. The swim? I really like [Henri] Schoeman’s stroke, he’s got such nice technique. It’d have to be between Schoeman and [Richard] Varga.
And the bike, I’ll take Ali Brownlee.
220: Would you be as aggressive as Ali in a bike pack, do you think?
CB: I can’t! I don’t have the legs to back it up. That man, without doubt, every race he goes to, he gets a bike pack to work and that in itself is a skill that needs developing.
CB: They’re machines. They are just powerhouses, almost robotic. It’s not just their ability, but it’s physiological.
For Bloomie, that ability to go into the red, to really hurt himself, that’s something you can’t teach. You can go down the route of psychology and look into how to push past that pain barrier, but to his extent is inspiring.
That’s what I’d like to get out of myself at every race.
220: What are your ultimate long-term goals in the sport?
CB: I do want to be world champ. I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics and that’s going to be at the forefront. The more I’ve developed as an athlete, the more I just want to be the best. I want to be at the top of the sport.
Putting a race together that I can be proud of, that’s where I sit.
220: What do you need to do between now and then to achieve that?
CB: I’ve just got to stay consistent. I’ve got to focus on myself, stick to my processes, do as my coaching team [Rob Bridges] tell me. I’ve got faith in them that they’ll be able to move me on to where I want to be.
220: What’s your favourite training session and why?
CB: I absolutely love a long run. Unless I know for a fact that on a Friday we’ve got a hard run session because I like a hard session, I can guarantee you that I’m looking forward to that long run on Sunday.
220: And how do you recover after such a hard session?
CB: I’ll stick to straightaway a recovery shake. Get the protein in, get the carbs in straight away. And then I’ll probably throw something together, but it depends what I’ve gone to the shops for! So But it’ll have to be heavy carb-based, just so I can fuel for that next session.
220: What do you do to relax away from the sport?
CB: I’m a massive film watcher. I love my films. If I’m trying to relax, then it’ll be one that I’ve probably already watched because I’m going to fall asleep. Interstellar or Good Will Hunting are my two favourites.
And I’m a massive fan of Top Gun: Maverick.
Connor Bentley’s race highlights
Name: Connor Bentley
Home: Loughborough (originally Shropshire)
Best results to date:
2nd, National Sprint Champs, January 2021
3rd, European U23 Sprint Champs, June 2021
2nd, Europe Triathlon Cup Barcelona, October 2021
1st, National Sprint Champs, August 2022
1st, World U23 Champs, November 2022
1st, Europe Triathlon Cup Olsztyn, May 2023
1st, Europe Triathlon Cup Caorle, May 2023
Top image credit: Wagner Araujo (@wags.photo)/World Triathlon