Laurent Vidal Interview

Laurent Vidal has had a storming start to 2012 and looks to be a man in form ahead of the London Oympics. 220 caught up with the French superstar to talk to him about his Olympic preparation, his season so far, and how he sees things going from here…

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220: Talk us through your off-season?

Laurent Vidal: I finished my 2011 season in Auckland for the last World Cup of the year. It was a great opportunity to check out the course before the WTS Grand Finale this year.
It was also awesome to race in my second home country in front of all our family and kiwi friends.

After that I had a two-week break that I spent inbetween Christchurch and the Bay of Islands with some friends. It was very relaxing and I shared my day fishing, snorkeling, kicking rugby balls, having BBQs and enjoying a cold beer while the sun was going down!

Early december, I restarted training in Christchurch with Andrea, James Elvery, Tom Davison, Aurelien Lebrun and Dylan McNeice for a three week ‘back on business’ block.

After I drove down to Wanaka and spent a month at altitude with the High performance squad of Tri NZ. Since then, I kept my training very high and I went a second time at altitude but this time with my team mate David Hauss. Basically I’ve just completed four months of base training!

Since 2009, I have stuck to my plan to build up towards London and of course we are now in the last year so I am able to do things I couldn’t do before. I have been focussing on all three disciplines and towards a maximum build up of stamina, aerobic threshold and pure speed.

On numbers, I train between 30-34hrs per week including a complete rest day every week, it means roughly 28km swim, 400km ride and 140km run. I am not too worried about the number but more about what I put in my weeks. I also believe consistency is key to perform at the highest level in triathlon so it might sound silly but actually I focussed a lot on recovery. The only way to keep you going day after day!

You’ve had a very successful start to 2012. Are you pleased with your current performance? Is there anything you’d still like to work on?

I’m a bit surprised to be honest, I mean, I know I definitely improved but I was not expecting to be that competitive considering my preparation. I guess over the years I am getting stronger and it’s the fourth base training I’m going through with no problem so it pays off. May and June will be key months in my preparation towards august as I will be doing the specific race pace work.
I am not late in my preparation and am sticking to the plan, I am not going to change my schedules because of those early season race results. It is only giving good indications for the next few months.

Although, I was pleased to win both Geelong and Mooloolaba with a strong finish and outsprinting Brad Kahlefeldt was a buzz!

You finished seventh in the WCS last year, just behind your fellow Frenchman David Hauss. Were you pleased with your overall performance in 2011?

2011 was a very special year for me as I planned to put everything for the end of the season to secure my Olympic qualification. It happened so I was happy in that sense, I finished sixth in London and fifth in Beijing, I was a bit short on the final stages of the race but surely my improvement was noticeable. I also won my second national title and I am really excited to represent my country for London 2012 as the national champion!

What stands out as a highlight for you in 2011?

With no doubt London and Beijing. London because of the Olympic selection ( we had to place top eight) and Beijing for the way I raced.

London was a weird feeling to race, for the first time I didn’t care about racing for the lead, I was only focussed on the top eight as from my previous olympic experience I knew a great performance in London 2012 would start by an early olympic selection. It was a good relief to grab that top eight when 70% of the guys on the start line wanted it too!

I was confident on getting it but anything can happen in one race, it was my only chance to qualify in 2011.
Beijing was different, I went there to have a crack! I raced more aggressively and I grabbed fifth only a few seconds from the win.
Thinking about it, I think I was not mentally ready to give what it takes on the last km but it was a good experience and surely the gap with the Brownlee brothers was very tight. They were the benchmark!

And any low points?

Yeah, I had niggles in my achilles that handicapped me a bit on the first few minutes of each race on the run. I wonder what I could have done if I could’ve started a bit quicker…

What did you learn from racing the Olympics in 2008 that you will carry with you this year in to London?

An Olympic campaign involves a lot of planning, you have to build your preparation around this single event. It’s not only on the last six months but over the three years before! Learning from my experience in Beijing, I have decided to arrive in London very late and not to stay in the Olympic village as it is quite complicated to do triathlon training from there.

How do you feel you’ve progressed as an athlete since 2008?

I’m a completely different athlete, back then I had no idea about what it takes to perform in big events. I guess I wasn’t ready.
You know, it takes quite a while to teach your body to handle the amount of training we are doing.
I mean, if you don’t build up then you will strain yourself and to cope with 20 sessions every week without feeling particularly exhausted, it has taken me five years!

Sven Riederer recently told us in an interview that he knew “how to beat the Brownlees”. He failed to elaborate on how he could do this, but do you know how to beat the brothers! Have you got a race plan in mind for the Games?

Really?! Personally, I am focussing on my own performance and preparation because I can’t predict the performance of others.
It’s right to say Ali has dominated the last three years and at some point he felt unbeatable. Jonny is a different type of athlete, he is less aggressive, less out loud but still bloody destructive!

Everything counts to win an Olympic race and any time you lose in your preparation is lost forever. While you overdo things, some athletes are just doing it perfectly right and pushing. It is a thin line but this is what I have to walk on to get to the perfect performance in London, no matter who isn’t with me.

Do you think the London course suits your racing style?

Definitely! I especially like the run with all the turns even if I wished we were running on the horse path with 15cm of mud! That would give extra fun. It’s been four years that I’ve known the Olympic race will be at Hyde Park, so I’ve had time to train for it!
There is nothing special about the swim.

On the bike it is really important to stay aware and to take opportunities when they are in front of you. Opposite from transition on the run, it’s very fast and slightly on an angle, then you enter into 400m with cross country style turns and finally the last straight.
It’s a very fast course on the run. But the weather might be a factor, just like in 2011.

What’s your race schedule for the rest of 2012 (from now until the end of the year)?

I will use the World Triathlon Series to build up towards London and after London I will race all the events of the WTS.
I’d like to have a high in Auckland. Maybe I’ll try also some different types of racing to check it out but we will see with the opportunities ahead of me.

Where will you base yourself leading up to the Games and why?

After New Zealand, I will head back to France to my hometown where I will spend the whole summer. I just love that place, I’m lucky to be from the South right by the Mediterranean.

The weather is stunning, the daylight very long and the training great with endless trails, quiet roads, lakes, 50m pools and, of course, the sea!

How has training with Andrea helped your performance? What has she been able to teach you? And visa versa?

I’m very thankful to be with Andrea, we are suited for each other. It’s nice to spend days after days doing what you enjoy with your partner and most important seeing that we are both really happy. We’re both enjoying what we’re doing and I guess it creates a very positive atmosphere around us.

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We’re not worried people and we know that performing in triathlon comes from preparation and not about being psycho about it. We’re a very relaxed couple knowing what we have to do.