This weekend’s action sees the culmination of one of the longest seasons our Brit team has ever had to face. Sparing a few minutes in their hectic training/media round schedule a few familiar faces on the GB tri scene let me in on their thoughts heading into round seven of the ITU World Champ Series…
First along was Vicky Holland. In what has been her best season to date, she told me – in an interview that could have filled an entire issue – what she was hoping for from the Budapest course…
“Flat, fast, technical.” That’s Holland’s take on the bike course. “But I believe it’s not as technical as Hamburg, but I don’t mind that. I quite enjoy it, it just gets a little sketchy when you’ve got someone in the group who you don’t necessarily trust…
I tried to weedle out names but being the pro, and lady that she is, she wouldn’t divulge.
“I’m really geared up for this race but after this I feel I’m going to start to switch off. My coach [Darren Smith] is really keen for me to take a break. This has by far been my longest season, I started in February. And I’d never started before May before this year.
“This year I was just so new to the series. Going into Sydney, was very much, ‘well we’ll see how you go, going into this proper elite senior field, we’ll see what comes out. We’ll see if we keep you going on the world series field, or whether we put you down on the world cups instead. So just maybe take you down a level, if it wasn’t working.’ But as it was, the first race went brilliantly and so from there on in it was sticking with the world series.”
It sure was, with Vicky racing all but Madrid. In Hamburg she finished her season’s best with a fifth, following it up a week later in London with a sixth.
“In a way I was more pleased with London because it was a stronger field. But I know that I ran better in Hamburg, I definitely had my best run of the year where I ran with the pack the whole way. So that was something new for me.
“And in London I only ran with them for one of the three laps, so I was a bit more disappointed with the run but I was more pleased with the outcome knowing the field was stronger.”
Best season then…
“By far my best season so far. Hands down it’s been a breakthrough season for me. I’d love to finish the season in the top 10. At the moment I’m 12th so I could potentially. There are more points on offer so there’s a lot more scope for change, because there are bigger gaps between the points. So I could end up anywhere between 8th and 15th! But there’s no way to calculate it. We won’t know until the results come through.”
Our highest performing Brit in 2010, Jenkins heads into this weekend standing fourth in the rankings. And knowing that statistically she could even win it…
“To win I think I’d have to win, and the girls in first and second have to finish, oh I don’t know, sixth or lower. So statistically I could but there a lot of factors that have to go my own way. No, I’m trying not to think about that, I think I just need to give a good performance and see what happens.”
And that shouldn’t be too hard, with some commentators describing you as Miss Consistent…
“Training’s been going well since the last few races, it’s just putting together in the race. It’s hard when it’s a series to perform well at every race. I came good in the middle [of the season] so I hope it can continue for this one!
“I didn’t start the season so well, and you have to count a race from Sydney and Seoul, so my best in Seoul was ninth, so another good race this weekend and I might be able to get a podium [overall]."
With no husband to support her at the final – “he finds it very stressful watching. So he’ll be at home” – she’s relying on the rest of team GB, which is fielding one of its strongest teams ever in an ITU race.
“There’s seven on the start line, and you have to qualify and have enough points, so we’ve done well to get there. And we’re all strong swim, bikers so there’s no one likely to be in that second pack so hopefully that’ll hopefully work to our advantage.”
Up until Kitzbühel and Stuart Hayes’ win, Tim Don was our top placing Brit male. Relegated to a still fantastic 11th in the standings overall, how is the former world champ preparing for Budapest?
“Training’s been going well, since Kitzbühel. And I had a good race at the World Sprint Champs, and I kind of trained through that aiming for this. And I was extra happy that I got second there. This is my second goal of the year."
Tim breaks off suddenly, seeing the Danube, further up from where the swim course is marked out… "I’m glad we’re not swimming in that. Oh my God, have you seen how quick it’s moving?!"
But the entire should be a quick one on Saturday, right?
“There’s a definite drag on that bridge, and we are running over it, both sides, four times. So it’s not as flat and fast as maybe people are thinking.”
And hopes for the race from our favourite moustachioed athlete?
“Oh, to win! No, I want to come fourth. No no, I’d love to win. It’ll be an interesting race because obviously it’s not the world champs as we know and love them. And with the new series, and the situation out front, there’s going to be races within races between Gomez and Frodeno, which might have a big affect on everyone. Or… it might not."
So with Stu ahead, is he the man you’re aiming to beat now?
“Oh no, I’m racing everyone. But God that’d be great if we all [three Brits] got on the podium!"
Onto Stuart Hayes, who I probably spent the most time talking to but on playing back I realised I couldn’t print half of it! He’s the Perez Hilton of the tri world! So focussing on the grand Final what are the hopes of our top-placed Brit (ninth)…
“I’m in good shape. Kitzbühel really has boosted my confidence, and it’s been showing in my training.
“I’m going to try another break on the bike but looking at this course it’s going to be hard cause there a lot of straight, flat roads. But if it’s raining there’s a good chance!”
See what I mean. I must have spoken to him for about 30 minutes.
And finally, but by no means least… our reigning, yet soon-to-be a former, World Champ, Alistair Brownlee.
Confident for the race? “Not really. It’s been a long year and I just want to get racing now and hope that everything feels alright.”
What exactly happened at the last race?
“With Kitzbühel a lot of people told me I probably shouldn’t race but I wanted to go and at least try. I wasn’t feeling great but it went alright until 5k around the run and then I had a penalty and never really got going after that and decided I was better off not really pushing it [a penalty for something he still doesn’t know, having asked the race officials and no one could tell him]. These penalties are starting to get a bit crazy. If where you put your helmet is starting to affect the outcome of the race, it’s just starting to get ridiculous."
How does it feel going into the Final knowing you can’t win this year?
“It’s a shame, cause this time last year I was in a fantastic position. I was really happy with where I was and how I was racing. But I suppose it’s nice this year as well cause it’s still an important race and it’s a race that everyone wants to do well at. A race is a race and you always want to win.”
Who are you backing to replace you as Champ then?
“It’d be brilliant for Gomez if a group got away and Frodeno wasn’t in it, and that’d suit me as well.”
So Gomez for the crown?
“Oh definitely yeah, I’d prefer Gomez to take the title. He’s won two of the big races and been right up there. And if it wasn’t for the fact that the stupid rule says that you have to have one out of the Europe races counting, he’d be odds on to win it. I think he’s been the best athlete all year as well. He deserves the title.”
Happier going into the race will less pressure and expectation?
“Not really no. I’m not really bothered either way. I’d still be happier if I was racing to be the world champion. That’d be a better situation!”
Obviously this year it’s your brother that finds himself in a title-grabbing position. Given Jonny any advice?
“I’m forever giving him advice! He wouldn’t know anything without me! No, I think he has had the advantage of learning from some of my mistakes, and he certainly uses a lot of the ways that I trained. He’s had the advantage that he’s come from behind me and seen what does and doesn’t work. He helps me train as well, so it’s mutual.
“But it’s interesting this weekend cause he’s in fantastic form and he’s by far the favourite for the race [U23 men’s]. And I think if he doesn’t win, then something’s gone wrong. It’s a different situation for him to be in cause I think he prefers to be under the radar a bit more, so I’ve just been trying encourage him to be confident and make the most of the situation that he’s in. Cause there are so many people that are like, ‘you don’t want to be favourite, higher pressure’ and all that. But no, not really, I think it’s a fantastic situation to be in. You earn the right to be favourite and you should make the most of it.”