Columns › CEO's Column
17 Aug 2020
5 min read
Column by 4x World Champion Chris McCormack
How will the first ever staging of the SLT Arena Games go? The truth is that none of us know, including me.
What I am sure of is that I cannot wait to see it unfold. It will be so different in so many ways, not least because the distances are so short. These are probably the shortest distances the triathletes have ever done with the 200m swim, 4km bike and 1km run.
And when you take into account pool swimming, Zwift riding and self-powered curved treadmill running, as well as the unique transitioning, this is going to be so interesting.
Later in the week I will be giving my predictions for the ones to watch in both the men’s and women’s field, but before that here are the challenges that the athletes face in Rotterdam on Sunday.
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Everyone will be focussed on what’s happening on the bikes and the treadmills, but for me it’s all about the pool swimming.
Anybody who knows swimming knows 200m flat out is one of the most difficult distances. You come off the dive, you are fully committed, the lactate burns at about 45 seconds and you still have to get through another 100m of swimming, drilling that lactate throughout your entire body and shortening up your stroke and pushing the heart rate through the roof.
You have to look for swimmers who are exceptional in a pool, with amazing form, great off the walls in their turns and can drop super fast times with minimal lactate damage getting out.
Someone like Richard Murray, who is not naturally a power swimmer, is very good at sticking in a pack, finding feet, and in the right circumstances in open water can literally stick with anyone. He prepares and trains for that knowing he has a skilful bike leg, incredibly fast transitions and is so powerful on the run.
The swim in Richard’s case up until now has always been about position and finding the right race allies to bring him through the swim.
When you give someone like Richard their own pool lane, and implement a semi match race effort against more refined swimmers, it is in the back half of the 200 metre effort that we may see him lose some time.
Javier Gomez is a 15 minute 1500m swimmer and a sub-2 minute 200m swimmer. There’s a big difference between a 2:15 swimmer and a sub-2 minute swimmer. It’s not only 15 seconds but how they are getting out of the water, the lactate damage post the effort and that third turn at 150 metres where you come off the wall and have to really open up with technique and balance to drop fast times. Javier is all over this.
For Javier to swim a 2:05 he’s getting out a lot fresher than Richard swimming a pb to stay within 5-10 seconds of him over these distances. These distances seem insignificant, but when the race distances are so short, seconds matter.
In the women’s field the big swimmers like Cassandre Beaugrand, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Jess Learmonth have similar advantages to Javier.
Dives, turns and technical swim ability will also be so much more important than normal. Look for good streamlining off the walls and in particular the sting of the third lap of the effort. That is when the big gaps will open and separate the pure swimmers from the fitness reliant ones.
I see the key to the bike as being how quickly you transition up to power, controlling what that 5 minute power number is and holding that.
It seems insignificant, but timing an effort for 4km is tough. If you blast too high of power early the drop off as the lactate builds can be enormous.
On Zwift everyone assumes they will see each other up the road. But in Zwift races when you miss the start those packs are gone.
Those who can quickly transition onto the bike and ramp up out of the pen, get going and hold their power could get out of sight and put everybody else on the chase. We have seen that gaps are tough to close and this will be a critical element of play for the racers. Out of sight out of mind.
It’s also a small field so if you don’t allow people to jump on your wheel and get that benefit of drafting you have a big advantage. The athletes that manage it will have to maintain their gaps and not give up any time.
Being aware of what is happening with your competitors will be critical. It is understanding how to be aware that will be tough. Working with your coaching team to give you that information will be key.
If it breaks up so the athletes can’t get on each other’s wheel then it is individuals riding against each other and it’s just pure power. Match racing is beautiful racing and I expect to see a bunch of this. Basically hang on and hold on. It is going to bite really hard.
I used the curved treadmills a lot when I got older and it is much different to conventional treadmill running because you have to keep the pace yourself.
I ran with a guy much taller than me, Matt Read. I have relatively short legs in comparison and we found it suited a shorter athlete.
You can lose your stride because of the curve and the shorter athletes tend to be able to sit on top of their run rhythm a little bit better.
In the men’s field someone like Jonas Schomburg, who is a taller athlete, may struggle as will Anthony Pujades, but Pierre Le Corre, Javier Gomez and Richard Murray will be really strong on those treadmills.
Transitions will make or break this racing because of how fast you can migrate between the disciplines and how quickly you get up to speed.
You’re only focussed on yourself now whereas in a conventional race you are out with a pack and move with them. It is flat out from start to finish.
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