From the earliest days of multisport, tri teams have had a troubled existence. Despite initial fanfare, the touted likes of Commerzbank and Tri-Dubai have both folded due to a lack of funds or declining interest from those who write the cheques.
The Belgian-based operation (and recently rechristened) BMC Etixx Pro Triathlon Team are hoping to change this with self-sufficiency, a new sponsor in rising nutrition brand Etixx and a wealth of non-drafting stars targeting Ironman glory.
We caught up with the (brilliantly-surnamed) general manager Bob de Wolf at their major pre-season camp at Sands Resort in a naturally windy Lanzarote. Here the Belgian Kona finisher expands on the teams goals, new British signing David McNamee and why teams are the future for long-course athletes…
220: The last time we spoke to you was at the team launch in 2014. What has changed since then for the outfit?
de Wolf: We had very high ambitions as a team in 2014 and said we want to become the most successful team in the world with our 10 athletes. Looking back two years later, we’ve achieved what we wanted to do. We’ve won 36 races, 81 podiums and eight top 10 finishes in world championship events. We also had a Ironman podium with Liz Blatchford in October and six continental championships. So we’re the leading team in the world in terms of performances.
Have the original goals changed since then?
I feel 2016 is a new chapter with Etixx coming onboard as a main sponsor. It means we have three key partners, with BMC, Etixx and [Belgian real estate group] Uplace. They’ve all committed for a further two seasons with clear written intentions to add a further two years to that, which adds to our goal to be a self-sustainable team. We want to stand for independence and sustainability. With the four year plan, we want to win Hawaii before the end of the decade. Looking at the potential in the team now (the eight-strong BMC Etixx consists of Blatchford, McNamee, Bart Aernouts, Romain Guillaume, Ronnie Schildknecht, Sofie Goos, Will Clarke and Helle Frederiksen), we have that talent on board.
Debutant eleventh place finisher at Hawaii, David McNamee, is the major new addition to the team for 2016. How long have you been keeping tabs on him?
We knew he came from the Team GB set-up and we started to monitor him early in 2015. He won Ironman UK and we spoke during his Kona preparation, and everything got confirmed over there. He has a huge amount of talent and massive potential. We want top-class athletes who can still develop, and David ticks those boxes. He’s also a genuine and great guy who fits in with the team philosophy. Coming from Olympic-distance racing to win an Ironman in his debut year and then run the day’s fastest marathon on debut in Hawaii, shows how much potential he has at long-distance racing. What also intrigued us was how he can make the progress.
How have you assessed where this potential lies?
We had him medically tested in the lab and we saw straight away with the data that he matches what we want from athletes. A crucial element is the key to produce a certain amount of watts around their body fat threshold. We test what kind of watts they produce around that threshold. We’ve also tested the likes of Hawaii champ Frederick van Lierde, and David and Will [Clarke] are producing similar numbers.
There are other strong teams worldwide at the moment with Bahrain Endurance and Team Bravo. How important is this for pro welfare?
My honest opinion for professional triathlon is that teams are the future. To have a doctor, a physio, a masseuse, someone to look after your marketing and media relations, a mechanic who goes with you to races, your accounts or legal matters is something we and teams can offer. We want to make our athletes better and support them in the best possible way that can effect their daily life as an athlete. And only being part of a team can do that. This is needed to move the sport forward in a professional manner.
Is there a sense of competition when you see Bahrain and Bravo at races?
This sport needs more visible heroes. And a rivalry can definitely help create these heroes and get triathlon as a sport to another level. Seeing more teams coming is healthy for triathlon and sustainability.
Are the major long-course race organisers Ironman and Challenge doing enough to promote the heroes of the sport?
Truthfully, I think there’s room for huge improvement in the coverage of professional racing. The media coverage of the fantastic battles that take place on worldwide courses is often hard to follow. You magazines are doing great stuff to promote the sport, but it needs to be on television or online platforms. You don’t need helicopters in the air, there are systems available to have better coverage. And the race organisers need to invest in that.
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How do you make four or eight hour races appeal to the television masses?
There are examples of coverage being good, like the Ironman 70.3 World Champs in Austria, which was easy to follow online. I’d like to see it on Eurosport, where they show highlights of the swim and bike before cutting live to the half or full marathon. This could be condensed into a two, three hour window. And we’ll continue to push the race organisers for this as there’s vast room for improvement.
We started working with Etixx in 2014 as an exclusive nutrition partners. They’ve really invested in the R&D side, with huge input from our sports director and athletes in the expansion of their product range. They launched five new products in 2015 based on recommendations from our athletes. So that’s a true definition of a perfect partnership, and not just being a sponsor of the team.