Unlike in the women’s field where an athlete may quickly develop (think of Paula Findlay who won a series of her first ever races), the density in men in the men’s field does not permit such a quick jump to success. At this level, it has become impossible to make a strong impression without being a very complete athlete.
The Brownlee Brothers have had the ability in the last 5 years to redefine the sport, race after race. While we had hoped to see new athletes emerge, the British have ensured to carry triathlon elsewhere. Les brotheres are always several steps ahead of the game. In certain circumstances (demanding bike courses, or when they are not 100%) the only athlete to be able to rival with them is Javier Gomez. That should change this season. Other athletes typically lack an important component in order to succeed. That is to say they are not as complete and this penalizes them at some point during the race. Mario Mola and Richard Murray are without doubt the 2 athletes who have proved that beating the Brownlees or Gomez is possible. The big question is whether they will be truly able to put an end to their vulnerability in the water.
There is also a new generation that will emerge this year, who have been developed to meet the new requirements of racing. The French team will be very well represented this year. With Pujades (in doubt for Abu Dhabi), Coninx, Le Corre, Luis, Raphael and even Hauss, we can expect to see many Frenchies leading out the swim. This might also be true with Australian’s Royle, Dan Wilson and Baillie who might be able to find themselves in a breakaway with the lead.
One more step ahead for the Brownlees?
Whether it’s the Brownlees with Varga, or Gomez with Schoeman, there clearly exist alliances within the sport which have allowed the favourites to be assisted, in order to neutralize some of the best runners. These alliances have evolved and developed over the course of the off-season with rumours suggesting the Brownlees have called on the assistance of not only Varga, but also uber swim-biker Philip Graves, and Norwegian Blumenfelt. Ironically, Javier Gomez has also accepted a Norwegian in his squad: Gunderson.
Even if training with other international athletes does not necessarily translate to being aided within a particular race, we can expect to see new strategies develop. The best example is the arrival of Philip Graves in WTS (he will make his debut in Auckland) who will have a domestic role in which he will assist the Brownlees, especially on the bike. Similarly, Gomez has surrounded himself with the likes of Spaniard Vicente Hernandez who is likely to be of assistance to Gomez. Joel Filliol’s squad (Mola, Murray, Silva, Jones, Van Riel, Zafares) has probably also prepared itself accordingly.
We are very likely to see certain athletes not buying into the game of domestics and paying the price in 2015. Although they have the potential of featuring brilliantly in the standings, their lack of help from other athletes will be to their disadvantage. If the British strategy really does work, we’re likely to see other federations adopt a similar plan (as did the Kiwi’s with Tom Davidson last year)
The presence of domestics could be of lesser influence on sprint distance races. It is generally more difficult to eliminate athletes on such a short swim. The best results we have seen from Mola are usually on these sprint races. The young Spaniard has greatly imporved his swim in 2014 and we can only imagine that he will continue to do so this year.
But who could also overturn the hierarchy?
The real problem today is that there are a lot of athletes on the circuit who do not think they can defeat the Brownlee’s and Gomez’s of this world. Faced with this attitude, we see a lack of belief which hinders certain athletes to express thier capabilities in the race. Athletes who have a certain inconsistency towards this attitude are rare. Generally though, these athletes are recognizable as they have already made an impact on the racing scene.
Athletes who are not afraid of anyone?
Athletes like Le Corre, Luis, Montoya, and Coninx, who have all been world champions in the past (junior or U23) inertly have that fearless quality which makes them dangerous. David Hauss seems finally ready to make his return on the circuit. He will be highly anticipated this year. To this list of “fearless” athletes we can also add the young prodigy, Australian Jake Birtwhistle. If he is able to limit the damage in swimming, he could make his mark in Auckland. Another athlete not to forget in this category is Wian Sullwald (RSA – injured at the moment).
In the hierarchy, the first years on the circuit are generally decisive. It is rare to see athletes progress drastically from one season to another. The progression of an elite athlete is usually explained by the change of environment and/or progress in an individual discipline which previously hindered them from better results.
Typically though, the overall result is not defined by athletic ability, but by the circumstances of the race.
So close yet so far
In 2014, athletes such as Joao Pereira (POR), Gregor Buchholz (ALL), Fernando startled (ESP), Aaron Harris (GB), Tom Bishop (GB), Matthew Sharp (GB), Ivan Ivanov (UKR), Gbor Faldum (HUN), have demonstrated impressive speed on the run. The number of sprint races this season could quickly enable them to distinguish themselves. Our two Frenchies, Etienne Diemunsch and Simon Viain are to add in this category. These two athletes have had a very impressive cross country season!
The swimmers, Henri Schoeman (RSA) and Richard Varga (SLK) are continually making progress in the run. With time, the improvements these athletes make will start to influence the race. In this category, we also hope to see Aurelien Raphael (former world champion), who is known to be one of the best swimmers on the circuit, finish his races in better position. His recent performance at the Cannes 10km is rather promising (30’13”).
We must also monitor the return of certain veterans like Justus Steffen (GER), Sven Riederer (SUI) or even Joao Silva (POR) who could regain their best level as we get closer to the Olympic Games.
And of course, there are all those athletes who have not yet been able to express their full potential. This is explained by a variety of reasons. We think of Tony Dodds (NZ) who was subject to a bike crash which saw him away from a majority of the season in 2014. Or Kyle Jones (CAN), who has regularly been troubled by a “mysterious” problem; Declan Wilson (AUS) who seems to have made progress recently in swimming, and has an incredible ability to run fast. We are also waiting on the return of Florin Salvisberg who disappeared in 2014 following such a successful 2013. And finally, although much less expected than his teammates, Anthony Pujades (FRA) is also one to watch out for. His recent successes on the French Grand Prix circuit have allowed him to approach this season with confidence.
The Russians will be the “mystery nation” this year. Even if Dmitry Polyansky has had some very significant results in 2014, this nation has been in the shadows for the last couple of years. As the Olympic Games approach, they should soon come to light as they did right before London. The Russians are well known for developing terrific swimmers, allowing them to be right at the front when it counts.
Similar to the Italian women, the Italian men are starting to impose their dominance on the circuit. Alessandro Fabian for example, greatly benefited from the Brownlee strategy put in place last year, and we expect him do so again this year.
The United States remain another interesting piece of the puzzle. Even if their women’s team is dominant, the situation is quite the opposite for the men. Their project to convert a track and field star into triathlete (Alan Webb) seems very risky. Zafares and Maloy seem to be their best chances unless Hunter Kemper realises the impossible feat of taking part in his fifth Olympics. Vanort and especially McDowell are other talents who might also emerge this season.