While the IRONMAN World Championship in St George is coming up fast for Alistair Brownlee, he has another very important date – that Sub7Sub8 showdown with Kristian Blummenfelt.
The two men have three Olympic titles between them, and will look to go under the 7-hour barrier for an Ironman distance race near Dresden, Germany in June.
Brownlee captured some of his preparation in a new video entitled ‘The Process’, which shows some of the work he is putting in ahead of that massive day in June.
Organisers, and Brownlee and Blummenfelt themselves, have been keen to make the point that the battle to go Sub7 is a race and a rivalry – not just a time trial.
That was emphasised right from the get-go in the video, as Brownlee tells his team: “Keep it all as confidential as we kind of can in the real world as we don’t want the pesky Norwegians finding out exactly what we’re doing.”
The first portion of the video shows Brownlee and his bike pacers taking on a team time trial session at the Mallory Park motor racing circuit in Leicestershire.
Brownlee Sub7 strategy
Before the start, Brownlee explains: “It’s really exciting to get some action going to see how we can go. We can obviously have quite a good idea of the effect of being in different positions in a team time trial line, but it depends on the real life of what’s going on around us, but also how good I am at drafting in a line.
“We wanted to get some real-world data of what it would actually be like for me being in different positions whether that’s man 4,5,6,7 in a line of riders, riding at the speed we want to ride at.
“It should be quite chill for me because I’m going to be at the back of proceedings, but I think for the guys at the front, they’re going to have to go quite hard.
Alistair has a crack team supporting him for Sub7Sub8, including brother Jonny and several world-class professional cyclists. The goal being to fine-tune the ride strategy, nutrition and aerodynamics needed to ride on pace with the fastest Tour de France stage over 100 miles ever ridden and still be able to run a sub-2:30 marathon afterwards.
Mitchell on ‘critical’ bike leg
Brownlee’s campaign manager as it were, Nigel Mitchell, explained: “It’s really critical that we get the right pacing, and my area of expertise is not to be saying ‘this is exactly the right pace’. My expertise is to be bringing in the right people to work that out.
“One of the reasons why it’s really critical is that if we go a few minutes faster on the bike but actually 20 minutes slower on the run. So ensuring that Alistair is able to work at the right power, at the right effort on the bike, is a real important part of the overall strategy and plan for the Sub7.”
Even just selecting the right cyclists to support Brownlee’s bid is not easy, as the man himself explained. There are many factors to weigh up.
“The right pacemaker selection is absolutely crucial. Firstly these guys have got to be at the pretty top end of the spectrum for cycling ability.
“We know the power requirement at the front to do those speeds is over 400 watts for a period of time. Then we’re doing it over a three-hours period so it’s going to be multiple of those efforts with active recovery in between using different parts of the line.
“So that’s a really hard thing to do and getting that right is gonna be tough. Firstly they’ve got to be pretty much world-class athletes and then secondly, to make it smooth as possible for me and also getting a great bunch of guys around for that good team atmosphere and getting it right is also a challenge.
“I feel really lucky with the guys I’ve got here today supporting me. Really great athletes, also fantastic – really on top of all the technological aspects of aerodynamics, and also great people as well.”
Bigham crunches numbers
Another key part of the bid team is top cyclist and aero guru Dan Bigham, now a performance engineer for the INEOS Grenadiers. He said after the Mallory trial: “We’re obviously gonna sit and look at some data for a good few hours. From a riding perspective, really productive.
“I think Ali found it beneficial just actually going through the team time trial motions, it’s quite different from riding by yourself, that itself was definitely positive and the numbers come out and give us a proper answer of how we’re gonna ride this effort, how many riders we need, the strategy, the formation, the turn length, the turn power, all that kind of stuff.
“It’s gonna help us make those decisions that mean on raceday Ali has a nice easy ride and goes really fast.”
Jonny excited by Sub7 bid
Of course Alistair’s brother Jonny is very much part of that support team, and he is excited by the way the attempt is being tackled.
“His body, he’s still the greatest triathlete ever. so if he can get his body right and can do that, that side is covered.
“And also one thing he’s gonna think about and put a lot of effort in is with these guys – as we found out today you don’t get much faster than that.
“The way they’re approaching it, trying to get the fastest riders, getting everything done the best they possibly can.”
Brownlee addressed his team after the trial, summing up what the day at Mallory had given him. All positive, and eye-opening at the same time.
“I don’t think it can get any harder than that. To do a team time trial hopefully given the conditions and that track, I think it was really really useful for me to learn actually just how tough it is sat in the line in different positions and stuff, definitely not always as easy as it looks.
“And then learning to be really good in the line, pacing it over 180k, getting the formation right.”