Brownlee vs Blummenfelt and GB vs Norway: Sub7 is a race too

Chief Correspondent

Last week we introduced Nigel Mitchell, one of the key backroom staff aiming to guide Alistair Brownlee to success next year during the Pho3nix SUB7 Project.

In the second part of our interview with Nigel, we get his take on the validity of the event, his thoughts on the chances of success and the competitive challenge of taking on a mighty task – defeating the rise of Norwegian triathlon. In this case Olympic Champion, World Champion and fastest ever Ironman Kristian Blummenfelt.

Right now, it is fair to say that there are mixed views on the whole Sub7Sub8 Project from within the triathlon community – it’s certainly not conventional.

Whatever your take on the rules of this particular game though, one thing that is clear in the mind of Mitchell – the validity of this as a physical challenge.

SUB7 is no gimmick

“Part of the real beauty of the project is that it isn’t going to be a gimmick; it is a real athletic endeavour and we are able to use the rules to best maximise the performance,” he told TRI247.

“We are able to deploy 10 support athletes in any way we want. We’re looking at using the majority of these athletes to help on the bike. Alistair has got some really world-class commercial partners, so we have been working with these guys to see the latest innovations that can help to support us with this. This is going right the way through – the bike, tyres, shoes – every single thing.

“People are getting excited, they are thinking: ‘We can contribute to this and we have got some really cool ideas – let’s try it’. It has been a warm and open experience so far.

“I have led the discussions and then we will bring Alistair in as well. Once we know what we can do on the bike, we can work backwards to realise what we need to do on the run and on the swim.

“Because we feel that the bike is the biggest difference, that is one where we are putting in the investment and it is possibly the most complex. We are looking at using eight of the support athletes to work with Alistair on the bike.”

SUB7? It’s probable, not possible

While some experts and fans will take a default position that Sub7 is a pipedream and cannot be achieved next year, Mitchell comes from a very different school of thought.

He explained: “Part of my mindset is that, until I am proven wrong, I think these outrageous challenges are all doable.

“I remember around 12 years ago there was a conference and a Belgian doctor said it was impossible for a British person to win the Tour de France within the next 20 years, so it is quite good that people say these things can’t be done.

“When you start breaking it down, you start to realise that it is more than possible, and then when you get things right, it is actually probable.

“One of the things we work on is that it is very much an athlete-led model and that’s how it works with Alistair. This is where we go: ‘Where do you see the biggest gains that we can make?’

“With something like this it doesn’t take long to realise that it is most likely that the bike is where you can get the biggest time difference.”


The Brits vs the Norwegians?

If you cast your mind back a few weeks, when we spoke to Kristian Blummenfelt about the SUB7 Project, he was very clear that this is also a race, not simply an attempt to break a time barrier: “The last thing I want to do is clock in at 6:59 and finish second. You want to win the race”, he told us.

That competitive spirit was reflected in our conversations with Mitchell too. There is also, perhaps, a clash of differing approaches to achieve the same goal. Much like Formula One motor racing, it’s as much about which team will win, as it is the driver.

“What we think of with the SUB7 Project is a combination of the athlete and the brains. This is one of the super-cool things because we are at a disadvantage because we are up against the Norwegians.

“They are probably the best educated, some of the most intelligent people on the planet. The fact that we know that we might be at a slight disadvantage, means that we work harder to put us in front.”

There is no doubt that knowledge, and the fact Brownlee will go against the hottest male triathlete on the planet right now, will act as fuel for the competitive fires.

Mitchell admitted: “Of course it is! We like to think that we will be doing everything as well as we can, and the Norwegians will be doing exactly same.

“I think it is a different model with us, the Norwegians are led much more by the coach Olav, whereas in our group it is more led by Alistair – the athlete with support from the rest of the team.

“There is collaboration, but obviously massive competition. It will 100 per cent come down to the best athlete, but also the best intelligence and I don’t think you will be able to separate out the two.”

John Levison
Written by
John Levison
TRI247's Chief Correspondent, John has been involved in triathlon for well over 30 years, 15 of those writing on these pages, whilst he can also be found commentating for events across the UK.
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