British pro India Lee is looking forward to continuing her upward trajectory in 2024 – and has her sights set on both the PTO Tour and the first-ever women’s IRONMAN World Championship to be held in Nice.
The Professional Triathletes Organisation has already played an important role in the career of the former runner, who has moved up from short course triathlon to middle and long distance with great success in recent seasons.
She’s just enjoyed her best campaign to date and in a wide-ranging interview with TRI247 she explains why the expanded PTO Tour in 2024 can hopefully now help her move up another level.
No ‘one-hit wonder’
Those two results plus a top 10 in a stacked field at the PTO European Open in Ibiza see her end the year at #15 in the PTO rankings, a leap up from #41 at the start of 2023.
And she told us: “Samorin was a good day, I was pretty pleased with that.
“I felt like I’d been building towards it so to get a result like that was pretty cool. I think the PTO race in Ibiza had given me a big boost in confidence, and then being able to back it up a few weeks later really solidified it and showed I wasn’t a one-hit wonder!”
IRONMAN Florida, where she was second to Skye Moench, underlined that she can also be a real contender at full distance and one of her big targets for 2024 is that IRONMAN World Championship in Nice.
She’s yet to race in an IMWC but got a taste for it this year when she was what she termed CEO – “Chief Entertainment Officer” – for Ruth Astle ahead of Kona.
“I had a great time and really enjoyed it,” she says.
Before I went, I thought everyone builds it up, it can’t be that much different to everything else. And then once I was there, I understood the hype.
“It was a great training block too, perfect preparation for Florida. And it was good to be out there and get to grips with everything that goes on around the race without actually racing because the pressure was off and I could just take it all in. So when I go back in a couple of years, hopefully, I know what to expect and it won’t be all overwhelming and new.”
Before a first Kona tilt comes Nice in 2024 and she told us: “It’s a huge target and has been since they announced that the World Championships were going to rotate between Nice and Kona for the next few years.
“I love racing in Nice [she was third in 70.3 Nice in 2021] – I think I’ll really enjoy that course and I’d like to give it a good crack. So to have already qualified for it via Florida is a good position to be in going into next year.”
‘I wouldn’t have been able to continue in the sport’
India is also looking forward to being able to focus on an expanded series of PTO races next season, with the athletes’ organisation having already played a key part in her middle-distance career.
In response to the global COVID pandemic in March 2020, the PTO paid out nine months early $2.5 million in what would have been end-of-season bonuses to over 200 men and women PTO Professionals.
And her share proved critical to Lee, who said at the time: “I’m self-funded, relying almost exclusively on prize money for an income so with no racing it was difficult to see where I could make ends meet.
“So the money I received meant I could continue training. If they hadn’t [done that] the reality is I wouldn’t have been able to continue in the sport.”
And though she’s now in the top 15 in the rankings, the money the PTO are putting into the sport continues to be hugely important to her as she explained: “I’m in the position where I probably will get a PTO contract, but we don’t know what’s going on with that fully yet.
“And even for me and my position in the rankings now, just personally, if I am offered a PTO contract for next year, that would have a significant influence.”
‘Tricky cycle’ around social media
For despite being an engaging part of much of Ruth Astle’s Kona video content, India revealed: “I’m not huge on social media, which can play against me so I have to rely on race results and rankings and prize money – so the PTO has been pretty important to me.
“I really struggle to engage with social media because I don’t know why people care about what I’m doing every day! But I also want to be really competitive.
It’s harder to be competitive if you haven’t got the support of sponsors. And to get the support of sponsors, you need to have a big profile and stuff. So it’s a tricky cycle.
“But the extra money from the PTO via rankings, prize money and a potential contract gives you scope for things like planning training camps, travelling out earlier to races, better preparation, the equipment and everything around that.”
A good example of that this year is India’s work with Nopinz and former Team Sky pro Alex Dowsett as she looks for aero gains on the bike – and she’s risen to her highest position yet of #12 for that discipline (up from #43).
But back to her 2024 plans and she summarises her likely schedule as follows: “I want to concentrate on doing the shorter distance so I guess it makes it easier that I’ve already qualified for Nice because I don’t have to try and figure out where I’m going to fit an Ironman into the beginning of next year. It definitely gives me more flexibility.
“The PTO races will probably be my main focus, but with a huge eye on the Nice World Championships, and then obviously the 70.3 Worlds is right at the end of the year which also stands out on its own as something to build towards.”