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The collection of riders that showed up at the K-SWISS headquarters’ Sunday morning ride in Westlake Village, California was a bit more edgy than what you’d find on your typical weekend coffee shop ride. Were they waiting for the guy who announced the come-one, come-all ride via his Twitter page—Kona runner-up Chris Lieto? Were they waiting to get the first public look at the updated Speed Concept tri bike? Or were they just looking forward to turning the cranks with some of the best pros in the game from the newly-formed Trek-K-SWISS Triathlon Team?
Chris Lieto had invited his Twitter followers to come ride with the team, and about 25 age-groupers showed up to ride with the pros. After a few minutes of chatter outside the K-SWISS offices, the riders, resplendent in their white training kits, rolled out for a fully supported ride in the Santa Monica mountains.
Note that I said mountains.
“There were a bunch of people riding with us at the start,” said team member Heather Jackson, “but by the time we got down to the Pacific Coast Highway, there were only two guys with us. It wasn’t much of an easy cruise.” Jackson added that it was like letting the horses out of the stables. “It was awesome, and I think everyone was ready for it after two days,” she said. “It was fun, getting called up for photos. Started pouring partway in, but it was still fun.”
The ride, a three-hour affair for some team members (and a five-hour traverse for those following Lieto) may have shed the age-group brethren, but it served as the perfect cap to a weekend of proving how the “team” concept succeed in what is effectively a single-athlete sport. (It doesn’t hurt when your team sponsors are on board and looking to use the athletes to develop their product line.)
“We have a great mix of personalities on the team, and even after a few days, we gel together well,” said reigning Ironman 70.3 and Xterra World Champ Julie Dibens. “But the other element is working with our sponsors. I got to work with Trek last year and with K-SWISS, and they openly said they’re looking to us for feedback in order to make the best products. It’s exciting to be able to do that for a sponsor.” Considering that K-SWISS has a trail shoe in the works and Dibens has been lending her two cents, there’s greater credence to what they put into the market.
For up-and-comer Andrew Yoder, the chance to refer to resources like teammate Chris Lieto or Michael Raelert is proof enough that the team concept has value.
“A guy like Chris has been at the top in this sport for a long time, and he said he wants to make a mark for the sport,” Yoder said. “And there’s so many like Chris on this team, from different countries. For me, as a young athlete, to take it all in and learn from them through training camps and at races, and to be open to learning different things, I can’t help but progress. They wouldn’t have created the team if the athletes wouldn’t help one another.”
For the staff, it was the culmination of a “what-if” chat between Trek triathlon marketing manager Nick Howe and K-SWISS marketing manager Ben Harper at Ironman 70.3 Boise that came to fruition.
“The grand epiphany for me came while sitting in the hotel room. Matt had crashed, it was a terrible day, Chris was pipped at the line and was disappointed,” Howe said. “I was looking at the footage our video guys had done, because we were there do to some footage on the Speed Concept. It was a somber mood, but with everyone there, it built into something positive. It was a group of guys who had a rough day consoling each other. By the end of it, everyone was excited. I thought, ‘why can’t we have a team in triathlon? We gotta do a team!’”
And picking that squad was Howe’s and Harper’s quest. “At first we thought, ‘no more than six.’ Then it was about having the right mix, and we ended up with nine. Of course, we had Chris on first.”
“He had Julie (Dibens) and Chris (Lieto), we had Paul (Matthews) and Joe (Gambles),” Harper said. “Then we’d talk about athletes neither of us had that we’d be interested in. It was cool to go back and forth, looking at the other’s perspective. In the end, we couldn’t have picked or asked for a better team. The chemistry is apparent, the personalities are great, and they all just happen to be phenomenal athletes.”
After a few more team photos in clean K-SWISS tracksuits, the group broke, heading off to prepare for the coming season. The only thing left to do was that yeoman ritual of boxing and packing the bikes for trips to points unknown.
Not so fast. Jackson, amazed by the level of professionalism the team is bringing to the sport, could only shake her head. “I couldn’t believe it. We came in this morning and they’d already boxed all our bikes for shipping. I was like, ‘Wow.’”