Above: Ben Hoffman and Peter Reid riding together
Click here for a gallery of images from the camp
There are few training rides that stick out in my mind. Probably because they’re just training rides. One such ride that actually was remarkable was a cruise with two of the fiercest competitors in triathlon at the time: Peter Reid and Tim DeBoom. The two scarcely rode in group environments, and even more scarcely rode together. Yet I was invited to head out with them for part of a long ride in San Diego eight years ago. Knowing they were rivals as well as friends, I knew these rides were few and far between, and knew the chance to chat both up, together, was a unique one.
A Specialized lunch ride is not like any other company ride.
Eight years later, I had the chance again to ride with the legendary three-time Hawaii Ironman champ. Interestingly, I laid back from barking Reid’s ear off, as he had bigger fish to fry, namely Ben Hoffman. I could see the ride for what it was; a chance for the on-the-rise Ironman USA Lake Placid champ to pick the brain of one of the greatest racers Ironman has seen. I chilled, listened in, and enjoyed the good company as the master passed on his thoughts to the pupil. Another special ride indeed.
The ride was separate of the larger group dynamic of the Specialized Development Triathlon Team Training Camp, held this week at Specialized world headquarters in Morgan Hill, Calif. But singling out the rising Hoffman to turn the cranks with Reid was no mistake. “The reason we wanted to do a camp is we wanted the athletes to get to know each other rather than find FTP and log miles,” said team manager Ian Dewar. “They can use one another as a resource. For a guy like Ben, who’s on the way up to have a personal relationship with a guy like Peter, and considering what he brings with his huge wealth of experience, it’s a unique opportunity.”
And that’s just what would bring the three-time Hawaii Ironman champ who pilots pontoon planes in British Columbia down to Central California for a ride.
Yes, Specialized has an enviable international contingent, including reigning Ironman Chris McCormack, fellow short-courser-turned-long-course-star Rasmus Henning, two-time Ironman champ Jordan Rapp, reigning ITU World Cup Series champ Javier Gomez and Olympic gold medalist Jan Frodeno in stable. But to increase the company’s footprint stateside, team managers Bobby Behan and Ian Dewar opened phase II of the team, and hired a broad range of Ironman, 70.3, short-course non-drafting and ITU pros that would present a greater North American presence.
The squad includes budding ITU short coursers Tenilie Hoogland of Canada and Bermuda’s Flora Duffy, and American Olympic-distance and 70.3 pros Kristen Peterson, Mandy McLane and Jennifer Tetrick, 70.3 newcomer Rodrigo Acevedo of Florida, and Americans and Ironman and 70.3 pros Ian Mickelson, Jimmy Archer and rookie/former USC swimmer Chris Coble. The Xterra contingent includes Americans Sara Tarkington and Emma Garrard.
The group is fronted by a trio of athletes with proven records that aim to serve as resources to the developmental athletes: Xterra World Champ Melanie McQuaid, reigning Ironman USA champ Ben Hoffman and veteran Ironman (and marathon) star Desiree Ficker.
The idea is a smart one on Specialized’s part; while Macca, Frodeno and may be of limited access to age groupers doing a limited schedule of races at far away venues, the developmental squad brings that access to the athletes to upwards of 70 domestic races. So when folks have a question about tire selection or bike design, the developmental squad, having toured Specialized and experienced the product from a design and engineering standpoint, can speak with authority to the goods, as well as the Specialized culture.
“Our dealers want to understand triathlon better, and this gives us a way to get pros to their shops and make it relevant to them,” Dewar told LAVA. “Of course, we love and hope for results, but that’s not the top reason they’re here. We wanted athletes that will represent Specialized well in a significant way with people at the races. Are they influencing people to get into triathlon? Because that’s more valuable to us than results, and these guys are the best ones to do that.”
It’s an impressive move. Consider: a decade ago, Specialized made custom one-off bikes for Peter Reid and Lori Bowden, with minimal investment, showing only those bikes, perhaps with a sprinkling of Allez road bikes mixed in—on Kailua Pier. Four years ago, it was McCormack on the new Transition and TJ Tollakson wearing a Specialized aero helmet making the initial push. Last year, it has come full circle for Specialized; they were second in the Kona bike count. The spike illustrates one thing: Specialized gets triathlon.
The camp was part training (with morning swims and the famed Specialized lunch ride), part social connection to create a true team camaraderie and part education, as the company brought in engineers Mark Cote and other category product managers to explain tire selection, tire pressure, and helmet aerodynamics. Head aerodynamics engineer Mark Cote filled an hour with the team on the designs and features of the Transition and Shiv tri bikes.
At lunch time, the entire Specialized offices looked like there had been a fire drill, desks empty. In the parking lot, the staff—including company founder and president Mike Sinyard—were kitted up, ready to go. The triathletes were introduced to the assembly as the new guests on the day’s ride.
Thing is, a Specialized lunch ride is not like any other company ride. Few companies can bring the heat the way these guys can, as Reid can attest to. “I once brought a few Canadian buddies along on a trip once, and told them “hey, just so you know, these guys that work here, they’re good.’” Reid said. “And they were like ‘OK, sure,’ but on the ride, they just blew. They had Wildflower that next weekend, and just getting beaten by a bunch of desk guys, it killed their morale, and they had a bad race that next weekend.”
On this day, the triathletes fared much better. Sure, some of the roadies turned on the heat late, but the early pace was being set as the pixie-small Duffy began setting a hot early pace, then Archer took a hard turn at the front of the group. Hoogland dug in and chased the group solo. But the one who smartly tucked in to stay in among the five select finishers to contend for the ride-finishing sprint was Melanie McQuaid.
As we toured the ride in a car with team manager Dewar, he glanced into his rear view mirror at the squad, as he builds equity in the sport’s professional future. “Bobby (Behan) has his global team over there, and that’s awesome, but I’m excited for all these guys,” he said. “This is gonna be a fun year.”
If you want to check in on the team as it progresses this season, visit http://iamspecialized.com/triathlon