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As ITU and Ironman 70.3 pro Brian Fleischmann returned from an out-and-back length of Barton Springs Pool in Austin yesterday morning, he swam close to an idle Richie Cunningham, who, finished with his morning swim, was standing in the shallows chatting with bystanders. As Fleischmann closed, Cunningham stepped back, allowing Fleishmann room to pass through.

But that wasn’t part of Fleischmann’s plan. He diverted course, again taking aim for the Aussie. Arms flailing and banging, Fleischmann comically attacked Cunningham as if he were a course buoy, eventually curving around the bewildered Cunningham before swimming off in the direction he came from.

Two seconds later, Cunningham set off after Fleischmann, caught his feet and promptly yanked on his ankles. The two stalled in the water, laughing.

If there’s any question to the worth of having teams in triathlon, it was quelled as the Trakkers Triathlon Team made their public debut in Austin last April.

Welcome to athlete integration day with the new Team Trakkers triathlon squad. Appropriately, this is what the team concept in triathlon is coming to. And by all accounts, it’s a good thing.

“I like to have a good time, and any time I can make some fun in training, I do the best I can,” said Fleischmann, smirking, of his antics with his new teammate. “I’m glad to be a part of it, and this is part of the reason. It’s just a fun group.”

Perhaps it was fueled by Shiner Bock, but things were ratcheted up later that evening when the team issued a challenge to the Trek-KSwiss Tri team, offering to ante up $5,000 to the top team at a race later in the season, with more money on offer. As of the Friday night of the Thursday-Saturday camp, the teams were already discussing the details and rules.

If there’s any question to the viability and worth of having teams in triathlon, it was quelled as the Trakkers Triathlon Team made a splash in its public debut in Austin, Texas last April. Friday the team set out for a morning swim and closed the day with an open house pizza and beer party (and the impromptu team challenge) for the public at Jack & Adams Tri Shop.

The inception of triathlon’s newest team is thanks to Michael Lovato and Trakkers president Charlie Patten. The two were responsible for bringing together many of Lovato’s sponsors to create a squad, and selecting a balanced team of athletes that complemented one another.

“It’s just a great group of natural fits,” said Lovato. “We have Ironman guys like me and Dede, we have guys like Richie and Amanda who do mostly 70.3 races, and Brian and Mary Beth who do ITU and 70.3. And we have athletes like Jacqui, who has a 10-year-old and a seven-year-old and does it all, and Carole who, after breaking her back while training in Kona, is our comeback kid. I love the balance of the team, and the personalities of every one of them.”

April 8th to 10th marked the debut of the eight-member team. Additionally, there are 36 age-groupers. The weekend’s camp brought together the pro contingent, providing them a chance to build rapport as each athlete began to grasp the team concept in what is normally a very individual sport.

“It’s cool to be a part of a bit of an evolution in the sport,” Lovato said. “For me, it’s really satisfying to get to this weekend, see everyone here getting dialed on their bikes, and get the season going.

“But man, it’s a lot more work than I thought it would be!” Lovato added with a sigh. 

The central (if not polarizing) figure for the squad is Austinite Lovato. Other athletes on the team include Amanda Lovato (Michael’s wife and the recent Ironman 70.3 Pucon champ, perennial 70.3 podium finisher Richie Cunningham of Australia; American ITU pros Brian Fleischmann and Mary Beth Ellis; defending Ironman Brazil champ Dede Griesbauer; top Ironman pros Carole Sharpless of Boulder, and South African Jacqui Gordon.

Thursday April 8th was technically the start to the camp, with the team taking part in a photo shoot with renowned sports photographer Elizabeth Kreutz.

After the team swim at Barton Springs, the athletes went through some education with a few of their product sponsors. Carrie Bartlett from Saucony showed off the 2010 line, including the hotly-anticipated Kinvara, and the company’s new compression apparel line that includes a one-piece suit and compression top. Cunningham and Lovato couldn’t help but model the suit as they each tried (with varying levels of success) to sell tickets to the gun show while posing in “which way to the beach” stances. Another supplier to the team, ThinkSport, provided the team with a line of leach-free drink bottles

As with anything, however, things only officially kick off with pizza and beer. This occurred at Jack and Adams on the Friday evening of the camp. And the team challenge? Perhaps they’ve stumbled onto a promising new concept that other squads like Commerzbank (out of Germany), the Asian TeamTBB, the Abu Dhabi Tri Team, and the American-based Specialized Tri Team can develop. Might we see a team world championship? Nothing is impossible.

For more on the team’s shenanigans and another photo gallery, continue to day two …