As secretive as they’ve been about their pacemaker teams to enable them to go under seven hours for the full distance of triathlon and Defy The Impossible, Alistair Brownlee and Kristian Blummenfelt were even more so about their equipment choices and strategy.
Though Brownlee has been ruled out of the attempt in the final hour, his plans are still worth a look even as fellow Brit Joe Skipper steps in to give Blummenfelt competition on race day.
We draw the curtain back for a glimpse at the inner workings for Sub7.
Blummenfelt Strategy Shrouded in Mystery
The Norwegian powerhouse may use the same equipment that powered him to the win at the Ironman World Championship in St. George. Not only that, but his entire bike pacemaker team will be riding the same frame.
The prototype tri bike CADEX created for him, partnered with a CADEX carbon four-spoke front wheel and disc rear wheel and Drag2Zero aerobars, caused a buzz. Designed with a floating seat stay, wide triple-crown fork system, and no top tube, its emphasis is on maximising aerodynamics. Blummenfelt has chosen a more traditional 52/39 SRAM Red chainring with a Quarq powermeter, while a wireless 12-speed with SRAM Red eTap AXS and a CeramicSpeed oversized pulley wheel make shifting a breeze. An ISM PS 1.0 saddle and Garmin Rally RS200 pedals complete the ensemble.
He used the new deboer Floh 2.0 wetsuit in St. George to fend off the cold, but has recently been spotted wearing a suit marked "Fjord S7" with differently coloured markings to the Fjord 2.0. The Fjord is for warmer waters as the Sub7 lake swim is shaping up to be. These wetsuits boast HBF-Limestone WhaleSkin™ neoprene and Airfloat™ stability panels that allow better buoyancy and rotation stability, while the 1.5mm patented UltraFlex™ shoulder and arm construction maintain mobility, all the better to unleash his swim strength with. GlideSkin™ Surface coating lowers water friction, while the DolphinSkin neck closure prevents leaks that cause drag. One wonders though what secrets his custom suit conceals…
His partnership with Norwegian training gear company Trimtex has seen him don a translucent white trisuit to win the Tokyo Olympics and a sleeved iteration for his Ironman races, allowing him to dump as much heat as possible as effort levels rise. His shoe of choice is the Asics Metaspeed Sky+, a lightweight carbon-plate racer that adds some extra spring in his steps and length in his stride.
Blummenfelt's choice of an open-water champion as his sole swim pacemaker and a Kenyan marathoner to pace him on the run shows confidence in being able to keep pace with them. High performance coach Matt Bottrill who is overseeing his cycling pacemakers also reveals some general strategy for the bike leg. He says, “My guess is that we are going to come out of the water with a deficit… It's going to be very easy to set off like a train. And I think this is where we can come into our own element. You've got to understand triathlon quite a bit, because if you go off too hard, then you are going to pay for that later on in the race.”
Race day will tell if the marginal gains from these choices can spell the difference not just to go Sub7, but to do it before the other athlete does.
Brownlee Was Keeping His Options Open
The dual Olympic champion had been working with his wetsuit sponsor HUUB to see how they can better design a wetsuit for him. Nigel Mitchell, Brownlee’s technical project manager for Sub7, says, “This actually involved getting a pair of scissors, cutting a few wetsuits, sending them out to Alistair and then he will put on different layers of wetsuits in different areas to get an initial feel… That data then gets fed back in and we’ll start to build wetsuits with different thicknesses, which we will then look to go and test where we'll look at the drag factors there. Then we'll actually do some physiological testing in Switzerland as well with those suits.”
The same care had gone into Brownlee’s trisuit where aerodynamics as well as thermal management was a concern. Mitchell reveals, “I was meeting with Steve Falkner at Nottingham Trent University. He has been developing how the suits go together with special fabrics that help to regulate the body’s temperature. We've done a lot of work around heat acclimatisation and understanding the sodium concentration in the sweat as well as how that changes when one becomes more heat acclimatised.”
For the bike leg, Brownlee had two options: to ride his BMC Timemachine 01 Disc Premium Carbon with Vmax Aero Design and P2P Positioning System, or a prototype bike that BMC has developed with Red Bull Advanced Technologies.
The BMC-Red Bull prototype bicycle utilised Red Bull’s extensive simulation and modelling capacity for design decisions, with quick manufacturing turnaround done at BMC’s own R&D lab.
Stefan Christ, Head of R&D at BMC Switzerland, says, “Simulating not only the vehicle performance but the entire performance environment offers huge opportunities in the collaboration and finally makes BMC athletes even faster. Building the prototypes in our very own Impec Lab here in Grenchen, Switzerland helped us to be fast in development but also realising exactly our vision of the bike.”
Whichever bike he was supposed to roll onto the BMC Bike Course on race day, Brownlee would have been using the same components: a SRAM Red eTap AXS 1x group partnered with a 165 58T Kurbel crank and a 10-29 cassette, custom-made Wattshop aero extensions, a Quarq power meter paired with a Wahoo head unit, Zipp 585 front wheel and Sub 9 Disk rear wheel with prototype Schwalbe TT tubeless tyres, a Fizik Transiro Mistica saddle, and Speedplay aero pedals.
As for shoes, Brownlee’s longtime sponsor Adidas has a wide range of options including the Adizero Adios Pro 2, their most advanced carbon-plate shoe. It features Lightstrike Pro foam, Energy Rods at the front, and a rear carbon plate that provides a smooth and bouncy ride.
We still hope to see all these in use at a race course once Brownlee recovers from his injury and is back at peak fitness.
Skipper will be paced on the swim by short-course triathletes Max Stapley and Gordon Benson. He will then take advantage of the well-oiled machine Brownlee’s cycling pacemakers will be over the bike course; he is currently rehearsing with the team for smooth and unimpeded performance on race day. On the marathon, German national marathon champion Frank Schauer along with Stapley and Benson will keep him company in this heroic effort to finish in under 7 hours.