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American Tim O’Donnell kicked off 2013 with his announcement of a new partnership with Trek bicycles. Coupled with the news that O’Donnell will marry his fiancé (and fellow triathlete), Mirinda Carfrae, in December, the American is set up for an eventful year. We caught up with the reigning 70.3 U.S. champion as he was about to board a plane to Australia to chat about his new sponsor, his 2013 racing plans, what he’s learned about Kona and his beach cruiser on a treadmill do’s and don’ts.
Triathlete.com: The big news is that you’ve signed with Trek. Can you tell me how that deal came to be?
O’Donnell: I think growing up, every kid loves Trek, and it’s just one of those brands that you associate with cycling. I was presented with the opportunity toward the end of the year. All of my friends and fellow pros like Julie [Dibens], Chris [Lieto] and Joe [Gambles] have always spoken so highly of the team and the support they get, and obviously it’s a really fast bike. For me, I want to be with a company that I can hopefully grow with the rest of my career, and I think that is Trek.
Triathlete.com: Are there specific aspects of your position or equipment selection that you will examine and attempt to improve in the wind tunnel?
O’Donnell: Last year I moved quite a bit back. I want to bring it forward a little bit and get a little lower if I can. I’m hoping sometime midyear, before Kona, and maybe if there’s another new bike that will be a good time to go in the tunnel.
Triathlete.com: Who will be your wheel sponsor for 2013?
O’Donnell: I’m still with Mavic. They’ve been one of my longest-running partnerships. The CXR 80 is literally the fastest wheel out there. They tested it against everything in the wind tunnel in San Diego last year, so I’ll still be a proud Mavic athlete. You’ll be able to tell by the shoes I’m wearing on the bike.
Triathlete.com: How do you expect the additional at-race support provided by Mark Andrews and Trek’s staff will influence your racing?
O’Donnell: I think with Trek, everything they do makes it just your responsibility to race. They give you an incredibly fast bike and great support, so the only thing that’s left is for you to race and not worry about something going wrong or mechanicals. I just got the bike, and Mark Andrews sent me a huge care package tool kit and spare parts with everything I need if something goes wrong while I’m in Australia. It’s just such a professional team. I’ve been blown away by the initial support I’ve received from them.
Triathlete.com: Have you had time to ride the Speed Concept? What are your first impressions?
O’Donnell: I’ve only had a few quality rides since I got my bike. It’s got a great stiffness to it. Good power transfer. It feels right in the aero position. The proof will be in my training and racing, but just off of feel and my first impression, it was awesome.
Triathlete.com: Will there be any other big changes for you this season? Is Cliff English still your coach?
O’Donnell: I’m still with Cliff. We’ve been working together since 2005 when I was at the training center. I do have a couple of new partnership changes coming on in terms of sponsors, but I can’t quite talk about it yet.
Triathlete.com: Outside of obviously making some sponsor changes, what have you been up to since Kona?
O’Donnell: I’ve been just really enjoying the off-season. Last year I had a horrific Kona experience and went to the well, so to speak. I was trying to redeem myself in [Ironman] Arizona and just kept digging a hole. This time I took an appropriate break and am getting ready for the upcoming season. And doing a lot of wedding planning.
Triathlete.com: You toyed with the idea of doing an Ironman after Kona. Are you glad that you decided against it?
O’Donnell: I went to [Ironman] Florida with Rinny. I would say it wasn’t an enjoyable experience at the time for her, being so close after Kona, but she’s really happy now that she has her Ironman done. She will be able to focus on one Ironman in 2013, Kona, and I think this year if my body is feeling good after Kona, I might try to do it this year.
Triathlete.com: So you’ll kick off your season at 70.3 San Juan, where you’ve won the past two years. What are your plans for after that? Do you know where you will validate for Kona?
O’Donnell: My schedule is still a little bit in the air because I don’t want to do too much this year before Kona. I’m thinking about going back to Coeur d’Alene, and if not I’m toying with the possibility of going to Austria. I think that time of year is a really good time of year to do an Ironman. You can get a really good base for Kona and race off of that base—and then your Kona prep block isn’t quite as stressful because you know you have that Ironman fitness.
Triathlete.com: You’ve done very well in the early season in the past. How do you balance the desire to do well early and defend your titles with the reality that you want to peak in October?
O’Donnell: That’s really tough. I’m in the air right now with St. George [Ironman 70.3 U.S. Championship], and the timing of that race is right in the middle of my preparation. You always want to defend a title, but at the end of the day you have to make sure you’re doing what’s right for Kona. Sometimes that means sacrificing the races you love to do or titles you want to defend.
Triathlete.com: I’ve heard a lot of pros talk about the importance of earning KPR points out of Kona to try to qualify for the following year. Are you enjoying that situation, as opposed to last year when you didn’t have any?
O’Donnell: I didn’t let it stress me too much last year. I didn’t do Vegas, and I had no points in Kona, and I think I got like 12 points at Arizona. Basically I had no points. I think if you’re a strong 70.3 athlete and you can get a podium at a 2,000-point Ironman race then you’ll get to the start line in Kona. That being said, it still is nice to know that I really just need to get through an Ironman to secure my Kona spot.
Triathlete.com: You’ve done Kona twice, and have a DNF and a top-10 under your belt. What have you learned that you’ll take into this season and Kona?
O’Donnell: Last year was a tough day, and I learned that you’re never really out of the race. I had a pretty uneventful bike in Kona and then I was able to break that top-10 with a nice all-around day. For me it’s knowing that the toughness can get results in Kona, and it’s good to know the dynamics of the race more. I didn’t get the full race experience in 2011, so after having a real taste of it last year I can prepare even better for 2013.
Triathlete.com: You’ve been touted by several athletes and media sources as being one of the United States’ best shots at getting the Kona title back. That, coupled with the new Trek deal, has to be some pressure. How do you deal with that?
O’Donnell: After winning 70.3 Texas [last year], I kind of got that out of my system—and I had a big dose of that. I made it through and I’m still here. For me it’s a task. Obviously I want to do it, and I’d love to be the next American to win in Kona. My career goal is to win that race. If Andy [Potts] or someone else does it before I do, that’s OK. As long as I can get that goal achieved myself sometime in my career.
Triathlete.com: Onto the fun stuff. Have you and Rinny started building on your land in Boulder? Have you set a wedding date?
O’Donnell: We have a tentative date. We’re looking at mid-December next year. We’re doing it on a ranch, up in the mountains. It will be something different. It will be a real mountain experience. We want to show off Colorado to our friends, especially Rinny’s family. We wanted a little something unique. We haven’t done anything with the land—we decided we would not try to do too much with the wedding going on, and keep it to one side project for the year. Next year that will be our project.
Triathlete.com: Finally, do you happen to know what would happen if you put a bike cruiser on a treadmill?
O’Donnell: [Laughs] I don’t recommend it. The results are not good. Make sure you have a helmet and know a good drywall person.