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Dirk Bockel returns to Roth as the men’s defending champion, and despite a world-class wealth of talent aiming to dethrone him, he’s feeling confident, fit and ready to lay it all out there yet again on the course he calls his all-time favorite. If Bockel’s early season is any indication of what he has in store for Sunday, he has every reason to feel ready for a fierce showdown–Bockel won Ironman Melbourne in March in convincing fashion against a similarly stacked field. Here’s what Bockel had to say prior to toeing the line in Roth about his preparedness and his passion for the iconic event.
Triathlete.com: You head into this race as the defending champ and an obvious favorite to repeat. But the competition is going to be fierce to steal your crown. What are some of the tools and tactics of your specific rivals in Roth this year that you know you’ll have to respond to?
Bockel: This year will be different. It’s a fierce competition like you say–it’s incredible what kind of competitors will toe the start line. But to be honest it doesn’t change that much for me. I am in really good condition; the job is done and I’m really well in shape. People have certain expectations of me racing here and I feel good. It doesn’t matter who’s going to race–I know what I have to do and tactically it won’t change too much for me, as I know what my strengths and weaknesses are. Whoever’s going to toe the start line has to be in absolutely full condition to be competitive here.
Triathlete.com: In a video on your blog you referred to this year’s Roth race, the 30th anniversary of the event, as “the fastest birthday party in the world.” And it’s certainly a course known for record-setting race times–last year you clocked a 7:52:01 to win. That’s very impressive, but I have a hunch you’re aiming for something even faster. Are you willing to let your goal be known?
Bockel: I did mention it is the fastest birthday party in the world! Well, my time of 7:52 last year was amazing–it was a personal best and I’m very stoked about that. I had one of those days where everything went really smooth. We could have had faster times if the competition would have been there, but you know, for me it’s not really about the time–it’s about placing well in Roth again. It’s my favorite race that I’ve ever done in the world; in 25 years of racing, this is it. So I don’t know–if I’m capable of being faster everything needs to be in perfect condition and it needs to be a very good race with very good athletes that really want to push the pace early on. So I’m not sure what’s going to happen this year. We have different plans and we can adapt to whatever happens. I would be happy to have a faster time, but if not, we’ll still look at the overall result and that’s the number one goal.
Triathlete.com: Kona 2013 was a tough day for you. You had been injured in the lead up, and although you were healthy to start the race, you probably were not quite where you wanted to be fitness-wise. Then, during the race you experienced unusual GI issues and cramping and ultimately pulled the plug. Afterward you called your race a “disaster mentally.” That sort of experience can really tweak an athlete’s psyche–however you turned it around brilliantly with your victory in Melbourne. How did you manage to hit the “reset” button after Kona and arrive to your next race mentally fresh and ready to have that level of winning performance?
Bockel: Kona was a nightmare last year. That was definitely out of my hands. I didn’t have the greatest preparation but we all have our little issues to carry to the start line. I had my issues last year, but when you run halfway through the marathon in fifth place you’re OK with your performance. It shouldn’t have been the end of the story, but it was, as I got something off the course that was absolutely poisonous. I don’t know what it was, but I was not the only one–we had over 25 professional athletes with the same issues. It never happened before and it never happened to me personally to have stomach issues, so it’s clearly not a mistake that I made, but something that I got from the course. I was annoyed by it very much but there was nothing I could do. Bouncing back with a win in Melbourne was just great. It took a lot of effort–I didn’t plan to race any WTC races unless I had to, but of course I have to qualify like everyone else so I had to put in a major workload before Melbourne in order to make it a one pit stop strategy. And it worked out well. We do the same approach for every race. The year started out extremely well, let’s hope we have a good one in Roth and hopefully in Kona there won’t be any complications this year.
Triathlete.com: You’re part of a new team this year, the Uplace-BMC Triathlon Team. How is the team structure and team dynamic beneficial to you in what is–at least on race day–an individual sport?
Bockel: Being part of the Uplace-BMC Team is a dream come true. It is what I was looking for with Leopard Trek, but that definitely didn’t work out the way I was hoping. It is a really amazing team, a team from triathletes made for triathletes. We have the best possible materials and the best possible support in training camps and basically on an everyday basis. If you need something we have a staff that’s working full time for just 10 athletes. The race support is extraordinary–we always have a physio, a bike mechanic, a photographer and the manager with us, so there’s not much I have to do except show up and talk and race. It’s actually very comfortable and I think it’s the future for all top athletes and maybe even more teams. The future lies in the teams–it takes away so much work. If you look at the cyclists, they get everything done for them. And our workload is so much more than what the cyclists have to do and way more complicated because of having three disciplines. With time management and very short time off between sessions and frequent sessions each day, it’s complicated. So if you have the support that I’m enjoying right now you can see how the perfect performance will come out. I’m very happy. We all have a two-year plan for now and we’re hoping that the team will continue for several years. I think the amount of victories and podiums that we have this year is extraordinary. People want to be on this team. I’m very happy to have the best support possible and of course my job is to perform the best I possibly can. I’m still getting better every single year, even after 25 years of racing–I showed that in Melbourne and I want to show that in Roth and in Hawaii and whatever happens next year. I’m proud to be part of the team.
Triathlete.com: What are the three top highlights of Challenge Roth, in your opinion?
Bockel: Well, there is only one highlight and that is Roth. And that’s the entire race. The Challenge Family is the best organization I could possibly wish for. I mean they are nice people. It is a business, but it’s a win-win situation for all the athletes, amateurs, pros and the organization. So it’s…ah, I cannot say anything negative. It’s impossible, because it’s so great! And there are so many emotions for me with this race. I watched it as a kid and I wanted to become one of the big guys here and I did it in my first race here. So it’s very emotional for me. Going back this year there’s a lot of pressure, so I’ll see the other side, as I’m not the underdog this time. I have to deal with a lot of pressure, but that’s good–that’s sport and that’s why I’m a professional athlete. I need that. I want that. And my job is to perform. The things I think about, like when you enter the water with this incredible crowd–it’s absolutely amazing! And the Solar Berg climb, but also all the other tough little hills that you face, there’s an incredible amount of people out there, 10-20 deep–I mean it’s a Tour de France feeling for sure! And crossing that finish line–I’ve never experienced that anywhere, in so many years of racing. I’m getting goose bumps talking about it, so I can’t wait to be there! And I can’t wait to see everyone out there. Thanks in advance to all the organizers and all the volunteers and spectators and we’ll catch you out there on Sunday!