2017 Triathlon Business International – Day 2, Lance Armstrong

Basketball… “Flat, Challenging” times in Tri … and Lance Armstrong:
“I went from the stars to the ground, seemingly overnight”

The Monday morning start of Day 2 at TBI began early, with a group workout at the local Dallas YMCA, put on by ACTIVE. Following an old-school basketball lay-up drill, Arch led participants through four, 7-minute “Tabata” sets and had us all sweating and dreading sitting on sore glutes later in the day, but smiling goofy endorphin-induced grins. (Only the first three sets were physical – the fourth set was a mental “Triku” writing exercise… we may – or may not – hear more about those submissions later in the conference.)

By 8:00 a.m. the breakfast crowd was ushered into the presentation hall for a few opening remarks by TBI President Richard AdlerCiting registration data, Adler pointed out 41% of this year’s TBE attendees are race producers, followed by those in the technology field, and manufacturers with 15% each. And then a large “other” category, that includes coaches, tri clubs, city representatives, advertising/marketing entities, sponsors… a good cross-section of the industry.

This year’s conference theme is “profitability and success in triathlon,” and Adler referenced data presented by Gary Roethenbaugh yesterday and reiterating the current “flat” triathlon climate makes for “challenging times.” However. The entire purpose of this conference is to collaborate and share ideas; TBI is, at its core, a “sounding board and connector of resources.”

And then a hush fell over the room as Lance Armstrong was ushered down the center aisle, red carpet style, haloed by a bright spotlight, led by Slowtwitch publisher Dan Empfield. As they walked Empfield referred to Armstrong as his “very good friend,” and Armstrong made reference to Empfield being his “first sponsor” (Empfield was Lance Armstrong’s first bike sponsor, with Quintana Roo, the bike brand Empfield founded).

Empfield opened the session with an air of caution and assertive direction, launching immediately into Armstrong’s The Forward Podcast, and skipping any preamble about the cycling world or doping or other obvious precursors. Admitting he is “very jealous” of Armstrong’s podcasts because “they are so good,” Empfield asked about:

  • Most recent guest (astrophysicist Neil Degrass Tyson – whom Armstrong pointed out is “Stephen Colbert‘s favorite guest”)
  • Toughest interviews (“Seal was very emotional and dark; he and I did the dance and it came off…“)
  • Favorite interview to date (Michael Morton – wrongfully convicted for killing his wife: “He is my favorite by far, so far. He went to prison for 26 years for a crime he didn’t commit. And then DNA evidence proved his innocence and he was exonerated. His views on the people who put him away – what he wanted to do to them – for 15 years he had a plan for every one of them. Shoot & bury. Burn. Drown… And then he found God. . . The guy is amazing. Really cool guy.

As Armstrong mentioned Sean Penn (whom he hangs out with in Aspen), biographer Hunter Thompson, Johnny Depp, Bo Jackson, Brett Favre (a “good friend”), Malcolm Gladwell (If he does a tri, “Who’s going to make the swim cap to go over that ‘fro of his?”) … Empfield points out, “These guys are all friends – you just call them up.” And later in the interview, regarding Armstrong’s residence in Aspen, “there’s a posse, and you’re in it.” Empfield continues, “You can hang with these people and talk with these people in a way a CNN interviewer couldn’t… I mean, a presidential historian and rock stars…”

Armstrong revealed his techniques for landing an interview with someone he finds compelling: “I grab coffee in the morning and read the newspaper. I see who’s in town… send a DM to a mutual acquaintance and get a cell phone number…” He goes on to point out how public most personal information is, saying, “You can find out about anybody’s life – start with Wikipedia, and then go to YouTube… There’s still some secrets out there, but very few.”

He also acknowledges the timing of his Forward podcast, saying, “I couldn’t have done this kind of platform five years ago. . . I went from the stars to the ground seemingly overnight, and all of my platforms went away. That was a humbling experience. The podcast is my first platform, my first offensive move, the first place I’ve gone back to to give people a place to go. . . I’m blown away at the success it’s had.”

When asked about the “corporatization” of sport, making big business out of triathlon or other endurance sports, he was clear, saying whether it’s Ironman or New York Road Runners or the Boston Marathon, “we still have millions willing to pay to play.” But. ASO/Tour de France is “much more evil” than Wanda Sports. “The business model of pro cycling is 100 years old and not sustainable. There is turmoil there. They want to control as much as they can and cast a shadow over all the other events. The Tour is too big – but they are the only one, and the only thing people care about.”

“I wish there were more players and riders who had a bigger voice in pro cycling.”

Armstrong’s latest venture, WEDU Sport, was touched on but not well defined. According to the trademark application, WEDU will incorporate monitoring & tracking (“Computer software and computer application software related to tracking, monitoring, planning, compliance and motivation”), clothing, and “athletic competitions, triathlon events, athletic coaching services.”

When Empfield asked about the new brand, Armstrong provided an explanation for the name, saying, “WEDU is an answer to a question: Who does 100X100’s in the pool or runs Rim2Rim? Who wants to do that? Who would be crazy enough to do that? The answer is WEDU. That is the brand. There is space for more events in the endurance world. Also, monitoring and tracking – GPS, Strava, wearables – allowing athletes to train better, smarter, and injury free.”

Later in the interview he added on the subject of WEDU: “We’ll provide events, content, and training. Similar to Endurance Nation – we’ll sell plans. And WEDU may be an app.”

And what about that subject of doping? Empfield raised the subject, and Armstrong elaborated, saying first, “It will never change.” He said there will always be cheaters Whether traditional doping, or course cutting, or mechanical doping with engines. He did an obstacle course race, and when he missed an obstacle he had to do 180 burpees. “I did all 180 burpees,” he said. “But how many people really do them? It’s the honor system. If they have to do 30 burpees, how many do 30? No one. They do 22.”

What about just letting letting drug testing go – just “chilling” – and letting athletes do what they will do? “Just chilling is not an option,” Armstrong insists. “I don’t have a lot of credibility on this.” (crowd chuckles) “You laugh, but it’s true. Should we test athletes? I’m probably not the guy to ask. But if it’s my kids, I say test them.”

And, on the future of triathlon: “Who knows? Who would have thought there would be the Tough Mudder and events like that? We just don’t know… You never know what the next event is. What will provide relevance and motivation? For Type A motivated people, what are you going to give them in ten years?”

He speaks about the return of his Aspen mountain bike race in 2017 (the 2016 event ended up being “a party at my house” since he missed the permitting deadline), his preference for century rides over Gran Fondo’s, because they are untimed and easier to permit, and “alternative” events in general. He then adds, solemnly, “I want all of the ships to rise.”

Also: Jimmy Buffett & Margaritaville. “When you stay there, he is making money off of you from the minute you wake up until you go to bed. From music to blenders to everything… I really respect what he’s done with his brand.”

Finally: Empfield circles back to the Forward podcast. He notes that listeners are asked to rate the show, one star to five. “There are no 2s, 3s or 4s. Only 1s and 5s. Is this a metaphor for how people view you?” Armstrong responds, “I was an asshole for a very long time. I understand that.”

As Armstrong left the room (for 1.5 hrs of post-appearance interviews in the outer hallway), the TBI sessions continued with discussions covering the Future of Triathlon (“Triathlon has plateaued. But it’s stable. Flat is the new ‘up’.” – Chuck Menke); Sponsorships; Diversity in Triathlon moderated by Sara Gross (“Diversity brings innovation, and that’s what triathlon needs now”); and the USAT State of the Union address by Rob Urbach (which began with, “Do you remember the first time you made love?”). Late afternoon sessions allowed participants to choose between topics including Working with Municipalities, Retailer Relationships, Understanding Millennials, and Triathlon Teams.

The Ron Smith Reception and Awards Celebration filled the evening, with winners announced in multiple categories. Be sure to check out 303Triathlon’s twitter feed for all the details on the day’s presentations and events.

 

2017 Triathlon Business International – Day One

Today the annual Triathlon Business International meeting began, jointly hosted by TBI and USAT for the first time.

If you’re in the multisport business and are looking for information, tools and solutions to help you come out on top in today’s world, the Triathlon Business International 7th Annual Business Conference is where the business of triathlon gets done!

On the heels of the USA Triathlon’s Race Directors Symposium held Jan. 20-22, TBI’s annual North American business conference will continue through Tuesday.

Today’s presentations were hosted jointly by USAT and TBI.

After opening remarks by USAT CEO Rob Urback and TBI President Richard Adler, featured speaker Melissa Stockwell, Olympic Paratriathlete Medalist, World Champion and war veteran, took the stage and inspired all. (Be sure to catch Melissa for a rapid fire challenge with Allysa Seely and Hailey Danisewicz Danz – the women of the Paralympic Games PT2 podium sweep on USAT Facebook Live direct from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs Monday, 1/23/17 at 2:05 p.m.!)

Following Stockwell, Gary Roethenbaugh, Managing Director of MultiSport Research Ltd., presented the findings from the 2017 Confidence Survey. Data presented was compiled from 2017 TBI attendee responses, and is still being collected and analyzed. However, here were a few key themes:

Photo by TBI
  • The U.S. continues to lead the triathlon market, commanding 1/5 of the global total triathlon population. The next largest populations of athletes are in Germany, the UK, France, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
  • On a worldwide level the triathlon market is still growing in double digits at 10%, which is encouraging; but in the U.S. growth is slowing. Key quote: “Flat is the new growth” (in reference to U.S. growth)
  • For race organizers, margins are thin, and there is pressure on the bottom line as registrations drop as well as sponsorship dollars.
  • When comparing the 2016 TBI survey to the current 2017 results, there was a “drop in happiness” in terms of customer demand.
  • Perhaps the greatest challenge here in 2017 is identifying new ways to reach out and find new people.
  • The Triathlon industry will always be seen as an innovator, and that is its real backbone.
  • The TBI annual conference hopes to use sessions to discuss these challenges and identify positive answers for growing the sport.

The day concluded with a lively reception held a few blocks away at the ACTIVE headquarters, where the bike-powered blenders churned away and attendees enjoyed networking, championship football, and plenty of Texas-style food.

Monday sessions will resume first thing – following early morning group workout sessions at the local YMCA and led by ActiveX – always a fun time to line up next to fellow industry professionals to break a sweat. The Day 2 line up includes the expected TBI President Richard Adler’s welcome, sessions on the Future of Triathlon, Developing Partnerships, and Expanding Diversity before lunch. Oh, and Lance Armstrong. Yes, a “discussion” moderated by Dan Empfield of Slowtwitch will be held, along with an audience Q&A…

Stay tuned for all the coverage – including photos and video! (Follow 303Triathlon on Twitter for blow-by-blow updates.)

Former pros, local Boulder legends Holicky & Henderson return to Maui as amateurs

By Dana Willett
©2013

You may know these guys. Maybe from their days as XTERRA pros in the early 2000’s. Or their current roles as high-end coaches to world-class athletes like Cam DyeChristine JenningsFlora Duffy, and Taylor Phinney. Or maybe you just enjoy their snarky feed on twitter (@apexcoaching). Today they are in the news not for their professional aspirations, but a little bit of friendly rivalry that has brought them to XTERRA World Championships in Maui, where they will both be competing as amateurs on Sunday (in addition to coaching Flora Duffy and Kyle Leto).

Grant Holicky is a former professional triathlete, Director of Aquatics at Rallysport Health and Fitness, head coach of Rallysport Aquatics (RACE) in Boulder, and a coach with Apex Coaching. (You can usually spot him by the throngs of teenage swimmers tagging behind him, devoted to his “keep-things-positive” coaching style. He is also married to the venerable Breeze Brown, the nutritionist and founder of Breeze Bars. )

Neal Henderson is a long-time endurance coach, former professional triathlete, award-winning cycling coach, sport scientist and founder of Apex Coaching. (You can usually spot him by the throngs of hopeful athletes tagging behind him, asking questions about his Olympic coaching, eager to improve, threshold questions in hand.)

What Grant and Neal have most in common are their duals on the racecourse, and their grounded friendship.

Grant elaborates: “When Neal and I raced professionally we had some epic battles for 15th place . . . We were always close. Neal always had the upper hand but it was always close. There are multiple stories of us duking it out in the last 1k of the run. We’ve been good friends ever since.”

So how is it, after so many years out of the pro circuit, the two find themselves facing each other again? “I joined Apex coaching in 2011, so now we are professionally intertwined,” Grant explains. “We both turned 40 a month apart this year, and we’d been talking about XTERRA all year. But I have to put it on Neal – he made a decision in July that he was going. So I had to go. It was one of those friendship things where he said ‘you’ve got to go.'”

Neal jokes about how little training the two have done, saying “You know the quote in the Rocky movie when the guy is asked about his prediction for the fight, and he responds, ‘Pain!’? Ya, I predict pain. It’s going to hurt out there, but I’m looking forward to having a good time with it. When I did XTERRA in Beaver Creek I forgot to practice swimming, and I hadn’t run for four weeks – I learned that I was in over my head. But now, for this, well . . . I swam several times in the last week.”

Grant interjects: “Neal does refer to himself as ‘Mr. October’ – he’s ALWAYS ready for this race and he’s always dominant – gleaming, in fact. Or maybe that’s just his head.”

Neal continues, “I figure out what doesn’t work with myself – I’m the ultimate experiment – I go out and do stupid things, and then I don’t repeat those things with the folks I coach.”

They both agree the world of XTERRA has changed over the last decade. “Around 2000, 2001, that was the golden era of XTERRA,” Grant notes. “The prize money was high, and back then Kona and Maui were on back to back weekends so the ‘double’ drew a lot of racers. It was a spectacle.” (The “Double” award is given to the pro and amateur man and woman with the fastest combined 2013 XTERRA World Championship and Ironman Hawaii Championship time.)

He continues, “The national series was 8-10 races, and inevitably there would be two in a region. A lot of us struggling pros would travel by car. Now, there are more races with less prize money spread around. I think as the prize money drops a little, the interest drops a little bit. What was so much more dramatic ten years ago was the prize money in the national series – a pro could have a successful year in prize money alone and make $100k – so you saw a lot of people dabbling in both road and off road.”

“The series had fewer events and so had relatively higher prize money per event,” Neal adds. “Now the actual prize purse is comparatively lower – you have to do so many more races, and the cost of traveling to all of those races has made it difficult for the pros to do the global series.”

“Also, the guys winning XTERRA are so damn good – these days you’ve got to be a specialist in it – you don’t see a lot of guys from road coming over,” Grant says.

Those that do tend to suffer, Neal points out. “Lance Armstrong did the XTERRA championships and got his butt kicked. It just shows you can be a hyper fit individual with capacity to go fast, but there’s an element that is clearly different than what road triathlon demands.”

But the lack of pro prize money and the arduous demands of the sport do not seem to deter those who are passionate about it. “Off-road triathlon requires getting out of your comfort zone, going up steep climbs, steep descents, no rhythm – you are all over the place. For a lot of us that’s one of the attractions,” Neal says. “I did traditional Ironman and found that the XTERRA really suited my psychology and skill set because it was so variable. I don’t have to be fastest, but I need to be strong. It has very different requirements.”

Grant adds, “What I notice is a different mindset, a little more of the cyclocross scene. It’s more laid back, there are more smiles and more support among athletes, along with less competitiveness. I don’t know if it’s because with XTERRA something’s going to go wrong – something always doesn’t go according to plan – but you’re all in it together. There’s a different type of psychology. When Neal and I were racing together professionally, we were always trying to beat each other’s brains out, but we were the best of friends. To me that’s just a different personality. It really suits some people and is a real draw. I’d say it’s competitive with a huge amount of support.”

That friendly aspect, and the atmosphere of camaraderie, is causing the amateur ranks to grow. In Colorado, there are now several XTERRA events throughout the season put on by Without Limits, including a new race for 2014 in Aspen. Grant notes, “The sport does have a growing amateur following. One thing they’ve done really well is created more regional races. Now there are 5-6 in Colorado alone. Lance (Panigutti) of Without Limits held 3-4 events this year that all sold out, so numbers are there. You have to limit the number of participants because in off-road it’s not as easy to police the course.”

As for Sunday? Neal & Grant are downplaying their individual preparedness, but admit they have each been “secretly” training. Grant reveals, “I will occasionally ask Neal for an opinion, for road racing and cross racing. When we were talking the other day Neal looked at me with a gleam in his eye, and admitted, ‘I wrote a Training Peaks plan for myself.’ And I had to admit, I did too. But, I haven’t been a great athlete to my own coaching. The main goal for us is that we race to be fit, to have fun, and to get out there and challenge ourselves. It’s not a whole lot different than the hard time we give each other before a race or a hard workout.”

Neal adds, “I’m looking forward to passing along to my athletes what I experience on my own. It makes it easier on our athletes when we’ve walked in their shoes. We understand what they’re going through, and we have that perspective. We understand the inside of the race.”

Neal also ranks the fun factor at the top of his race goals: “I’m going to show up and go as hard as I can go. I’ve been putting fun first in everything I do. There’s not a lot of pressure.”

Still, they can’t help but rib each other about finishes. “I think I’m going to be good on the bike – we’ll have to wait and see on the swim and the run,” Neal says.

Grant jumps in, “I think all the pressure is on Neal – If I go out there and beat him, it’s all on him. I have nothing to lose.”

“Wait a minute – there is a 10min offset for each child that you already have,” Neal chides (he has two children). “I just want to make sure we’re clear – the children thing brings a whole new level that Grant hasn’t had to manage in his life.”

Grant is quick to clarify, “What Neal doesn’t know is he’s got two kids and I’ve got 35 teenagers!”

———
For complete information visit the XTERRA World Championship website. Live updates will be provided throughout the day (the race begins at 9am Hawaii time, 1pm MST). You may also follow the race on twitter: #XTERRAMaui