In the first part of our interview with Rudy Vonberg, we started by looking back at the 2019 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in Nice, an event he described as a “dream race”.
A place that means a lot to him, having grown up on the hills and roads of the Alpes-Maritimes, it’s probably no surprise to learn that this year’s IRONMAN France, scheduled for June 26, will be the venue for his full-distance starts.
In part two, we turn our attention to those longer distances and what could lead to the IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii. While Nice could open the door to Kona, it’s not yet certain that would be an automatically accepted invite.
As Von Berg explains, the landscape is changing for professional athletes.
Go long – why now?
“The general idea was that I didn’t want to start racing Ironman too soon. I wanted to grow at 70.3 and reach my potential, and while I don’t think I’ve reached my best yet at 70.3, I’ll be within a year of turning 29 and so I have the feels like it’s old enough for I can start doing Ironman.
“I always wanted to do France, for the reasons I mentioned earlier, having grown up there. I was going to do it last year, but because of COVID it was postponed to a week before or after St George (70.3 World Championship) so that was out, and I didn’t want to scramble to find another Ironman and so I was thinking of doing it in 2022 and preparing for it properly.
“The only thing is that I hope I didn’t lose too much form in the medium term with my Mono, because I lost a lot of muscle in my legs when I was sick. I lost a lot of weight – I just hope it didn’t slow me down too much, especially for an Ironman when it’s really the years of training that count. This is my only question mark. But I will now train for a good six months and hope to be at my best.
Heading to Hawaii? May be…
The typical assumption is that if you win a Kona slot (for October 2022), you take it. The IRONMAN World Championship is part of the Von Berg family’s DNA – his father, Rodolphe senior, was himself a Kona Age-Group World Champion – but the decision of whether the juniors will be there in October does not is not yet clear. Would he take a place in Kona, if France was doing well?
“Probably… but the problem is that the schedule is quite difficult. Until Nice, I will probably do two half races before the IRONMAN. Then a month later there is the PTO Canadian Open, then a month later the Collins Cup, a month later the PTO US Open, and then there are the two world championships in October.
“It’s not possible to be the best in all of these areas, not even in three of them. Usually I can peak in June and again in September and then be near peak for the last run in November or something like that. But it will be hard. »
PTO Tour – we’ve been waiting for it for a long time
Given that Von Berg’s earliest triathlon memory is of seeing his father race in Kona nearly 25 years ago, the appeal of the Big Island is strong. It is clear that it will not be an easy decision anyway:
“So I haven’t decided exactly what’s going to happen for that yet. If I qualify for Kona, I’ll see what I want to focus on. I can’t not do those PTO Tour races because those are the type of races we as Pros have been waiting for for many years; big money races, something like regional championships where all the top athletes will be in attendance for many years, rather than watered down races in general.
“So the short answer is we’ll have to see because it’s a bit difficult. I don’t want to be average at Kona and the 70.3 St. George World Champs, I want to be really good at one of the two.
“I’ve been thinking about Kona for so long that if I qualify it would be kind of stupid not to, but I also have to think about my career as a whole. There’s still time to focus on Worlds 70.3 for example. and then trying to go to Kona the next year… but also a career goes by quickly and when you have opportunities, they won’t always be next year.
The results in Nice, of course, will determine whether these considerations need to be resolved. For this year, at least.
A distant future?
Along with new events creating decisions for athletes — and perhaps a “pick your battles wisely” situation — the PTO Tour could also impact the distance of an athlete’s career. IRONMAN France will represent a full-distance debut for Rudy, but not necessarily the start of an all-in move towards this seven-plus-hour format:
“Things change a bit with the PTO Tour races for example. On the four races of the PTO Tour [Ed. The European Open and Asian Open will be added in 2023], there will be three 100 km races and one 200 km race, so roughly three halves and an Ironman. So the focus is a bit more on the shorter distance, so I don’t think I’ll ever become a full-fledged Ironman athlete. I’m definitely going to still want to do really well at mid-distance, and so I think I’ll do two ironman races at most a year and then there’s still room to do really well at mid-distance with that.
“The PTO is kind of changing that, in a good way, because I think 70.3 is a really good distance and actually a good mix of endurance and speed.
“We love to run. I like being more of a Frodeno type where I want to prepare and race only if I want to be really good. I will run a little less, but I still want to add races to the calendar. It’s just my rational part that says it’s a bit too much. We love the training process, but the only reason we do it is because of the race.
High quality racing will be the norm
This has long been part of their mission and was reiterated in our discussions with PTO CEO Sam Renouf before Christmas, the best to race the best. This goal is in line with the direction Rudy sees the sport moving in, telling us about his potential 2022 schedule as an example:
“I think more and more now it’s going to be championship-type races, because even some of these regional championship races that I’ve done, they didn’t quite have the fields that the PTO Tours will have, which is literally 40 of the top 50 guys in the world. It will be world championship events every time.
“For me, it will only be the big races. I mean Oceanside 70.3 (April) in North America is the first big race of the year, then Chattanooga 70.3, North American Champs in May, then IRONMAN France.
“It might actually have a slightly weaker field maybe, IRONMAN France, although it’s a race that’s increasingly on the map and I wouldn’t be surprised if a Norwegian goes there, or guys from high level like that, or a Cam Wurf type.
“After that, it’s just all the World Championship events – two PTO tours, the Collins Cup, Kona if qualified and the 70.3 World’s in St. George. That’s why I said you really want to be your best in these events. If you are right at 90%, you will be 15th.
Has COVID given a glimpse of the future?
One thing that we have certainly referenced many times over the past two years is the impact of the pandemic. With limited racing opportunities, these events that took place regularly featured professional fields with notable depth. While this may have indirectly given a glimpse of the future, Von Berg is clear about where the engine for change will continue to come from:
“It’s true, COVID has definitely created that a bit, but I think the main reason now and in the future is definitely PTO.
“Creating these big events – and this 100k distance, which is as short as a long distance as they could for television – and setting up these million dollar purses. I think that’s what’s going to really grow the sport of triathlon professionally, and much like tennis, it’s a familiar notion to have these grand slam/regional champion type events, and the PTO is going to focus on those main races plus the Collins Cup and developing that.
“Hopefully the PTO Tour Series will become a really interesting series for triathlon and triathlon fans.”