Former World Tour cyclist Nic Dougall made his professional triathlon debut at IRONMAN 70.3 Barcelona. Coming from the intensity of professional cycling and triathlon as a junior, Nic is well-versed in the game of endurance sports. Following his 6th place finish and fastest bike split of the day, we sat down with him to discuss his experience being back in the saddle on different terms.
Images: Tristan Cardew
Ventum: How did the race unfold? Was the expectation far different from the reality?
Nic: My plan was to try to latch onto the faster swimmers, draft as much as I could and come out of the swim as close as I could to the front guys. I lost contact with them after the first turning buoy but luckily I wasn’t too far behind and managed to come out in the bigger second group. On the bike I rode it like a 2 hour time trial, as hard as I could, not really saving anything for the run. I picked off a fair few guys on the first climb but catching the front guys took me a bit longer. I knew I had to create a bit of a gap once I took the lead so I took a few risks on the descent in order to open up a gap. I started to fatigue a little bit on the last climb but I knew I didn’t have too much further to go so I emptied the tank and then tried to eat, drink and recover on the last downhill back into T2. I was feeling pretty terrible the first 4kms on the run but I managed to keep it together and I tried to settle into the fastest pace that I knew I could maintain. I actually felt better in the last 4kms than the first 4. Overall the race definitely exceeded my expectations, I never thought I would be leading the race in my first pro 70.3 and it was an amazing experience coming into T2, alone and in front.
Ventum: You got the fastest bike split, congratulations! Is this feat something you pushed for specifically? How confident were you this was possible?
Nic: Thank you! I knew that based on my past training numbers I was going well on the bike, but I didn’t expect to feel as good as I did on race day. I definitely trained with the goal of having a great bike split and trying to lead off the bike. My swimming and running still needed time to develop but I knew I could make up some time on the other guys with my cycling background, so I focused a lot on that.
Ventum: Triathlon is extremely results driven where as in the World Tour you could potentially be working for someone else. Talk about ways you alleviate the pressure of being so focused on the end result. Or does that not bother you at all?
Nic: It’s a refreshing change of pace for me actually, coming from the WT where I was focusing on others 90% of the time, to only focusing on my own race. I think a little bit of pressure and nervousness pre-race is good because it means you care about the end result but it shouldn’t be so much that it becomes all consuming. To alleviate pressure I try to run through my race plan in my head, focusing on what my strategy is for the race and remembering the sessions in training that I had done specifically for this moment.
Ventum: Talk about your mental approach leading up to this race, how much can you take away from the World Tour?
Nic: Cycling taught me a huge amount about what it takes to compete at the highest level in a sport and how to prepare for racing so I approached it with a very similar mindset. On the bike I had a pretty good idea of what I had to do in my training to prepare, I based most of it off time trial training I had done in the past. Riding in the World Tour also taught me a lot about bike handling and that’s something that really helped me during the race, given how technical the course was on Sunday.
Ventum: How was your training leading up to the race? How much did it change as you got closer to race day?How did it differ from a long stage race or just a time trial?
Nic: I used the earlier months of the year to get accustomed to the bike, the new position and also working on the foundations of my swimming and running after being away from the sport for 10 years. During this time I didn’t focus on doing a lot of specific intervals but tried to keep a good amount of volume in my training. As race day approached I started focusing on doing more threshold work and race pace efforts to simulate racing. For long stage races you really need a lot of volume, the more you can do the better but for 70.3 races the bike leg is normally just over 2 hours so as the race got closer I could really back off the volume and focus on my interval sessions.
Ventum: Let’s get personal; let’s talk about power. How have you adjusted your numbers to reflect the swim beforehand and the run after?
Nic: I approached the bike leg like a time trial and tried not to think about the swim or the run. For my first race in particular I knew that the bike was going to be the most important leg for me and the run I had planned to do my best with whatever energy I had left. I did an hour long time trial test last year where I averaged XXX watts so I knew I could probably hold that sort of power and then I just measured my efforts on the climbs to make sure I didn’t go too far over my threshold.
Ventum: Do you focus on specific things, processes, as to take your mind off the bigger picture or the goals?
Nic: Technique is something I really enjoy focusing on no matter the sport. It keeps you constantly engaged and present with what you’re doing. I think consistency is so important in your training and I place a lot of importance on that aspect as well which helps me to stay focused on each day as it comes. Big goals are important because at the end of the day that’s what keeps me motivated to put in the work but I don’t like to obsess about it. If you work hard at each individual session then the big picture takes care of itself.
Ventum: Finally, and perhaps the most important — now that you’re a triathlete, how has your music taste changed? More techno I presume?
Nic: Haha I like to think I have a pretty broad taste in music but pre-race I like to listen to hip-hop. I really feed off the confidence that those artists put into their music and it helps me feel confident in my own ability on race day.
Thank you Nic for your answers and for your earnest and dedicated approach to a sport we love so much. Happy Trails.