With less than 36 hours before before his first big race of the 2016 season, I caught up with Joe to discuss his preparations for the big event, airline altercations, inappropriate press conference comments, and peanut butter abstinence…
Thursday 18th February
8:30am GMT / 21:30 NZDT
Evening Joe thanks for delaying your bedtime to allow us to carry out this CHALLENGE WANAKA preview interview for your blog page. I understand that just getting there has been something of a challenging feat of mental and physical endurance itself. Let’s set the scene, following a short flight from Norwich airport, you’ve arrived with all your gear and a couple of bags of bikes at the checkin desk of a well-known middle Eastern airline (who shall remain nameless) at Manchester Airport ready to commence the second leg of your epic journey … what happens next?
When I got to the check-in desk, the staff said I’d have to pay an excess baggage fee of £2200 for my second bike. There was no way I was able to or wanted to fork out that money so tried to talk them round but they were having none of it. I didn’t know what to do. I put an appeal out on social media and a friend of a friend offered to come out and meet me at the airport, take my training bike off me and some of my gear and lent me a small hand luggage case. I put as much clothes as I could in the hand luggage case and had to get dressed up like the Michelin man just to get a few more bits through boarding and onto the plane. I was glad it wasn’t warm in Manchester.
How long did the whole journey in total?
About 40 hours.
Wow. So you eventually get to basecamp in Queenstown and unpack your bike and notice there’s some damage on there.
Yeah, the headset was screwed, it must have had a big knock to it somehow and it had messed it up. Even when I loosened the headset up it still wouldn’t go into place. So I had to take it to a local bike shop. Luckily, this guy who didn’t even work in the bike shop, who was friends with the guy who worked there or was visiting or something, he offered to take it away and managed to sort it out the next day.
He fixed it? He wasn’t even working in the bike shop and he fixed it?
Yeah, the guy that worked in the bike shop didn’t actually know how to do it, but this guy worked at another bike shop in Australia, he was just over here visiting for a few days. He really liked the look of the bike so I think he just wanted to work on it! I said to him, ‘how do you know what to do?’ and he said in an Aussie accent ’I just know mate’.
That was the only bike you had out there at the time then and it was crocked?
Yeah, Boardman had sent me another bike out which I got today and is at the bike shop just getting built up, because it’s come straight from the factory so it needs all the cabling done, bar tape, all that kind of stuff, so hopefully I should get it back Sunday or Monday. At least then I’ll have it then between Challenge Wanaka and Ironman NZ at Taupo, which is when I’ll really need it for quite a lot of riding.
You’ve been doing all your acclimatisation training on your race bike out there then?
Yeah, but I haven’t done a massive amount because obviously I only got here 7 or 8 days before the race so it’s just been ticking over with an hour, hour and a half rides so it’s not been too bad. But it could’ve been worse, you don’t really know what the roads are gonna’ be like, luckily there’s not been that many potholes around here. Like in England I probably would have punctured the tubs by now and that would have cost a fortune.
So how are you settling in there, any problems with jet lag? Acclimatising okay?
It seems like I got over the jet lag pretty well actually, probably the best I’ve ever had on a long haul flight. I managed to sleep on the second flight out here to get into the timezone so that helped.
What are your first impressions of the training out there? How does it compare to Norfolk?
Absolutely brilliant. The views are absolutely stunning. You ride around the lake and you just see these amazing mountains. The roads are really quiet as it’s so underpopulated so you don’t have any problems with cars. There’s some really nice trails to run along. Swimming in the lake is warm too.
What’s the temperature overall been like?
It’s still summer so it has been pretty good until yesterday. It was about 28 but it’s probably gone down to about 20 and rain at the moment. Race day is looking like it’s going to be around 21-22 and when we fly to Taupo it’s going to be around 25.
How’s the pre-race buzz at Wanaka at the moment? How does it compare to some of the other big events you’ve competed in?
I’d say other than Kona it’s pretty similar to other races. It’s pretty good actually because the place is quite small you can tell that a lot of people have come here and there are loads of nice cafes and stuff like that so the atmosphere is pretty good, the town seems to love it I think. They said 10% of the people that live in the town have volunteered for the race.
Have you managed to meet up with any other competitors while you’ve been out there?
A few of the Age Groupers yeah, not any of the pros, I don’t really know them that well, but a few of the Age Groupers out here have been following me on Facebook and Twitter so I’ve met up with them for a coffee which has been pretty good.
UK Triathlon magazine, 220, recently included Challenge Wanaka in their recent article on the ‘World’s Toughest Triathlons’ amongst the likes of Wales, Lanzarote and Norseman due to it’s choppy lake swim, rolling windy bike course and off road run. How does that make you feel?
It sounds about right, but the scenery’s probably better. The bike course is tough but it’s fast. That’s what makes it hard, because you can go quite fast on it but you have to race it quite aggressively whereas other courses, if they’re super hilly you don’t really race it aggressively, you only ride uphill at one pace don’t you? because in those cases it’s just a matter of getting up the hills, whereas here you just have to really attack it. You can lose quite a lot of time, because if you were only cruising then you might make it round in 5 hours but if you ride it aggressively you could do it in 4:40 so you could take 20 minutes off it. Obviously if you lose that much time then you’re screwed. The run around the lake’s not too bad, I wouldn’t say it’s as hard as them other ones they mentioned but I would say it’s the best race I’ve come to because of the scenery, and just how nice the place is.
Better than Bolton then?
God you can’t even compare! When I look back at all the times I did Bolton I think why the hell did I waste my time up there when I could’ve been here [laughs] Honestly though I reckon this is right up there with Kona. Kona for the atmosphere, this one for the scenery. It depends what you want, if you want a big atmosphere race like a really big feel for a big occasion then you’d go to Kona, if you want to go to a race with stunning scenery and just an amazing place to go to then go to Wanaka.
Well we can’t all get to go to Kona Joe
Go to Wanaka then.
Okay, I’ll go to Wanaka. Going back to the course aren’t the road surfaces a bit tricky?
They’re stonechips, so it’s just like a load of stones they throw on the road and the cars soften it when they go over it. Janice [Auntie Janice] lives here and she says the locals call it ‘metal’. It’s just slow. There’s no potholes on any of the road like you get in England, but its just a slow surface that’s all. It’s nice that you can put your head down and just smash it and you don’t have to worry about it, like if you were doing the Bolton course you’ve got to constantly keep looking because if you don’t you’ll just fall down a pothole and puncture your tyres.
Is there anything else about the course that is a concern or you’ve highlighted as a particular challenge?
There’s a tough hill on the run course that will really sort the men from the boys. You hit that after about 8 miles I think and 20 miles on the run. So when you hit that after 20 miles that will be a challenge. It’s about a kilometre long, starts off at the first 400m at about 4% then 400m at about 10% and then 200m at about 3 or 4% percent. It’s a ‘significant’ hill.
I noticed you shared a Challenge Wanaka post on Facebook earlier, which contained a few soundbites from the meet the pros pre-race event. Most of them were commenting in some depth about the how it was an amazing place to race, with the scenery and how it was a privilege to compete and even that the course ‘defines them as a triathlete’. Your only comment was that Gunn Road ‘will be a bit of a bastard!’
[laughs sheepishly] Yeah, they’ve made it a bit shorter! I said something else and they said what do you think of the run course? And I said Gunn Hill on the second lap will be a bit of a bastard
Haha, So is Gunn Road the hill you were talking about?
Yeah. What do you think, is it bad to saying something like that at interviews?
Erm… It just made me laugh honestly, I thought that’s classic Skipper.
Do you think other people would think it’s bad?
Yea.. Nah, I think other people would find it funny too.
Laura told me off and said you shouldn’t really swear in public like that.
It could’ve been worse, right?
Yeah when me and Auntie Janice first saw it we thought ‘Cor, that’s a big f**k off hill!’ So I dumbed it down in the interview! If I’d have said that! [laughs] But it is a bastard of a hill! When I said that, everyone who knew it … like they laughed at it, but that was exactly what everyone thinks and someone said ‘yeah I agree with that mate’ when I said it. Because it is, like it’s a kilometre long and when you hit it, you’re going to be hitting it after having done 20-21 miles of the marathon. I think what’s going to go through everyone’s head when they’re running that is going to be a lot worse than that! Trust me! That sums it up quite perfectly.
Haha, Excellent. So you got a few new bits and bobs on display for this first race of the season. Running new wheels from Alto, and testing out new nutrition from Torq, a funky new outfit from Endura and extra long aerobars for an interesting new riding position. It’s a lot of new things to take on board since Kona, how has the transition been?
Well the new wheels are a massive step up from what I have been using. The new position feels fast but I still haven’t tried it in a race situation up til now so I’m not too sure. When I look at the power I’ve been hitting in training, the speed what I’ve been going in that position, it does seem fast, but obviously time will tell on Saturday.
So it’s just after 9:30pm Thursday morning where you are, only two more sleeps until the horn goes and you’re diving into the water. What are your plans for your final day before the race?
I’ve got to do an interview for the TV show at about lunchtime, put my bike in transition, go to a cafe – get a coffee, pretty much like I’ve been doing every day! Then just chill out really, try and keep off my feet for as much as possible.
And your pre-race routine?
I’ll get up at about 4:30am which will be 2 and half hours before the race. A bowl of porridge with a banana stuck in. I would normally add some peanut butter to it but I was talking with a nutritionist at Torq and they said that if you have a lot of fat before you do a race like that it could make you bloated, and I’d been suffering from that at the last few Ironmans so I’m going to have to cut that out.
I know how much you love your peanut butter Joe, so that’s a big sacrifice.
Ha, Yeah I know, that’s gonna be a big hit. It’s worrying.
And after breakfast?
I reckon I’ll probably get down to the race about an hour and half before, I’m gonna try and do a bit of a warm up if the bike shop have made my road bike up by then, if not I’ll probably do a bit of a run and use the stretch boards that I’ve got. Get in the water about 10 minutes before, do a bit of swimming, and then, yeah, 7 o’clock when it comes, that’s it, game face on.
Showtime! So any final words you want to say, or any shout outs to anyone who’s helped you get here?
Yeah, I just wanna say thanks to all my sponsors for supporting me and for everyone that’s been following me on social media, especially when I was having problems with getting my bikes checked in on the flight – all the help that everyone was offering was amazing and I really appreciate it, especially Matthew who came out to the airport, and Patrick from New Zealand who sent his bike from the North Island to the South Island so I could use it. And massive thanks to Boardman for sending me out another bike and to Endura for making up my racesuit so quickly. And Janice, yeah, my auntie who I’m staying with here in New Zealand. She’s actually coming out to both races. She’s been looking after me a treat.
She’s going to be handing you bottles out on the course?
Yeah she’ll do that. But before the race she’s been cooking all my meals.
Have you managed to persuade her to get on the bike while you’ve been doing your training runs then?
In the car! She came along in the car with the GoPro to take some shots. But she got lost, so we got minimal footage for it! So yeah thanks to her and everyone else for supporting me so far and for the 2016 season ahead. I hope to kick it off with a bang.
I’m sure you will. All the best for the race on Saturday, can we follow you progress on the day?
Cheers, yeah there’s an tracker app you can download from the Challenge website and they’re also streaming it live on the day.
You can follow Joe on the new Challenge Wanaka app on Apple devices or Android devices. Live online TV coverage of the pro race, live race updates on Twitter @ChallengeWanaka plus live timing and athlete tracking, all available at www.challenge-wanaka.com. Race starts at 7:00am NZDT 20th February / 6:00pm GMT on 19th February.