“They get a lot of flak, triathletes. People say they’re sort of okay at everything.”
As Cameron Wurf has discovered on his fascinating journey through the sport, the reality could not be more different.
There can’t be many better-qualified athletes on the planet to gauge what’s required to succeed at the highest level, the difference between very good and great.
He has rowed at an Olympic Games and ridden in the biggest races in road cycling. His introduction to longer-distance triathlon though still came as a shock.
“The first couple of races I did as a professional, I remember Lionel (Sanders) giving me an absolute walloping – and not just on the run, but the bike too.
“The first full I did as a pro was at Arizona in November 2016.
“I’d trained full gas for that race – my aim was to try and go quicker in the swim and bike legs than Jan Frodeno’s world record at Roth. And if I could do that, then I thought I might try and learn to run in the future!
“I was leading the race on the bike leg and clocked a 4:05, but Lionel actually went over a minute quicker and soon into the run he flew past me.
“I was just like ‘wow’. It’s mind-boggling what these guys do.”
In fairness to Wurf, that was an unprecedented performance from Sanders, who went on to run a 2:42:31 marathon that day and register the fastest-ever time for an IRONMAN-branded event of 7:44:29.
There was nothing but complete respect, so much so that the year ended with Wurf wondering if he’d be able to compete with the very best and considering a job in finance instead.
Then an out-of-the blue call from Team Sky/INEOS’ Head Coach Tim Kerrison changed everything.
“It was only a couple of months on from Arizona that Tim asked if I could go and keep Chris Froome company in training for a couple of weeks on the Gold Coast,” Wurf explains.
He didn’t know Froome well at that point, but there was no way Wurf was going to pass up an opportunity to ride with the man who had won the Tour de France for a third time in 2016.
“I had a great couple of weeks – we did all the work and all the efforts together. And Chris couldn’t drop me.
“That just put it all in perspective. A couple of months before Lionel was just as strong as me on the bike – and then ran a 2:42 marathon – and here I was sticking with Chris Froome.
“These triathletes really are amazing, and that was when I decided to have a real crack at it. I love the sport, and it’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”
His progress through 2017 was rapid as Kerrison oversaw his coaching. The target was Kona, and he left it late before qualifying for the World Championship thanks to a second place at Kalmar in Sweden.
Three weeks later, on September 10, Wurf claimed his first IRONMAN title in wet and windy conditions in Wales.
The very same day, Froome – by now a good friend and regular training partner – became the first Briton to win the Vuelta a España, doubling up after landing a fourth Tour de France crown earlier in the summer.
For Wurf, it was on to Hawaii where he smashed the all-time bike course record, leading at T2 en route to 17th.
His trajectory there has been an upward one. He was ninth in 2018, improving his bike record, and in 2019 he cracked the top five.
Since then he’s also been back in the pro peloton after the sudden retirement of Vasil Kiryienka left a vacancy open on the INEOS roster. Kerrison called it a “unique proposition for the team and Cameron”, with a dual focus on the World Tour and Kona.
It will be fascinating to see where it leads, but one thing is for sure, Cameron will have an additional fanbase watching his swim-bike-run exploits.
“So many of the peloton are interested in the sport. The amount of guys who’ve told me they follow Kona is incredible – and they all think Jan (Frodeno) is amazing.
“It’s great. We should all appreciate each other. We’re all good in our specific ways. And that’s been the coolest thing for me, realising just how great these guys are in triathlon.”
But his rivals had better watch out as Wurf is hoping that there are further gains to be made when he returns to long-distance triathlon.
“We found a couple of things in those first couple of races with INEOS that are probably going to be very beneficial.”
The triathlon future looks very bright for Wurf, with the birth of the PTO meaning that unlike in professional cycling, the athletes now have an organisation to represent them.