Cameron Dye is an old school throwback to the early days of professional triathlon which thrived with non-drafting Olympic distance races like the USTS series in the 1980s and early 1990s. Blessed with dominant swim and bike talents and afflicted with a run that was no match for the current draft-legal ITU Olympic stars, Dye three-peated the big purse non-drafting LifeTime Fitness-Toyota Cup Series from 2012 through 2014. When LifeTime and Rev3 dropped their lucrative pro payouts in 2015, Dye saw non-drafting short course pro triathlon on the verge of extinction.
Enter the 2015 Island House Triathlon – a three-day version of the old Australian Formula 1 races of mixed format, slam-bang super sprint distances. With big sponsors this made-for TV event with all-star fields offered super swimmer-biker Dye a leveled playing field against ITU all-stars and he finished 4th. This year, with no draft-legal cycling legs, Dye finished 2nd and earned $45,000. On March 17-19, Dye will line up as one of the favorites for the $100,000 top prize at the first Super League Triathlon event at Hamilton Island Australia.
Slowtwitch: You had great success with the Life Time Fitness non-drafting series as well as Rev3. What did those series mean to your career?
Cameron Dye: When I first became a pro triathlete my goal was to win the Lifetime Fitness Series. It was the biggest thing going outside of Kona, and it was big money at big races that brought the best guys in the world out to race. It was the only place in the world where you could get the likes of Crowie and other IM champs duking it out with Olympic medalists like Bevan Docherty and Simon Whitfield. Then you throw in the best of short coursers like Matty Reed and Greg Bennett and it was the pinnacle of racing. So for me to win the series three years in a row [2012-2014] was something that I am extremely proud of. Those races gave me a platform to use my strengths to win races and make a name for myself in the sport of triathlon.
ST: When LTF and Rev3 pulled the plug, what did that mean for your career?
Cameron: When Lifetime bailed on their races, especially the way that it went down - in the 11th hour - it was a big blow. I had spent the previous 5 years focusing my whole race calendar around those races. I cut my teeth on those races and I think a lot of pros had used them to learn how to become a pro. With no more non-drafting short course series, it left a handful of the standalone mainstays like St. Anthony's and Escape from Alcatraz. And it left a lot of guys, myself included, with a decision to make about their careers. I always thought I would dip my toe in the 70.3 pool at some point, but I thought it would be on my terms, not when the short course races disappeared.
ST: Did you think that your career might be over?
Cameron: That was definitely my initial knee jerk reaction. After a couple days of being pissed off, I had to really think about why I was racing, and if I wanted to keep doing it. It was like they took the 100m dash out of the Olympics and made all the sprinters run the 1500m instead. It’s still running. But it wasn't what they were really good at, and loved. I still loved racing and this career is short enough as it is - I wasn't ready to hang it up.
ST: How much did non drafting classics like St. Anthony’s hold the fort between the end of LTF and Rev3 and the coming of Island House and Super League?
Cameron: They were everything! If all the short course races had disappeared at that time we might not be having this chat. But because there were still a few iconic races that helped fill a race calendar, it worked. St. Anthony's will always be a special race to me because it was my first major win. That they continued to showcase what we do made me love St. Pete and race organizers even more!
ST: Did you think middle distance races might be the answer?
Cameron: I always thought I would end up doing some 70.3s, so moving up to do a few races wasn't a huge change of course. I finished 3rd at Timberman in 2015 behind T.O. and Potts, and 3rd at Silverman a few weeks later. I started 2016 at Puerto Rico 70.3 and finished 3rd again. I was doing well, but I wasn’t putting it all together. There is so much more strategy to longer races and the nutrition piece of it is so important that I just needed to gain the experience.
ST: Back in the 1980s, the USTS series and early Olympic distance races were non drafting and strong cyclists like Mike Pigg and Craig Walton carved out great triathlon careers. Were you a fan?
Cameron: Absolutely! One of the best compliments I ever received was from Simon Whitfield. After winning Lifetime Minneapolis he wrote on Twitter that I was the Craig Walton of my generation. I remember seeing videos of Walton in ITU races riding away from the group. That was the tactic I tried every chance I got. Those guys were great motivators for me because they showed you didn't have to run the fastest if you had the swim/bike to get away.
ST: When you started out as a pro, what was the situation for non-drafting races?
Cameron: It was the heyday for non-drafting Olympic races. You had Lifetime putting up a couple hundred grand and a Hummer to win the equalizer start in Minneapolis. St. Anthony's and Alcatraz had fields stacked with world champions. It was a great way for me to learn to become a professional. Later you had Hy-Vee switching from an ITU race to a non-drafting race with enormous money that attracted people from all over the world. You can say what you want about Ironman, but non-drafting Olympic races reward the three disciplines most evenly. If you have any weaknesses they are exposed glaringly. They are triathlon at its purest.
ST: Did you try to make the US Olympic team?
Cameron: The Olympics was one of the driving factors that got me into triathlon. I had spent my whole athletic career as a swimmer, and as every 12 year old swimmer on the planet does, I wanted to swim in the Olympics. After swimming in college for four years in the Big Ten against half of the 2012 Olympic swim team I knew that wasn't a reality. But the dream of making the Olympics in triathlon was still out there.
ST: How did that go?
Cameron: I did a bunch of draft legal ITU races in my first four or five years of racing professionally, but in the end I wasn't running fast enough off the bike. About that time I had some success in the non-drafting world, winning St. Anthony's in 2010. That led to more decisions. If I wanted to be a professional triathlete I had to make some money and non-drafting was a better fit. The dream never died and when I got in touch with USAT about doing the World Championship team relay in Hamburg in 2013, a large reason was that they were considering adding it to the Olympic program for 2016. If that had happened I would have been very torn about trying to put everything I had into making that team. But unfortunately the IOC had different ideas.
ST: Many age groupers are loyal to the non-drafting format and feel that is the true test of a triathlete. Did many fans see you as an old-school flag bearer?
Cameron: I think I have gained most of my fans with the way I race off the front. I’m either going to come away victorious, or blow up in spectacular fashion.
ST: You and your coach Neal Henderson work hard at you mastering at all phases of the game. What have been your best Olympic distance run results?
Cameron: Neal and I have been working together for a long time and he is a huge part of the success I’ve had. He is a huge believer in sticking with your strengths as you improve your weaknesses. If you go back and look at my results from 2008-2011, I led a lot of races off the bike, sometimes by large amounts, and ended up somewhere in the top ten. It was obvious that I needed to improve my run. In the end I've run a handful of 32's and usually I’m somewhere in the mid 33's. But the beauty of a triathlon is that it doesn't take the fastest run to win the race if your two other legs are good enough.
ST: How much do you know about the old time Australian Formula 1 short course, multiple-format races with stars like Welchy, Brad Beven, and Craig Walton?
Cameron: I've certainly watched what’s out there on YouTube, and have done a handful of super sprint style races. I have also had good conversations with some of those guys and others that were still raving about "the good ‘ol days" and how exciting and fun the format is. There have been a few different attempts by people in the US to bring that style back but they haven't been able to get traction. Hopefully with the start of Super League and a guy like Macca behind it, it can take off again. Super sprint style racing really is the most entertaining form of triathlon, and it’s great for spectators and for TV.
ST: Congratulations for your great performance at Island House Triathlon – coming within 30 seconds of WTS ITU superstar Richard Murray. Explain how the format rewards an all-around non-drafting star like yourself.
Cameron: Thanks! Yeah, I think I was definitely one of the most excited when Island House announced the format would include non-drafting TT bikes in 2016. The year before it had been an amazing event and I had done well even with the one draft legal day. But by putting everyone out on their own for every race it was going to leave the weaker cyclists exposed. There was still plenty of swimming and running for ITU greyhounds like Mola and Murray but it was going to come down to who of the fast swim-runners could be on their own for 40k on the second day of racing and not fall too far behind to make the finals cut. The non-drafting format gave long course guys like Sanders and Kienle a chance to shine and it also showed who of the ITU guys can hack it on the bike. For me, it was the perfect mix of both speed and strength and I was able to land on the podium.
ST: Does the Island House format offer a fairer test of the all-around triathlete?
Cameron: I think it is fair to say that the best way to test ones triathlon skills is in a non-drafting race, simply because there is nothing outside of the athletes’ control that can help or hinder them. I also think that the shorter distances of the Island House [and Super League] make for an even fairer test compared with a half iron distance race because the swim matters. If you want to find out the best triathlete in the world then I think a format such as Island House, because it is over the course of multiple days, with various combinations of swim-bike-run, is the best way to do it. There is absolutely nowhere to hide. If you have a bad swim one day it can cost you the race. If you can't time trial by yourself, it can end your chances. If you can't run then you're done. If you don't have quick transitions that can be the difference.
ST: Tell us about the final day at Island House.
Cameron: I knew diving in more than a minute down on [Murray] was going to be a huge deficit. I was going to have to claw my way back during the swim and the bike, and still have a big enough lead that I could stay ahead of him over a 5k. I think 45 seconds would have been super tight, so just a 20 seconds lead only by the end of the bike wasn't enough.
ST: Do you see this format growing?
Cameron: I certainly hope so! I think it’s what’s needed for the sport to continue to grow and claim more mainstream notoriety. Being able to show the whole Island House race in an hour on TV, or with Super League planning to air the races live as they happen is what is going to lift the profile of the sport.