Slowtwitch spoke to Torbjorn "Thunderbear" Sindballe in Kona, Hawaii where he is putting the final touches on his 2007 Ford Ironman World Championships preparation.
ST: Torbjorn, it is that time of year again where all eyes are on Kona and the athletes there. Do you feel you are as prepared for the race as you ought to be?
Torbjorn: If you look at the short term, my preparations have run really smooth since early July. I did a training camp before coming to Kona which is probably one of the best ones I have ever done. 37-40 hours a week feeling good and with steady progress. My weight, heat strategy and nutrition are dialled in and I just have a little bit more speed work and rest to do before the big BOOM!
Looking at a greater career perspective there are some areas and details that could improve even more. Stability on the run, further weight loss, some technical areas etc. So from that standpoint I still think I have some gains to make before I am at my absolute peak.
ST: We still have to hear all the details about the updated draft distance rule, but it appears that the new distance of 10 meters should be a good thing for a strong cyclist like you. What are your thoughts?
Torbjorn: To me one of the corner stones in Ironman racing is that it is an individual sport where the strongest athlete in all three disciplines takes the win. There should be no place to hide, no discussions, doubts or tactics. It should be raw power from the gun.
So I am really glad see that Ironman have listened to the 97% of all pro athletes who want the draft distance to be longer than 7 meters (see the poll on www.triathlon-professionals.org
From my 10 years of racing in the elite category the only thing that works, if we want races that are fair, is 10m back wheel to front wheel enforced rigorously by an experienced team of marshals that don't care about your name but just see you as a number. Anything less than that creates unfair advantages and submerges the results in the grey clouds of doubt.
ST: If anything, what have you done different than in previous years?
Torbjorn: Yes, mostly in terms of nutrition and optimizing my ability to burn fat. I am about 5 pounds lighter than I have been for my two previous races here and we have worked a lot with the timing of my meals. Basically before and nutrition during the rides and runs in training, so that we maximize my fat burning capacity. This should pay of in managing the heat and performing well late in the run. Also I have to mention my new ride the argon 18 E-114 that is significantly faster than my old faithful Mercury.
ST: Do you feel you are taken serious enough as a contender for the title?
Torbjorn: Hmm, difficult question. This year I feel I am ready to make the top 5 or maybe the podium if things go my way. I know what feeling you need to have to win big races and because of the very special environmental conditions over here I am still on the learning track with this race. It will probably take me 1-2 years more before I feel the win is within reach and I can see the ironman on my inner screen with me crossing the line first.
I am a bit of a cynic in these matters since you have very exact feedback from measuring power, pace, HR, core temperature, etc. It is actually possible to build quite a good picture of what it takes. Currently I feel I can swim in the first big pack, bike with the strong guys up front and then run right around 3 hrs. This might get me close, but I feel I need to improve a little in the swim and 5-7 mins on the run before I would say I am there.
ST: Are there any possibly dark horses at the race people seem to be not thinking about?
Torbjorn: The field this year is really deep and filled with quality, so we will have one hell of a showdown. Normann, Macca and Faris are the top dogs, but then you have a string of guys with tons of talent who could step up any time, Beke, Vanhoenaker, Bell, Llanos, Alexander, etc. If you look for people who are not so much on the radar in US maybe some of the "other" German guys like Timo Bracht and Michael Göhner who placed 1-2 in Frankfurt this year with strong overall performances or former Olympic silver medallist Stephan Vuckovic or maybe also the veteran Hellriegel could do well after his strong ride in Roth. Also winner in Ironman Switzerland Ronnie Schildknecht could be interesting to watch.
ST: Should athletes previously found positive for doping be allowed to return to Kona?
Torbjorn: Ugh another tough one. First of all I am a very outspoken antidoping person and will never ever accept it as part of our sport and working environment. Dopers cheat on all of us and each case has a very negative impact on the entire community. One person’s egoistic choice and misunderstood short cut to wealth and fame, ruins so much for anybody else both financially and emotionally. Imagine where endurance sport would have been if the bike riders had not had such a wide spread doping culture. If there where no doubt when someone performs out of the ordinary and we where sure that what we see is nothing but talent, hard work and immense dedication.
On the other hand I also believe strongly in the general principle of a second chance that goes in the rest of the society and think that this should also be the case in sports. The current length of bans at about 2 years or maybe a bit more seems reasonable, but I think a lot more could be done to make sure that we do as much as possible to keep the sport clean.
A lot more should be invested in thorough test programs as we see emerging in some parts of the cycling world. These programs should be standardized in all countries and countries with no or little testing should be excluded from international competitions. There should be no place to hide and unfortunately I feel we are very far from the optimal when we look at triathlon. Also I would like to see a much more visible antidoping culture at races and among athletes. Even though doping might not be such a big problem in our sport, it will be if we don't act know.
ST: Would you actually like to see a different venue for the Ironman World Championships, or is Kona the place for it?
Torbjorn: The history and myths surrounding Ironman is closely linked to Kona and I feel that in many ways this is place for it. The island is special and a unique challenge that demands the most from us. I love the roughness, the winds, and the unpredictability. You need to be skilled and prepared for everything on race day.
However looking at it from an elite and sports performance perspective it is weird that our greatest event is held at conditions that are very unfavourable for athletic achievement. In marathon running they consider anything over 28 degrees dry heat as dangerous. We compete in 32-33 degrees with humidity. This makes body size a major performance limiter and excludes many talented guys from making there full potential shine at a race like this. A race in a dry 20-25 degrees would be a more level playing feel with much closer finishes and a higher quality. I would like to see the world champs alternate between Kona and a cooler climate every other year.
ST: What about the women’s race, who is your pick?
Torbjorn: I really look forward to see my fellow Argon 18 athlete Sam McClone push her Mercury all the way. She is super talented with a great mindset and then people often do well in there first IM, it is the next 4-5 that are tough. Hopefully she will be a major spoiler in the veteran battle between Michellie and Natascha
ST: What other goals in the sport of triathlon are on the horizon for you?
Torbjorn: I am currently revising my sponsorship and race setup for the coming years and will finish this process later in the fall. I have already won many titles over the medium distances but still want to make it in Ironman. This is my big priority in the years to come. I also feel drawn to compete at the biggest races against the toughest competition since only then will I be pushed to my limits. So expect me to intensify my focus on one of the big Ironmans in Europe and then Kona.
ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Torbjorn: If I still feel I have areas to develop and enjoy the lifestyle of being a Pro athlete I will probably still be in the game. Otherwise I constantly have offers and opportunities in relation to consulting and mental coaching that would be very interesting to pursue. Also I could see myself writing books or developing some Internet based business initiatives that would keep my connection to the sport.