German Boris Stein recorded the fastest bike split at the 2016 IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii and we had a chat with this man who ended up in 7th place on that day. But this German is not just about Kona.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time.
Boris Stein: Thanks for the platform.
ST: I think you had to take a break from running earlier this year. Why is that?
Boris: I sprained my ankle two weeks before IRONMAN South Africa. By race day the swelling went back, so I decided to start. After the race an MRI showed that two lateral collateral ligaments were ripped apart and I had to stop running for two weeks.
ST: Are you healthy again?
Boris: Luckily the injury break was during the regeneration time after a long distance. I started early with aqua jogging and training on a cross trainer. After four weeks I got back to the normal training routine. Now The Championship, Samorin is around the corner. It's the perfect health and form check with the competitive field.
ST: Have you raced against Alistair Brownlee before?
ST: What else is new?
Boris: I'm running with Hoka OneOne since November. I was in search for a lesser drop and for me as a tall heavy athlete cushioning is more important than lightweight. My trainer Peter Sauerland chanced my training to a modern intensive way - no radical break just an innovation. It works well in training. I recover better during the sections, but I also need the rest for the challenging next section. Race feedback is missing by now.
ST: What shoes were you running in before?
Boris: I was running Mizuno, but the contract ended in 2015.
ST: You recently went to the wind tunnel with DT Swiss / Swiss Side. In Kona last year you had the fastest bike split and you also looked fantastic on your bike. So what exactly were you looking for in the tunnel?
Boris: Wind tunnel testing is perfect for gear questions. The gap between different components is small. Wind tunnel testing is more reliable, you get the crosswind situations too and you can compare more gear in a shorter time. I'm more than happy to get the chance from my sponsor DT Swiss to test helmets, wheels, tires and the new Skinfit suits.
ST: So what was changed and how many watts did you gain?
Boris: Kona 2016 was already fast. The new DTSwiss ARC 1100 Dicut weels are a step forward and we have found a tire alternative with Schwalbe. They are on the same aerodynamic but on a lower rolling resistance level. I got 4 watts for free.
ST: This was not your first attempt at finding speed. About 10 weeks before Kona 2016 you wet to the track with STAPS and Canyon. What did you change then?
Boris: In my opinion track is perfect for bike fitting. You can test the new position directly at race speed. Since my last positioning with STAPS two years ago, I had some homework - don't slip forward and stretch cycling specific. It was time for me to look for new potential. With the comfort nerds of gebioMized we made the new position primary comfortable with 3cm higher arm pads and just secondary faster with closer elbows. It was perfect for the Kona course, where I ride 99% in aero position. In the end the fastest position I can hold for 180k.
ST: Are you open minded along those lines or were you too nervous to implement certain findings with Kona not that far out?
Boris: Hey, it was free speed! We changed just details in my eyes. New shoe insoles and validation of shorter cranks were scheduled post Kona.
ST: How short are your cranks now and how tall are you?
Boris: I'm 188cm tall and still riding 175mm cranks. During the winter I tested 170 and 172.5mm at the gebioMized lap. My hip angle is really small, too small on a biomechanic view. But shorter cranks do not make my paddling more efficient and I felt uncomfortable.
ST: Are you racing with a power meter?
Boris: I have been using a power meter for two years. With my swim deficit I have to ride most of the time quite alone. The power meter is my only orientation. Especially in long distance racing where pacing is so important. At the middle distance I just go for it.
ST: What numbers are you pushing in full distance events, as in Kona?
Boris: My power meter should read 300 watts when I am riding alone. In the 2016 group In Kona with fluctuating speeds I averaged 279 watts.
ST: As I mentioned earlier, you put on quite a show in Kona last year. What exactly was your goal?
Boris: Like every race I tried to be in the mix at T2 and let's see what's possible on the run.
ST: Did you feel well leading up to the race?
Boris: It was more real than my dreams. I did not expect catching up the lead group at 60k and than I was just coincidence. I didn't feel comfortable at my position at the end of the pack shortly before the climb to Hawi. So I tried to gain some places but there was no 12 meter gap. At the end I was in front.
ST: When did you move up to the front, or did others more so implode?
Boris: I never made a real move. I tried to ride as steadily as possible. At the beginning of the Hawi climb I was in front but after the usual attacks I dropped back in the group. The same happened shortly before T2. Sebi, Jan and Luke were playing games.
ST: How early did you arrive in Kona?
Boris: As usual I arrived 10 days before the race. I did my last training in the US (Woodlands 2016, 2015 and Clermont 2014). The last acclimation and the last flight is short.
ST: Did you have many obligations before the race or did the German press focus on Jan and Sebi?
Boris: It's getting more every year. With the German success there are more German media representatives on site - more attention for every athlete. However shortly before the race nothing substantial can be said.
ST: Talk about your race day.
Boris: I hoped for a better swim but just 1:50 behind Sebi was great and I was confident again. The gap was closed fast and we caught up the lead group at Waikoloa. Then it became a shutout ride. The last aid stations are suboptimal in downhill positioned as generally known. In the remaining group of seven I missed several water bottles. On the first k at the Alii Dr I had to cool down, let the others run and was alone most of the time. Just Patrick was flying. Everyone around me was at my pace, but a k in front or behind me. The usual Kona running - everyone is at the limit, but the gaps stay steady.
ST: You raced again only a few weeks after Kona. Were you not ready for a break then?
Boris: I have trained almost a half year just for that one day. I thought it couldn't be all over yet. I decided to race at Challenge Sardinia three weeks later using my great shape. It was a beautiful race, but I was primery mentally done after 80k on the bike. I made it to the finish line. It was an experience I however don't need again. The season should be over after a satisfying Kona finish. The race takes a lot from you.
ST: How much time did you take off?
Boris: I took three weeks total off and during the three weeks between Kona and Sardinia I even trained less, short but intensive.
ST: I think the training camp in Mallorca this year was not exactly as you had imagined.
Boris: Mallorca in January is an insider so far. A lot of cycling teams are there, but this year it was one of the wettest Januarys ever. It rained that much we couldn't even run, because the streets looked like rivers.
ST: So was it time to visit the nightclubs instead?
Boris: There was no chance to get there! But seriously, you have to be creative and chance your plans. If I get wet during cycling several times in row, there is the high risk to get a cold. So I took more days off than usual, trained more on the Kickr and made more run mileage than planned before.
ST: And as we talked about earlier, IM South Africa apparently also did not go as planned.
Boris: I was too careful at the start because of my swollen ankle, and thus I missed the big group. The cycling was just damage control. Ben Hoffman and Nils Frommhold made their move before I caught up with the lead group. I started the run with the other chasers and I was in a solid position until half way. But then my ankle forced me to slow down. At the end I finished 6th and confirmed my Kona Slot – the minimum target.
ST: After Samorin, what else will you have on your calendar?
Boris:Two weeks later I'll compete in the Challenge Heilbronn and after that take a short mid time break. Afterwards the Kona preparation starts. I'll compete at two test races before the big day but where isn't clear yet.
ST: What is your favorite race venue and why?
Boris: I liked IRONMAN 70.3 Wiesbaden the most and it's sad that it is no longer around. It was my home race with a challenging bike and run course. You are by yourself most of the time – no tactic games. Usually the strongest athlete wins.
ST: Anything else we should now?
Boris: I enjoyed answering those nerdy tech questions. It is inside knowledge and the reason for me to read the slowtwitch articles.
You can follow Boris Stein on Instagram via @boris_stein