It is "Vegas Baby" for Marc Lees

Marc Lees introduced North Americans to a Super Sprint Triathlon experience in Oceanside, CA in 2010 and later this year during the 2013 Interbike show folks can watch another edition of this Australian inspired fast paced racing live in Las Vegas. We talked to race director Marc Lees to find out more.

B>Slowtwitch: Good to chat with you Marc.

Marc Lees: Thanks, Herbert. Always good to chat with you!

ST: How was your weekend?

Marc: The weekend was great, but busy – there’s a lot going on!

ST: We know you held one of these Super Sprint Tri GP events in Oceanside back in 2010 and are on it again for this fall. Why the long break?

Marc: I held that race to showcase and sell the super sprint tri format to major corporations. The race was a great success – athletes enjoyed it, there was great spectator support - but the timing wasn’t right for locking in sponsorship. I spent my own money on the race in Oceanside, which wasn’t cheap. I took some time to re-group and re-think the way I approached putting on the race. I feel like the timing now is much better. There’s a lot of interest and opportunity for growth of this format in the U.S. My goal is to introduce a five-race series in the U.S. in 2014.

ST: Can you explain to our readers the origin and the format of this race?

Marc: The race format originated in Australia in the early ‘90s and takes professional athletes through a double super-sprint format, meaning each athlete will complete two continuous, non-stop circuits of the same course. Each circuit is comprised of a 300-meter pool swim, 5-mile bike and 1.5-mile run. Swimming after running sub-5-minute miles is very difficult and races have been won and lost in the pool. Our goals are: to promote the sport of triathlon to the general public, to lift the sport to a new level, to promote our professional athletes and to inspire a new generation of athletes to participate in the sport of triathlon. This style of racing is really exciting to watch and is perfect for TV.

ST: Word has it that USA Triathlon is now involved. Did USAT come to you or did you come to them?

Marc: USAT heard about the event back in 2010. We talked a little in 2011, but in 2012 Rob Urbach and I sat down and tried to get an event together for Interbike that year. Unfortunately we ran out of time, so I started planning in November 2012 for the event that will take place on Sept. 19 in Las Vegas. USAT has stepped up as a key partner. They’ve committed $30,000 USD in prize money and are bringing in Universal Sports to film it. As you can imagine, it’s been a busy few months getting the venue and permits together to hold a race in the middle of Las Vegas.

ST: Where do you swim in downtown Las Vegas?

Marc: Our swim is in a portable 25-meter pool with 10 lanes. The bike course is a half-mile loop, as is the run. We will build upon what was done so well in Australia during the 90's, but also update and improve on some things. This is the best way to bring the sport into major cities.

ST: The race itself is held near the Wynn?
Marc: Yes, the event is on Sept. 19 in the Las Vegas Convention Center parking lot. Athletes and spectators will have a great backdrop of The Wynn and other Las Vegas landmarks. Heats will take place throughout the day, with the final rounds of competition kicking off at 5:30 p.m. PT.

ST: Talk about the field size and how the race will be run in terms of heats etc.

Marc: The invitation-only pro field, consisting of 20 male and 20 female athletes, will compete for a total of $30,000 USD in prize money. A $20,000 USD prize purse will be divided between the top-10 male and female finishers. There will also be a $10,000 USD prize purse shared among the top-five male and female U.S. athletes as part of the USA Triathlon Elite Sprint National Championships. There are some incredible athletes already locked in for the race, including Jarrod Shoemaker (USA), Ben Collins (USA) and Gwen Jorgensen (USA). To be eligible for invitation, athletes must be a current USA Triathlon elite license holder or an international professional. A minimum of 50 percent of the field will be reserved for U.S. athletes, providing an opportunity for the nation’s emerging and Olympic-level triathletes to enhance draft-legal cycling skills and race tactics.

The top five from each heat will go to the A final, the next five will race in the B final. In the heats folks will once swim 300m, bike 5 miles and run 1.5 miles, and in the finals they do each of these distances twice.

ST: With some brands flying their athletes out to Interbike anyway, you may have folks really knocking at your door.

Marc: Yes we hope so. I have told athletes to contact their sponsors and to ask them to use them at Interbike and to help promote the event.

ST: The race is held Thursday night, so it does not conflict with the Cross event. Do you expect that many folks will try to take in both?

Marc: The cross event is on Wednesday night. I didn’t want to compete with that event, as it’s been on the same night for years. I think we will get a great crowd for Thursday night for a few reasons. It is a first-time event. We have incredibly talented athletes racing. People will be very surprised to see a 25m pool in the middle of Vegas and will be curious to see how it works as part of the race. I think triathlon is becoming a bigger part of Interbike and this race offers a great opportunity to showcase and experience the sport.

ST: But there won't be an entry fee for the SSTriGP?

Marc: No, it’s a pro-only event that is fully funded by sponsors, USAT and my company, KANGA Productions.

ST: Usually folks want stuff that happens in Vegas to stay there, but for you it will be different. You want it to be bigger and in more locations in 2014. What needs to happen in Vegas to make it so?

Marc: In order to accomplish my goal of introducing a successful domestic five-race series in 2014, we will need to have strong sponsor support. There will be a great opportunity for age group athletes to be a part of the race because we will have a real demo day expo experience to test ride bikes and try out different running shoes, wetsuits, etc. Since age groupers don't have to worry about racing, they really have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the expo, trying out all the best products our sponsors have to offer. We are fortunate to already have some great sponsors supporting this September’s Las Vegas event – Raceday Wheels, Oakley, 2XU, Boardman Bikes, Gatorade and TrainingPeaks, to name a few. After trying out the best products and gear in triathlon, age groupers get to watch some of the best pros in the short-course world race. What's better than that?

ST: For me, there is nothing better than seeing that Super Sprint Tri on Thursday night.

Marc: Thanks for the support Herbert. It is designed for TV, but its super hard and fast!

ST: Any other thoughts?

Marc: If you’re in Vegas for Interbike or just want to come see the event, we hope you will come out and support the athletes. It will be fun, fast action racing and very spectator friendly. Triathlon is a swim, bike and run of any distance! The sport has grown so much and there are several exciting formats for people to experience. Many people have never seen this type of racing and when they do, they will be surprised at how fast these guys go and how exciting and entertaining it is to watch. The races are 45 minutes long, so it's flat out racing!

The full schedule of events:

8:30 a.m. - Expo Opens
9:00 a.m. - Women’s Heat 1
9:30 a.m. - Women’s Heat 2
10:00 a.m. - Men’s Heat 1
10:30 a.m. - Men’s Heat 2

5:30 p.m. - Women’s B Final
6:30 p.m. - Men’s B Final
7:30 p.m. - Women's A Final
8:30 p.m. - Men’s A Final
9:30 p.m. - Awards
9:45 p.m. - Athlete Autograph Signing
10:30 p.m. - Event Ends