Many Pros really wanted to meet Bobby Behan the last few months when word got out that he was in charge of the new Specialized Triathlon team. But there was only so much space. Here is your chance to meet him.
Slowtwitch: Bobby, thank you very much for the chat.
Bobby: Herbert, thank you too. Always good touching base and I hope to see you at one of the upcoming events this year!
ST: Are you in Stellenbosch as we speak?
Bobby: I sure am. As I type I’m sitting on my stoop (SA terminology for porch), its evening time but still 30 Celsius (86F)!! Bliss!
ST: How often do you get tortured on rides, runs or swims by the Caveman Conrad Stoltz?
Bobby: Hmmm. The Caveman! I could write a book on him! Conrad has been a nocturnal creature lately so our training paths haven’t crossed!! He’s building his house during the day and training come nightfall! We did have a good coffee on Saturday morning! He hadn’t started training, yet I had finished a 2.5 hour ride. I suppose that’s one up for me! I did not make the MTB race on Sunday morning though, a race The Caveman won by over 11 minutes – that would have been torture!
I did go head to head with my great friend Jan Frodeno the other day – of course he waited on the climbs!!! He brought his “A” game on the single tracks and really impressed. I was under pressure and conceded that round. It’s 1-1 now. Can’t wait until he gets back here in December!
If I wanted to get tortured here in Stellenbosch there’s no better place! So many heavy hitters pass through town. Tim Don is staying with me for a few days right now; Irish Triathlete Gavin Noble’s home stay is my place! Trust me the list goes on and on!
ST: And how often do you get pulled in to work on various projects at the Stoltz compound?
Bobby: I learned the sledgehammer lesson a long time ago (2000 I think), when Conrad and I were training together under Libby Burrell. Conrad asked me to come to his house and help out, so being an Irish gent I obliged! Although, I’m from a farming family, it was awhile since my last manual labor outing! I had blisters for days after the Conrad experience and have kept one million miles away from “The Stoltz Construction site” since! Actually, I did visit Conrad’s family farm “up country” in November 2008. Conrad, his dad Gert (better known as Tarzan) and I spent two days chasing cattle – fun times! Tarzan is tougher than The Caveman and that’s saying something!!!!
ST: Maybe Specialized should have signed Tarzan then?
Bobby: The thought definitely crossed my mind. However, the challenge is that Tarzan rarely leaves the farm! You would be lucky to get him away for a few days! I can hardly blame him - the Leopards keep eating his cattle!!!
I know he’s riding one of The Caveman’s Epics, so that’s good product placement ... Right!!!? It’s in the back of my mind to do a story on the Caveman at home on the farm with Tarzan, cause there’s no cooler place. (P.S. The Caveman hasn’t finished the pool and Tarzan says he’s going to fill the big hole The Caveman dug up in his garden!!).
ST: Can you explain to our readers what your role is at Specialized?
Bobby: I work for The Specialized Global Marketing Department as Sports Marketing Manager for Mountain Bike and Triathlon.
ST: Specialized has been involved with triathlon for quite a while, but who and what caused the change to step it up a notch for 2010?
Bobby: When I joined Specialized in 2006 as manager of our Global Mountain Bike Team (Specialized Factory Racing) I always had one eye on what was going on with triathlon! I suppose I sat in a spectator’s chair and waited for the right opportunity!
I think our program to date was very much focused on North America with the pinnacle event, Kona as the ultimate goal. We were incredibly successful with numerous Ironman World Titles (Peter and Macca) and XTERRA World Titles (The Caveman and Melanie), but I always knew our program wasn’t complete and we needed more depth.
The right opportunity came last year and with that, the personal dream of having the chance to build a program that mirrors the success and excellence of our mountain bike and road programs.
ST: What are some of the things that’ll be different?
Bobby: To start with our team is bigger, a lot bigger than it has been, which coincides with a new presence in ITU.
Macca and Desiree Ficker have being joined on the Long Distance side by Rasmus Henning, Philip Graves and Jordan Rapp, while Peter will always be that great ambassador. Philip caught our attention last summer when I read about his 3 hour 37 minute 100 mile time trail at the British National Championships. That’s special for a twenty year old, coupled with the ability to swim first pack ITU and to top it all off, win at Ironman and 70.3 UK. The biggest challenge with Philip is preventing him from doing too much too early!!!
Rasmus has been catching people’s attention for many years! When you mention his name there’s instant respect yet a little fear! His results speak for themselves! Jordan’s results last summer did not go un-noticed, but his interest and appetite for developing better products also caught our attention. Specialized is always trying to push the boundaries in innovating cutting edge equipment and we know Jordan will really embrace that.
The ITU is the Formula One of triathlon culminating in the Olympic Games, the World’s biggest sports event. We had to have a presence! Our new team consists of Javier Gomez, Simon Whitfield and Lisa Norden, plus we will be supporting grass roots level racing via The ITU Development Program. I think the names alone tell the story that we mean business!!
It’s not only about having the best athletes. On the mountain bike side, we have a team that’s so happy, really unified and super professional, not only in terms of the riders but also the staff supporting them. Our goal is to achieve this on the triathlon side and in doing so create a strong link to the age group fields, the core of our great sport. It’s a big challenge but one we relish. For a start our mechanics and MTB Team infrastructure will support not only our elite / pro athletes but entire age group fields at key events this summer. We are currently working on a comprehensive plan.
ST: Specialized certainly invested in some great Pros but how will you make them work for you outside racing?
Bobby: When we worked on developing the triathlon team and story, we looked at more than just results. I asked a lot of friends in the scene their opinions on various athletes. As an example, many of his fellow athletes and friends in the hierarchy said that Javier Gomez is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. Simon Whitfield said you’d love to hate Javier, because it may make beating him easier, but he’s such a good guy, there’s no way you could!! Simon and Javier are great friends and will train together before the Sydney World Cup. That’s what we are about and it’s one of the main reasons Javier is on the team .... Plus of course sub 16 min swims, serious ability on the bike and knock-out 29 minute 10km’s blows, to cap it all off!!!!
So in forming this team our goal was to work with athletes who are approachable, friendly and in essence represent the very ethos that is triathlon. That’s very important to us and if I’m being honest it’s very Specialized. Given that we are also going to have major team presence at key events, a friendly fun atmosphere is super important!!
There are so many ways we are going to work with the athletes and some we haven’t yet thought of!! We are always thinking or as the Irish say thinking of ways to improve!!!
ST: Well, more specifically, will you make them all fill out their ST profiles and fit numbers?
Bobby: You got it!
ST: You told us earlier that until recently you were mostly involved with mountain bikers. How did you get selected to deal with the new Specialized Tri team?
Bobby: It was in 2006 that my training buddy and great friend Christoph Sauser (Olympic Medalist and Multiple World MTB Champion) proposed that I should apply for the vacant mountain bike team manager’s position at Specialized. Christoph had just signed for Specialized and I had just finished with Short Course Triathlon. I met Christoph in Stellenbosch back in 1999 at about the same time I met The Caveman! So I applied for the job and got it! In February 2009 I was offered the position of mountain biking sport marketing manager. I said that I would take the position if I could also take on triathlon sports marketing, a position that didn’t really exist! So I suppose I kind of volunteered myself at the right time!!!!
ST: So you suggested your own job? I have a great job suggestion for myself too. Who should I talk to?
Bobby: Damn, give me the idea first!!! HAHA! Let me guess.... You want to be photographer for the Sports Illustrated Swim Wear Edition or better yet, the liaison!!!!!! We have a lot to talk about – let’s make that two coffees and some cake!
ST: Do you have a big travel schedule for 2010?
Bobby: Daunting yet exciting! The two words don’t really go together! HAHA! I estimate that I will spend at least 150-160 days away from home this year. It’s not easy and I crave my own place after long trips, but I love what I do. I go to Abu Dhabi this weekend, then back home to South Africa. April is hectic! In four weeks I go to ITU WC # 1 in Sydney, The Sea Otter Classic in California (huge MTB Festival), MTB World Cup # 1 in England, Wildflower in California and after Wildflower it’s back home to SA. That’s just the start. I hope to attend as many of the events as I can across MTB and Triathlon.
ST: Tell us about your athletic background.
Bobby: In my early years I was a competitive swimmer and did some cross-country running too. Irish Cycling Legends Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche really inspired me. I watched the Tour De France Live every year since 1987; the year Roche won! I can still remember that day.
It was only at University in 1997 at the age of 22 that I found triathlon. In 1999 and 2000 I spent winters training in SA and summers racing in New England, USA. I won some events in North America at that time including a North American Age Group Title in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania as far as I can remember! I also placed quite well at the Columbia Triathlon (3rd overall I think) – the tough bike course there suited me!
From 2001-2005 I worked for Oakley in Ireland, raced as a Cat A Cyclist and got back into triathlon in 2004. I won some National Events including a sprint distance national title, then decided to take that big step and leave my career at Oakley to focus on ITU Racing, a dream at the time. I raced in Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America! I did ok I suppose and moved up the ITU Rankings, but my swim was just not where it needed to be i.e. 17 minute pace. I was more of an 18-minute low man.
The Specialized dream opportunity came knocking and I closed that triathlon door! When I think back I regret nothing. I have made such great friends and triathlon has opened so many doors for which I am always thankful. When I see the lads training here in Stellenbosch now and the volumes they do, I don’t miss it, although I do have this romantic idea of going for a World Age Group Title someday! That might just stay as an idea, especially with my hectic travel schedule!!!!! HAHA!
ST: Do you still get to train much?
Bobby: When I am in South Africa I ride my mountain bike 4-5 times a week. It’s awesome fun – most of my friends have caught the bug too! We do some racing too and I have managed to pull off a result here and there!! I am now eagerly waiting for my 2010 Specialized S Works Stumpjumper. That bike is insane!
I also religiously do this lunchtime gym session with a group of friends on Tuesdays and Thursdays! A good friend of ours takes the sessions – it’s brilliant but hurts like hell. It’s kind of like Cross-Training or Cross-Fit, but with a personal touch (this friend was a sub four minute miler in his day, so picture than personal touch!!). Thanks to this I’m now 95kg (210 lbs) a long way from my fighting fit 83 kgs (180 lbs)!
I don’t run anymore but wish I swam more! When I am traveling it’s tough and traveling with a bike is a nightmare, but I still do it! I always bike when I am at Specialized HQ. The daily lunchtime road ride is tough. Apart from at Specialized the only time I road ride these days is when I visit my parents in Ireland. The roads are the best especially when we get one of those rare Irish Summer days (the non wet ones!!).
ST: You were in Kona in 2009, what do you think about that event?
Bobby: Kona was amazing and I loved the atmosphere. Age group racing is what makes an event really special and it was so cool to see so many different athletes from all parts of the globe taking part! There’s a lot of passion in the build-up, the start-line, the race and most importantly the after race party! I didn’t envy the athletes taking part in those conditions – bloody tough is an understatement!!
Getting to know Peter Reid was special. We have become great friends. He’s such a humble guy, a quality I really respect in a person. I now call him “The Man, The Legend”. Of course he hates the attention!!! I had my most memorable swim ever! Desiree, The Caveman, Peter, the Specialized crew and I swam out to the coffee boat for a quick fix and then Peter brought us out further. It was class especially when the dolphins came up close – that’s what made me want to swim more!!!
ST: Do you follow any other sports?
Bobby: I really enjoy watching International Rugby. I’ve been to watch a few games. I love the sense of National Pride when the Irish play or any other rugby nation for that matter. Although, I live in SA now, I am very proudly Irish! The beauty with SA is that they too are a rugby crazy nation, so we have a lot in common – we beat them last November, which is always good for a bit of banter! I am known to be central to any banter or joking that goes on!
ST: Which foods do you like and dislike?
Bobby: People don’t get it, but I am not a big fan of seafood. I mean I eat no fish! People keep telling me I should try it! I love a nice steak!
ST: Music taste?
Bobby: Very varied. I like a bit of everything. Christy Moore is class if Irish Music is your thing!!!!! Can sing Frank Sinatra very badly too!!!!!!
ST: What was the last book you read?
Bobby: I bought all of the Jack Reacher Novels by Lee Child and save them for my flights! I’ll finish “Without Fail” on my flight to Abu Dhabi.
ST: So we'll see each other sooner than we thought, in Abu Dhabi.
Bobby: Awesome! Will be good to catch-up over a coffee! It’s going to be a very interesting race and from an athlete’s perspective a tough one to figure out in terms of how you approach it. The bike is obviously going to be a huge factor, but how hard do you go!!!!?
ST: Well, I am not racing. ☺ Maybe in 5 years, and along those lines where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Bobby: Hmmm! I’ll be 39! I may be settled down and married, but who knows! I would like to be still working for Specialized – that’s for sure!
ST: Is there anything else we should know about you?
Bobby: I’m a big car fanatic! I have 25 years of Car Magazine and love Top Gear! Oh and for more on our athletes visit our athlete dedicated website www.i-am-specialized.com.