Up close with Scott DeFilippis

This summer Scott DeFilippis raced Ventouxman, IRONMAN Nice, the Alpe D'Huez Triathlon and the legendary Embrunman and we chatted with him about these races, swimming, doping and much more.

Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time.

Scott DeFilippis: Thank you Herbert, I appreciate your time and effort you put towards our sport!

ST: You just finished Embrunman, a race often called the hardest long course race in the world. Do you agree with that label?

Scott: Yes for sure! It’s the epitome of what the forefathers of triathlon set out to create in long distance triathlon. The swim starts in the pitch dark as a mass start. The bike course takes you over 3 mountain passes including the Col d’Izoard which has been used in the Tour de France on many occasions. In total you climb over 15,000 feet, then run the not so flat marathon under the hot sun of the Southern Alpes. The race requires every element of skill our sport demands. It’s the ultimate challenge if you like riding your bike in the mountains and experiencing high-class and well supported French racing atmosphere.

ST: How many times have you done this race now and how did this year go?

Scott: This was the 4th time I’ve done Embrunman. The last 2 years I was kidding myself trying to race half fit carrying niggles into the day. However this year I returned with 12 months of uninterrupted training and a healthy body. I managed to run my way into 7th place after a rough swim and decent bike.

ST: I believe the start for Embrunman is early in the morning when it is still dark. You mentioned on FB that this hurt you. Can you explain?

Scott: Yes the women go off at 5:50 a.m. and the men chase them 10mins later at 6:00 a.m. There is a great video of the starts on Embrunman’s Twitter feed that is worth checking out. So you can imagine it’s very hectic as it’s a mass start with over a 1000 guys crammed into a small beach start line. If you don’t pick the right line, you get sucked out into the middle of the lake, where you can’t see a thing and it feels like a scene out of the Titanic. I was speaking to the French Legend Yves Cordier before the start and he was telling me how he was nervous because in the old days it was super mellow. However now it’s a shit fight with so many athletes racing until you get to the far end of the lake.

ST: North Americans are not very common at Embrunman and similar races. Is it a question of timing and cost, or do you think folks in NA typically prefer to chase records on easier courses?

Scott: I think it’s like anything in life, if you don’t continue to challenge yourself and seek out adventure and culture while finding your limits then you don’t look for the experience. If it wasn’t for my time with Brett Sutton and Alex Bok on Team TBB I would have never been exposed to racing over here.
At the moment the trend in America seems to be to make courses easier for better participation numbers and harder courses are few and far between. Many difficult Iron-distance courses have been removed from the calendar. Which is concerning as the sport grows because having challenging courses helps the sport evolve and keeps people coming back to finding their limits and achieving new levels. The difference with the French and much of Europe is that the sensational mountains are very much a part of their lives. In the winter they go bombing down the mountains on skis and in summer they climb the mountains on their bikes and then go bombing down the backside to get that same rush. They are adventurous people and as triathlon has evolved so have their races. Nearly every weekend there is a race in Europe, created by someone’s idea as they stood on the shore of a body of water and thought of way to have a race go over some crazy mountain pass. The bigger the better, as they are certainly not afraid of a challenge.

ST: The Alpe D’Huez Triathlon is another iconic event you did this summer. Should we be envious?

Scott: Ha, yes! As I said earlier, if you like a challenge and riding a bike over beautiful mountain passes then you must come over and do these events! Alpe d’ Huez Triathlon festival is, in my opinion, the greatest triathlon festival in the world! The Bourg d’ Oisans is cycling’s version of the North Shore of Hawaii. It’s simply a magical place in this world to ride a bike. Lucky for us Cyrille Neveau came up with this crazy idea to have a triathlon go round that epic course! Over the years the race has evolved to a week long festival with kids races, a duathlon and both short and long course events. It’s absolutely fantastic and embraced by the community. Most people stay up on the Alpe, where they have a great 25m outdoor pool, amazing restaurants and bars, hiking trails, etc. so during the entire week the mountain town is buzzing. Then race morning most ride down the backside of the Alpe to the start down in the Valley. With a very sensible 9:30 am start it’s got a super laid back feel to it…until the gun goes off.

ST: I think later start times are not uncommon in Europe for shorter races.

Scott: Yes that’s correct you often see races start mid to late morning. Personally I love the later starts. We only see this at Wildflower back in the states.

ST: Talk about how that race went.

Scott: This year my better half, Carrie Lester, and I spent the week training there in preparation for Embrunman. In years past we have carried on with Brett Sutton’s annual pilgrimage to the Alpe when his squad would ride from Leysin, which is where we still base ourselves for summer, to the Alpe over 2 days. But this year we decided to spend the week there like we did 2 years ago with good friend James Cunnama. We mapped out a similar week of riding with the race jammed in the middle and then finishing the week by riding the Marmotte Route on the last day.

So with the race in the middle of a big week and 2 big days of riding in our legs before the race, we knew it would hurt come race day but the intent of the week is not 100% focused on the result, but more about coming out stronger on the other side. It worked out pretty well for us with Carrie finishing 3rd and I came 5th with a very encouraging run leading into Embrunman.

ST: But that is not all. Your “Tour de France” summer also included IRONMAN Nice and Ventouxman. Which one of these 4 races found you the best?

Scott: That’s right we mapped out a little Tour de France of Triathlons this summer that began at Ventouxman in mid-June as a tune up for Ironman Nice. This was the first time we have done this race and it was a really fantastic event just like all the other events we have done over here. The organizers were super nice and had such a passion to have athletes going around the course they mapped out. It didn’t hurt that Carrie and I both won. Regarding which one went best, it’s hard to say as each had flashes of excellence but I’m still piecing together a race that I am personally a 100% happy with.

Ventouxman was very special for Carrie and I. To win on the same day is something we will never forget but we were both keying in on Nice with Embrunman in the back of our minds. In Nice I had a subpar bike ride but managed a 2:45 marathon to finish 9th so I was perhaps most proud of that effort this summer. Alpe d’ Huez was more of a long training day but it felt like the best of all 4 events. I’m happy with Embrunman in how I rode and ran but gutted with my swim as like Nice there was an opportunity to finish much higher up on the ladder. There is some unfinished business over here for me…

ST: In that FB post you also mentioned that you started swimming relatively late. When was that and what got you started?

Scott: Well, Herbert, growing up I was petrified of the water! I mean scared shitless! I can remember all the older kids in our beach town, as well as my brother and sister trying to get me in the water but I would scream bloody murder! As I got older all my friends were going further and further out into the ocean and I was getting left behind so I was forced to get over my fear if I wanted to hang out with my friends.

It wasn’t until I was 15 or 16 that I learned to actually swim when Brian Shea, owner of Personal Best Nutrition, took me under his wing and showed me how to love the water. Brian was a lifeguard on our beach in Jersey, he knew I was a pedigree runner, and enjoyed riding a bike so he figured triathlon would be a good fit, if I could just learn how to swim. So with his guidance the triathlon seed was fully planted.

The funny thing is, when I was 8 or 9, I was introduced to endurance sports because my older brother Rob was an excellent runner in High School and he ran at the University of Maryland. So, you know, I wanted to be like my big brother. A few summers my Dad would take us to Vermont on these bike riding trips that I would do on a bmx bike. I can remember refusing to get off the bike and walk up the steep hills. I’d come home and watch the Tour de France like it was the super bowl and then about the same time period Ironman Hawaii was on Wide World of Sports. I can recall being glued to the TV. Then I’d go in the backyard where we had an above ground pool, I’d whack my floaties on and do a mock triathlon. I loved triathlon years before I ever really fully comprehended what it was.

ST: So you were interested in triathlon and IRONMAN long before you could swim? But I guess that describes many triathletes.

Scott: Yes I was interested in IRONMAN as a young boy. I suppose it was the race and order of events that attracted me to it…

ST: How much do you swim now and can you describe one of your hardest sets?

Scott: We, and when I say we, I mean Carrie I spend a lot of time in the water! We have been members of Gerry Rodriguez’s Tower 26 Online Program for roughly 18 months now. I can’t say enough about what he has to offer! My progress in the pool has been amazing, but, we are clearly still working on the open water skills.
We follow Gerry’s 4 swims then typically add one or two sessions per week depending on the week. I’d say the toughest one he dishes out is referred to as “the mambo”:
1km warm up
100 @75%, 100 @80%, 100 @75%, 100 @Fast
100 @75%, 200 @80%, 100 @75%, 100 @Fast
100 @75%, 300 @80%, 100 @75%, 100 @Fast
100 @75%, 400 @80%, 100 @75%, 100 @Fast
100 @75%, 500 @80%, 100 @75%, 100 @Fast
100 @75%, 600 @80%, 100 @75%, 100 @Fast
100 @75%, 700 @80%, 100 @75%, 100 @Fast
100 @75%, 800 @80%, 100 @75%, 100 @Fast

ST: I think doping is a hot topic for you. How common do you think it is in triathlon?

Scott: Well that’s a loaded question Herbert isn’t it. Do you think it is common in triathlon? I think we would be very naïve to think it is not common in triathlon. We know it is rife in cycling! Track and field is likely no better! Swimming? It’s much more common than people want to see. So how are we to believe that triathlon does not have similar problems?

ST: There is testing for sure, but is it plentiful, thorough or sophisticated enough?

Scott: The testing is 5 years behind the PEDS and the half-life of many of the drugs people are using is so short it’s nearly impossible to get caught. So no, it is not plentiful, thorough enough, nor sophisticated. And now, which in my opinion is far, far worse, motors are in play. There are lots of folks out there thinking it but nobody is saying it…Motors are being used in our sport.

ST: Why are you so convinced that motors are being used in triathlon?

Scott: We have only seen 1 cyclocross rider caught from Belgium by officials checking with a magnetic resonance scanner. Would you not agree that with the use of PEDs we would be very naïve to think people are not using motors in triathlon competitions? Both age-group and professionals cut courses, abuse TUEs, drafting on the bike, take masking agents, etc. So why wouldn’t there be potential suspicion that motors are being used to gain an advantage when there is very little chance of getting caught? Motors in bikes outside of competition, I am all for. Getting out recreationally to move and be outside is awesome and everyone should have the opportunity.

ST: Have you ever seen bikes being tested?

Scott: Yes. The only time I have seen the testing was the past 2 years at Embrunman with the I-Pad scanner. However they only scan the crank and much like drugs, the motor technology has evolved. Electromagnetic wheels seem to be the next big thing. The UCI has indicated they have developed software with the tablet device to detect magnetic flux density of hidden motors or magnetic wheels. However when and where and what races this testing is occurring in triathlon competitions has never been released or identified. I don’t mean to come across so cynical but when you spend time in Europe, you get to know people in the Professional Cycling World. The UCI is just below us here in Switzerland. I have talked to numerous people regarding their opinions in the sport of cycling and there seems to be a growing consensus that there are unexplainable things going on. My personal opinion is that professional cycling has become a map to follow for professional triathlon races. It’s concerning because we don’t want that type of cycling culture creeping into triathlon. There has to be a greater effort to stand up and not let this happen. We all seem to think that if it doesn’t affect us directly then it’s no big deal but the blindfold needs to come off.

ST: When were you drug tested the last time?

Scott: I am not a part of WTC or USAD’s anti-doping program. So the last time I was tested was roughly 2 years ago at 70.3 Santa Cruz in competition.

ST: What should be done?

Scott: The athletes have to take back control. We can no longer depend on government run organization and or WADA to look after clean athletes that they have let down time and time again. There is zero transparency in the PED busting business. What can be done? We need to see life-time bans and massive fines. None of which I believe we will ever see. So, we need another form of drug testing…

I don’t know how familiar you are with The Clean Protocol but I believe this is a true path towards clean sport.

ST: As far as you know who has signed up with that program, and why is it not better known?

Scott: In 2015 the guys tried to launch in Kona. They sent an email out to every pro on the start list, 9 of the athletes took the test. I think they were disappointed because the change and the strong stance of being a clean athlete, has to come from the athletes. It’s not well known because every government is signed up to WADA and most athletes just assume WADA will protect them. It is clear that the system is slightly flawed and I can’t speak to why that is but the program is letting down the clean athletes. A new approach is required. The Clean Protocol is the first attempt to focus on the clean athletes that take a stand and say “Hey, I’m certified clean”.
The only complication with The Clean Protocol is that it’s expensive to get it done on your own. The testing system is more cost efficient if there are certain events or races, where their equipment can be setup in advance and numerous athletes can be tested throughout the day. That is the only thing hindering me from testing. If it was setup at my next race, I would take the tests.

ST: Anything else we should know?

Scott: Yes, if anyone is interested in looking into some of the racing in France, they can follow Trimax Magazine. Our good friend, Jacky Everardt runs this online magazine and is also responsible for the amazing photos he and his photographers at Activ’ Images have been shooting the past few years.

All images except image 3 courtesy and copyright of Activ’ Images / Trimax