Does field size actually matter?

The Olympic Trials this weekend will be a quite interesting and exciting race but might not indicate who will do best in Beijing. The small fields in both events will most likely impact the race flow and the final results and there won't be small fields at the Olympics.

Small breakaways on the bike sections in ITU races are often swallowed up by large chase packs, but that is an unlikely case in Tuscaloosa this weekend. Even the dynamics of the swim will be changed with athletes knowing that there won’t be a huge peloton behind them once they get to the bike. There will be only 10 athletes in the men’s race, and it would be hard to bet against Andy Potts being first out of the water. He will be most likely eager to swim even harder than usual and then really lay it on the line on the bike. Matty Reed and Joe Umphenour might for example be not that far behind, but they will most likely have some distance to make up on Potts. Will these athletes plus maybe one other suspect bolt out of T1 and really attack the bike course to put some distance between them and any pursuers? With only a handful athletes left to chase, will there be anybody left willing to sacrifice their power to deliver a runner like Hunter Kemper to the front? One also has to wonder if there even will be enough bike power left “behind” to start a serious chase. The most likely scenario will be a few tiny groups spread out over a bike course that somewhat resembles the one in Beijing and features 2 short climbs on each of the 8 laps.

This means more work on the bike for athletes like Hunter Kemper and Doug Friman and it’ll be interesting to see if they can run as well as they usually would. The swim will actually be very important for Hunter Kemper and he better not exit the waters too far behind Potts.

The same is true for the women’s race with a field size of only eleven starters. There really won’t be a pack to hide in, or a large group that will give you a "free ride." Everybody will be required to fend for them selves on the bike and with only one spot for the Olympic team up for grabs, allegiances seem to be very unlikely. Just like Andy Potts in the men’s race, Sara McLarty will most likely be first out of the water, but she doesn’t really have the bike and running prowess of Potts. But can Sarah Haskins (Koertum) and Julie Ertel take the bull by the horns and take the race on the bike?

Temperatures are expected to be in the mid 70s and the weather should thus really have no impact. But the field size will have an impact on the race for sure and that will make it a very exciting race to watch. In races with larger fields there will be a huge variety of interests represented with some of them as simple as just happy to be there to "stealing" a few seconds of fame out front. These scenarios will all be the case in the Olympics too and will allow some contending athletes to get a ride to the front without killing themselves on the bike. With qualifying for the Olympics being the only goal in Tuscaloosa, expect some fireworks.