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Tue 27th Sep 2022
© Delly Carr / ITU
Team Jenkins on Kitzbühel
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Wednesday 29th June 2011

Tags  Helen Jenkins  |  Kitzbhel  |  Marc Jenkins

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With London 2012 just over a year away, there is little doubt (and with good reason), that the bulk of the media focus on the prospects for British Triathlon making an Olympic Triathlon podium for the first time are focussed on a pair of rather talented young brothers from Yorkshire.

Look beyond that though and I believe that we are also seeing the emergence of a genuine British medal contender in the ladies race in the form Helen Jenkins. Helen of course is certainly not new to the scene, or lacking in success. ITU World Champion in 2008 (the last edition of the 'one day' World Championship), she has finished the past two seasons ranked fifth and fourth respectively. She has also finished third at the Hyde Park WCS event in both 2009 and 2010.

Look beyond the results though, and recent performances in both Madrid and Kitzbühel - both second place finishes to the current world #1 Paula Findlay (CAN) - suggest to me that an athlete that has always been known for her strength and consistency, is now on the verge of reaching the very pinnacle of the sport and has truly stepped up a level. Always one of the best swimmers and cyclists in triathlon, Helen as made huge gains in her running ability and that is being reflected in her impressive racing so far this season.

To my mind, her Kitzbühel performance was one of the most impressive I have witnessed - having spent half of the race in a breakaway attempt with American athlete Sarah Haskins, Helen was able to recover, regroup and still push Paula Findlay to her limits in the late stages of the run - while dropping everyone else, despite her exertions on the bike.

Last week I was able to sit down with Helen along with her husband and coach Marc Jenkins to talk through that Kitzbühel race in detail and get both an athlete and coach perspectivet, along with some great insights on the tactics of ITU racing... and find out why Marc wants Helen's sister to get training for triathlon!

John: Kitzbühel was a really interesting race. From your point of view Helen, you'd had a great result in Madrid - a close second to the current world #1 Paula Findlay - so coming into the race, you must have been confident of another good result?

Helen: I'm not the most confident athlete, so I'm never 100% confident. I knew things were going well, but it did take me a while to recover from Madrid. Because Madrid is such a hard bike it takes a lot out of you, so, I was going in with.... not low expectations, but thinking that if I had a good day I could make the podium, but if not we'll just see what happens.

John: What about you Marc, were you confident in Helen's prospects before the race?

Marc: Yes, I thought it would be a better performance.

Kitzbühel 2011 ©Delly Carr / ITU MediaJohn: You could see from the start that Sarah (Haskins, USA) was really pushing the swim - was there any plan beforehand of that, or was that just a factor of Sarah being in the race and hence you know what will likely happen?

Helen: I knew it would be a fast swim. Sarah is a fast swimmer, but then so is Laura Bennett and I started next to Laura so I knew I was with a fast swimmer. In Madrid I didn't swim well - for me - I was top 12/15, but I'm more used to being up at the front. I saw Sarah come from the left, while we were in a line of four approaching the buoy, and we (Helen and Laura) both ended up on top of the other two girls as we rounded the buoy, which is quite big in Kitzbühel, and I saw Sarah already had that gap in front of us, so I swam around the two girls in front of me and just swam as hard as I could, and came out about 20 seconds down on Sarah. So, it wasn't a planned thing, I was just trying to swim as hard as I can...

Marc: ... that's always the aim - swim as fast as you can and break it up. Bike as fast as you can to break up some more, and then win! You want to run with as few people as possible next to you.

Helen: my run has improved the last few years, and this year has been a big improvement... but I'd always rather be in that swim-bike breakaway because I think it leaves less to chance. The harder the race is in general, if it's a hard swim and a hard bike I think I've got more chance of winning than if it's easy... I mean I'm quite interested to see what I can do if it's off an easy bike - the last two races have been tough bikes and I've run well...

Marc: ...but why leave it to chance?

Helen: Exactly, I don't want to leave it to chance.

John: Ok, so when you were on the second lap of the bike and you've got that break with Sarah - and I'm immediately thinking 'Vancouver 2008' (!) - at that point it looked like that was the way the race would go - at that stage, were the pair of you fully committed to the breakaway?

Helen: Completely, especially when you are with someone like Sarah who is such a good bike rider. There was no question of us not committing to it, no question of waiting, we just went as hard as we could and we were both really hurting. They (the chase group) closed the gap to 20 seconds, and we sort of looked at each other asking "do you want to wait?", and just then it started raining, and then they pulled it back to 10 seconds, and it was a case of 'it's not worked today'.

Marc: But I think that when you started to question it, you saw that (the gap coming down).

Helen: Oh yes, when we questioned it then in a lap we lost 15 seconds but with two laps to go is it worth killing yourself for 20 seconds? At that point, it probably wasn't for us. So yes, as soon as we questioned it we lost time but we'd gone as hard as we could... and I was thinking at that point that I'd blown it!!!

Marc: Had Sarah just flown in from the States?

Helen: Yeah, Sarah was jetlagged.

Marc: So, I think that didn't help - it didn't look like either of you were riding as well as have done before.

John: Watching the race, it looked as though you were doing more of the work than Sarah?

Helen: No, we were actually pretty even over the course and we definitely shared the load. You look back afterwards and think, if I had sat up earlier I would have had fresher legs. I mean, I don't know where Paula (Findlay) was in that pack, but she probably didn't do a huge amount of work in that pack, or less work than those at the front, and you think perhaps if I hadn't done that, then maybe...

Marc: I don't understand the mentality of some people in that pack - they know the best runner is sat at the back, yet they work to take that runner to the front of the race. I just don't understand why you are willing to give somebody the win?! Because that is what you are doing... you are still going to come 10th/15th but you are giving the win to Paula!

Helen: What is funny is that girls who will chase down a break of two, when they are in the front group they will not work...

Marc:'s absurd, I really don't understand it. You want to have the best race you can in which case make that fastest runner do some work, or, are you just trying to stop other people?

John: So at that point then, you 've gone from a situation of a completely committed breakaway, then the race changes and you are back in the pack. Mentally then, what are you thinking? How do you re-group?

Helen: Mentally I'm just trying to conserve energy. That fifth lap (of the bike, the first back into the group for Helen), god it was easy! I was thinking 'this is awesome!'

Marc: I stopped panicking then!

Helen: I had arm warmers on my bike which I'd left on my tri bars. I was cycling the whole time with these arm warmers on my bike, thinking I should really get rid of them... and then I saw this big black cloud! I'm glad I kept them, I put them on when it started raining and I think they did help keep me that little bit warmer for when we hit the run. Mentally, I was thinking that the run is going to be 'interesting' after doing that work on the bike.

John: Were you pleased to see the rain come in - a bit of Welsh weather?!

Helen: I hate cornering in the wet, hate it, but if it's cold and wet then it's probably worse for other people than it is for me.

John: What were you thinking, watching it as a coach Marc having seen how the race had played out - were you still confident?

Marc: It's a great thing to see that Helen has not led, but worked the entirety of that swim alone chasing Sarah. She's then committed on the bike for 25km or whatever and then she runs, basically, as fast as the fastest runner in the race. So, what's positive is that without a doubt the best triathlete on that day was Helen, but not the most opportunistic / best runner / winner of the race - which is what it is about, it is about winning the race, so full credit to Paula. She's done everything she needs to, she sits there and lets the other people who are foolish enough drag her to the front, and then she wins the race. What Helen has done though is shown that she has the ability to be the best swimmer, to be the best bike rider AND to perform with the best in the world on the run. So, what we've got to do now is not stop swimming as fast as we can or riding as fast as we can but just run a bit faster - to have all the strings to your bow to deal with any race scenario.

It's like we keep saying, it's unfortunate but what Helen doesn't have is a Brownlee - a sibling to help her... so damn Helen's sister Harriet who is working in Northampton and didn't come into triathlon!!! So, Harriet Tucker, get your ar$e in a trisuit an start training for London 2012!!!

You know what I mean though John, Al and Jonny have got each other to influence the race the way that they need to but what Helen doesn't have is someone to influence things in her favour.

Helen: I had Sarah there this weekend, and while it didn't work this time there will be days when I think it will... and if it works in Hyde Park that would be brilliant!

Kitzbühel 2011 ©Delly Carr / ITU MediaJohn: You must take a lot of confidence though from being in the lead pack on the run at 3/4km, and with you is Emma Moffatt, Barbara Riveros Diaz and all of the other names and one by one all of them except Findlay, just by keeping the pressure on, you've spat them all out of the back. That's not something that maybe a year ago would have happened?

Marc: It wouldn't have.

Helen: It's been a good Winter. We've increased the run volume and it's good to see that your efforts do come out in the races. The first lap of the run in Kitzbühel my calves and hamstrings felt so tight but I think that was just from the cold and I was kind of thinking I'm not even going to be in the top-10 today, but it did get better.

John: After the race Paula said that she was hanging on (to you) on the last lap, that you were really pushing and she didn't think she was going to be able to stay with you.

Helen: In Madrid it got to that last 400m and she pulled away from me and I thought that I have to do something different, or at least try something different, and so I pushed on from 7.5km and I did run as hard as I could for that lap and then that last little bit up the hill, my legs were going and I tried to keep pushing but she was just too strong. Still, it was good that I made her hurt, and I just need to learn how to race smart.

John: So what racing have you got planned now?

Helen: I'm going to miss Hamburg (ITU WCS) and just train now for Hyde Park. That's seven weeks now, so I'm having a couple of easy days now after Kitzbühel to just freshen up and get ready to go back into training. I'm looking forward to getting a good block of training in - you can't make massive gains in that time, but you can sharpen up on the things that haven't gone right in the last races.

Kitzbühel podium 2011 ©Delly Carr / ITU Media

Marc: You can make big losses though!

Helen: Like in Madrid and Kitzbühel I didn't swim well for the first lap of the swim and that's something we've spoken to our swim coach about and so we have time to address that before Hyde Park. Just small tweaks you can make in training.

Marc: It's good to see that everythig has gone so well - we haven't got to panic, or massively change anything but there are small areas to focus on and push on a little bit.

John: One of the things we've spoken about several times over the past few years is that you've generally got better as the season has progressed?

Marc: So hopefully the start has been bad again!

Helen: Yes, hopefully this is awful, I hope I start running a minute faster next week, that would be good! I think the increase in running volume, no major (injury / ilness) issues and maintaining the swim/bike level has lead to a stronger start to the season than normal.

John: Well, it was certainly exciting to watch and good luck for Hyde Park.

Helen: Thank you - I had loads of messages on Twitter afterwards from people saying they enjoyed watching, so that was good.

I spoke to Helen and Mark at the GE Capital / Sport Action Zone Triathlon Masterclass at the Serpentine Lido, Hyde Park where they were coaching and inspiring 20 children from Lambeth and the South London area. Check out their 'race' HERE!

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