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Jarrod Shoemaker at the cycling skills camp.
Jarrod Shoemaker at the cycling skills camp.
photo: Paul Phillips

Key Clinics Kick Off 2011 Season

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The opening event of the 2011 USA Triathlon Elite Race Series, the Draft Legal Challenge at Clermont, not only provided an exciting start to the season, but it also gave USA Triathlon a chance to connect with athletes of varying levels at pair of important early season clinics.

Prior to race day, USA Triathlon’s Collegiate Recruitment Program held a draft-legal skills clinic, while the National Team Program conducted a two-day, post-race cycling skills clinic for some of the nation’s top draft-legal athletes. The clinics were a great resource for athletes on opposite ends of the draft-legal spectrum.

The collegiate clinic was geared toward former swimmers and runners, many of who raced their first draft-legal event in Clermont. The National Team clinic helped athletes such as Olympians Jarrod Shoemaker and Sarah Haskins fine-tune their bike handling skills prior to the ITU World Cup and World Championship Series schedule.

Headed by Olympian Barb Lindquist, the Collegiate Recruitment Program aims to expose former collegiate swimmers and runners who have a background in the other sport to the possibility of making a career out of triathlon. Recent success stories from the program include Gwen Jorgensen and Kaleb VanOrt, who both earned podium finishes in the elite event in Clermont.

For Lindquist, the aim of the Clermont clinic was to introduce skills to some of the newer athletes and help the others knock the rust off prior to the first race of the season. “The main purpose is to make this race a safe race — to give them a little bit more confidence going into their first race,” said Lindquist, who also will hold clinics at the Buffalo and Myrtle Beach Elite Race Series stops, as well as at USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals in Burlington, Vt.

With assistance from coaches Greg Mueller and Kris Swarthout, Lindquist touched on a number of subjects during the two-hour clinic, including draft-legal rules, race strategies and key skills like transitions and riding in a group.

The clinic certainly paid dividends on race day, as Collegiate Recruitment Program athletes Natalie Kirchhoff, a former swimmer at Rice, and Jake Rhyner, a former runner at Wisconsin-La Crosse, won the age group draft-legal races in Clermont.

Kirchhoff competed in her first draft-legal race. “The clinic was awesome,” said Kirchhoff, who was quick to point to the clinic for helping her improve her bike mount. “I really thank USAT for coming out and sponsoring something like that.”

In addition to receiving tips from the coaches, the athletes, who had varying levels of draft-legal experience, also were able to learn valuable pointers from each other. “It was a good environment to feed off each other,” Kirchhoff said.

Rhyner and runner-up Kyle Lee, a former swimmer at Alabama, attended the Collegiate Recruitment Program camp in Colorado Springs last summer, so the Clermont clinic was a refresher course on draft-legal racing.

“We learned so much out there,” said Rhyner, who said he has made vast improvements since making his draft-legal debut a year ago. “Having Barb as a resource is unbelievable.”

For many of the Collegiate Recruitment Program athletes, earning a spot in the National Team Program is the end goal, and Jorgensen, who raced her first-ever triathlon in March 2010 in Clermont, is a prime example of how talent and hard work can pay off.

“I’ve just had great support throughout this all. Everyone’s been helping me — the athletes, the coaches,” Jorgensen said. “It’s been awesome, so it’s just been really fun to come back this year and know everyone and say ‘hi.’”

One year after her first event, Jorgensen was one of nine top athletes who attended USA Triathlon’s National Team Program cycling skills camp on March 6-7.

The USA Triathlon Sport Performance team brought in renowned cycling coach Michael Heitz to help fine tune the bike handling skills of the National Team Program athletes, many of whom came from swimming and running backgrounds.

Heitz spent two days with the athletes, taking them through a number of drills designed to make cycling skills second nature. He focused on helping to improve pacing, cornering and various race tactics.

On day two, the group went on a two-hour group ride, followed by a debriefing in the classroom. From there, they did skill work on grass, which included an obstacle course and contact work. They also played a game called “trash ball,” which is best described as ice hockey or water polo on the bike. The athletes split into teams and had to pick a ball up off the ground and pass it to each teammate before attempting to score a goal — all while on the bike.

“The game of trash ball we played at the end probably made the most improvements for the group in the shortest amount of time,” said Ben Collins. “Everyone gained confidence during the game, and it was really fun, too.”

Fun and games aside, the clinic was full of valuable info, according to Alicia Kaye. “It was extremely beneficial,” Kaye said. “If all you got from the camp was to ride in your drops, you learned a lot.” Kaye says the main things she learned were “look ahead and through the turn” and “ride in your drops to protect your bike, avoid locking bars and enjoy a greater draft behind the rider in front of you.”

The goal of the camp was to help the athletes become so comfortable on the bike that they can think less and let their instincts take over, says USA Triathlon Sport Performance Manager Andy Schmitz.

Collins, who learned a great deal about how to protect the bike in a number of different race scenarios, plans to take what he learned at the clinic and build on it. “I’m definitely going to continue to practice what we learned at the camp,” Collins said. “Also, I saw a lot of improvement in other athletes, and hopefully they'll also continue to practice — it will make our races much safer.”

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