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GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 02: Start / Cameron...

Wurf: ‘Kona is still the goal’

VeloNews caught up with Wurf about his return to WorldTour racing and how he hopes it will boost his chances at Ironman Kona.

GEELONG, Australia (VN) — Cameron Wurf was the unlikeliest of WorldTour rookies. Even without returning to the WorldTour this week at 36, Wurf is already a legend in endurance sport.

By his early 20s, he was an Olympic-level rower, competing in the 2004 Athens Games in the lightweight double scull. He transitioned into road cycling, racing with Cannondale until 2014. Wurf then put his focus and determination on Ironman, finishing a career-best fifth last year.

Wurf was a surprise starter in Sunday’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, in an unlikely return to the WorldTour with Team Ineos.

But make no mistake. The return to road racing is all about improving on his Ironman performances. There are no dreams of racing the Tour de France. The target firmly remains Kona.

VeloNews caught up with Wurf to track his unlikely return and how he went from training in Los Angeles last week with 2018 Tour winner Geraint Thomas to lining up at the WorldTour in Geelong:

Wurf plans to use WorldTour racing to hone his Ironman engine rather than to aim for stage wins and Tour de France starts. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

VeloNews:Here you are back at the WorldTour; how much of a surprise is this for you?
Cameron Wurf: I was in LA, La-La Land, and it’s a bit of a Hollywood story. I was training there with Geraint Thomas, we’ve done that together the last couple of years. Our coach, Tim Kerrison, showed up last week, and he mentioned that Kiri [Vasil Kiryienka] was having a think about his future, and whether or not he wanted to keep racing. And if he was going to stop, would I be prepared to step up and take a few snaps for the team, and fill in a bit. I said, yes, absolutely. Then Kiri made up his mind, and Dave Brailsford was determined to act decisively and quickly to get it all done. This race was perfect. Rohan [Dennis] went back to Europe early, and they had a vacant spot, and we felt it was great to come back and get back in, and do it.

VN: So you’ve transitioned into competing full-time in triathlons, so this move was not on your radar at all?
CW: To say it wasn’t on my radar wouldn’t be true. We had talked about coming back to racing the last couple of years, but the hard part was finding the right time for it to work for my preparation for Kona, and a role within the team. This came up at a time when I have progressed pretty well in the sport of triathlon. We feel like we can manage it, and we feel like it can help me to do even better in Kona, to try to improve on my fifth place from last year. That seemed like a perfect fit for everyone.

VN: There seems to be quite a bit of cross-pollination, with you working with Kerrison, training with the team, and with Ineos looking to expand its reach into other sports, so it fit together well?
CW: To me, it seems that way. No one’s really understood how much involvement they’ve had. I’ve been training with them at camps and things, so they’ve offered me a fair bit of support over the years. I wasn’t wearing the Team Sky or Ineos colors, but they’ve always called me the extra rider over the last few years. It’s a different start line. I feel like I am part of the group, and I felt like that the last couple of years already. Now it’s time to be in the bunch and race again.

VN: You last WorldTour race was in 2014, what do you expect?
CW: Yep, back then they had the Tour of Beijing. It’s funny, they don’t have that race anymore. And this race didn’t exist, so it was a long ago.

VN: Any trepidation about getting back in the bunch and bumping elbows?
CW: I don’t think so. It’s been so long since I have raced, I don’t even remember what it was like. Whatever it will be, will be the new norm for me. Of course, it will be a bit different, like anything you do for the first time. I can’t wait, to be honest. When it’s Team Ineos that asks you to come back, the best team in the world, basically the team that every rider in the world wants to be on, they obviously have a bit of confidence in you. So that gives me a fair bit of confidence in myself. I can do what’s asked of me and play the role they want me to do.

VN: So this is about using the racing to improve in Ironman, not about racing the Tour de France again?
CW: The focus is Kona, 100 percent. For now, I’ll do this race, and then we’ll talk about it. We didn’t even know we were doing this race until five days ago. The senior management wouldn’t have had time to think about it. We need to see what I’m like back in the bunch. And we can go from there. To have three to four months to focus on Kona is a good window for me for concentration and for the load required. What I do between now and then, I’m open and excited.

VN: So how will a return to racing help you at Kona?
CW: The bike is the central part of the triathlon, and it has the most influence on the outcome generally. If I can find a way to keep progressing in that part of the sport, and keep improving in the other two, in theory, it’s going to make me a much bigger threat in Kona. And with racing, you can’t get the power oscillations and the adaptations muscularly, from training. You need to do some racing for that, so for us, it feels like the perfect time to go back and touch up on that, and see if we can keep progressing in the other disciplines a little bit. I am pretty close with the swim and run. And hopefully that will be the difference.

VN: There’s no worry that a heavier racing load will impact your run or swim?
CW: I hope it won’t. If I crash, it might. If have a spill and have a heap of road rash, or break a bone or something, of course, that’s going to impact that. Physically, it’s just a hard day at the office, and I’ve done plenty of them. That doesn’t phase me at all. Ironman triathlon is a very psychological sport. It’s very easy to convince yourself you’re tired after any of the three disciplines. It’s a matter of having your brain saying, ‘I need to go do something else’. And that’s something I relish and I love. And I believe racing will help take me to the next level.