As the excitement begins to build up ahead of the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship 2019, the fans have started marking their favourites for this battle royale. The start studded field of PRO athletes is nothing short of making the weekend exciting. In the women’s section, Swiss bird Daniela Ryf will look at creating history by becoming the first athlete, male of female, to win the Ironman 70.3 World Championship for a record 5th time. However, she will still have to keep an eye out for Lucy Charles-Barclay (GBR), who is a top contender for the title. And in the men’s section, it is a chance for Javier Gomez to seal his 3rd Ironman 70.3 World Championship title, but he will have to battle it out with a talented field of Olympic Champion Alistair Brownlee (GBR), Ironman world champions Patrick Lange (GER), Sebastian Kienle (GER) and Frederik van Lierde (BEL), who is also 5 times Ironman France winner.
And amidst these names, you also have some challengers who have the potential to completely surprise the spectators with their performance. And one such hot favourites to look out for is the Belgian PRO Pieter Heemeryck. He was placed 5th at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship 2018 and recorded the bike split faster than the podium finishers. As a build up to the championship, he has had a solid training block and the races he has won are a testimony of it. He turned a full-time PRO very recently and we had a privilege to speak to him ahead of weekend action.
Sidd: You have had a successful run in 2019 with the wins at Challenge Half Salou and Gran Canaria and second position at Challenge Half Samorin as well as Ironman 70.3 Campeche. How prepared do you feel for the upcoming IM 70.3 World Championship?
Pieter: I think I am currently in the best shape of the season. After the Championship in Samorin, I was a bit tired, but now I have took a training break and I am back in the shape I want to be. Last year I finished 5th in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship and I think I should be able to repeat that result this year. My training her the last 4-6 weeks went great and I also checked out the course of the championship at the beginning of August, so I can confidently say that I am really motivated to give it a try this weekend
Sidd: Despite being marginally behind the leaders in the swim at the IM 70.3 World Championship last year, you went hard and closed the gap on the bike leg. If am not wrong, you clocked a time faster than the podium finishers Jan, Alistair and Javier. The run is where you lost time. In the last one year, have you made any changes to your training approach to address the gaps and are you able to feel the difference during the recent races?
Pieter: The goal last year was to be in the front pack on the bike. So after the swim, I did a big effort to close the gap as early as possible. Afterwards, it was my ticket to finishing in the top 5 because we were able to create a huge lead from the rest of the field. During the last 10 kms on the bike course, I was really lucky because my electronic Di2 system stopped functioning, but I managed to follow the guys and after a steady run secured the 5th spot. This year, we really worked hard on the run, so in ideal circumstances, I am convinced that I should be able to come closer to the podium.
Sidd: You are amongst the hot favourites at IM 70.3 World Championships at NICE a few days from now. Does that and the fact that you could be making history by being the first Belgian triathlete to make it to the podium at this platform make you nervous or add psychological pressure? And how do you deal with it?
Pieter: At the moment I don’t feel any stress for the race. The field is stacked for this weekend and in general I can really motivate myself for my important races. My plan for this weekend will be on paper, really easy because in my opinion the only way to get on the podium will be to do a race where I will go all out in my abilities from the start to the finish. I think I will race with a similar approach at the Championship this weekend and of course I hope to finish it with my best performance on the run.
Sidd: What are your thoughts about the PRO field at the championship and who would you be keeping an eye out for?
Pieter: For me it is clear that the big favourite is Alistair Brownlee. He is brilliant in all three disciplines and I think he is in much better shape than last year. He rides a Scott bike, so thats a big advantage as well. The Norwegians Iden and Blummenfelt, the Spanish Dapena Gonzales and Gomez, Americans Kanute and Von Berg, Germans Kienle, Clavel, Anger and Lange. The quality of the field is so good that you will have to watch out for many guys. A dream podium would be of course 3 Scott athletes and I really think it is possible too.
Sidd: From 10th position in 2017 to 5th in 2018, you are a man on a mission. What goes on in your mind when you gear up events which are critical and defining moments in your pro career?
Pieter: For me this championship is the first big event where even before the start, I believe I can achieve a great result. In the past, I always had some doubts if I could compete with the best, but I have left those doubts behind after my recent results. I trained hard for it and I know that on a strong day, the top 5 slot will not be far. Championships are the races that count, so I am really motivated to give it my best
Sidd: You have always been a vegan or you transitioned into this dietary approach recently? If yes, then what made you shift? What advice would you offer to other endurance athletes and triathletes who are on the fence and would like to transition towards it?
Pieter: I think I have now been a vegetarian since last 7 years. My wife already was a vegetarian since her younger days and I slowly transitioned my lifestyle to follow her footsteps. I am lucky that my wife cooks a variety of healthy meals at home, so I dont have to stress and pay attention, as I eat everything that is needed. In my opinion, vegetarian lifestyle doesnt have a negative impact on sports results. You just have to make sure that it is versatile.
Sidd: Tell us about how you got into triathlon and the moment when you decided to turn PRO? Did the likes of renowned Belgian triathletes like Luc Van Lierde and Rutger Beke have an impact on your decision to get into triathlons? And how has life changed for you between being an age group athlete and becoming a PRO?
Pieter: I started doing triathlons after an injury I had during my short running career. When I was younger, I already learned how to swim early on and raced in a lot of swim competitions at a local level. So when I had an injury because of running, I got back to swimming to stay in shape. Shortly after, I bought my first bike and got involved in my first triathlon. I think I was around 19 years old then. I participated in some international draft legal races in the first year but realised after a while that my qualities and strengths were meant for non-drafting races and hence I switched to 70.3 format at the age of 25. After the last season, where I had some great results like the 5th position at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, everything went on a roller coaster and I decided to turn into a full-time PRO athlete at the beginning of 2019. It is really a different lifestyle with a lot of positive aspects. But I still have to search for a healthy balance as I was quite used my job as a teacher at a local primary school and it was hard for me a break to that part of my life. But I will certainly pick this up after my triathlon career!
Sidd: How do strike a balance between your rigorous training and family? With your two little boys – Scott and Quinn.
Pieter: Since Jan 2019 when I turned into a full-time PRO athlete, I have a lot more time for them, so I can’t complain. Earlier, it was a hard combination and it was often very difficult to find the right balance. Now I can that it is pretty cool to have so much free time with them. It is really a positive side of full-time PRO life.
Sidd: What are the goals you are working towards in the near future?
Pieter: For the next 3-4 years, I think my race schedule will mostly be focussed on 70.3 distance along with 2-3 full distance triathlons a year. The third race hopefully will be KONA then! Getting on the podium of a major Championship is what I am dreaming for at the moment. This week, I have a chance to do that.
Sidd: If you could give 3 pieces of advice to aspiring age groupers to become better at their game, what would those be?
Pieter: First, enjoy the training and try to avoid it becoming like a commitment burden. Training with a group or others, exploring different locations, working with a trainer, timely recovery are all small things that can have a major influence.
Second, Try to make realistic and specific goals for the season or for the races. Sometimes a bad day of training or a bad race day isn’t necessarily a negative thing – you can also learn from this experience. Make the best of it and in some cases you will be amazed to see the end result. It only ends at the finish line!
Third, Make progression where it is not only up to you and get the best equipments for your budget. Ride some cool SCOTT bikes – 200% sure you will have a good ride 😉
With all the effort that Pieter has been putting in over the last year, we wish him the very best for the championship race this weekend. You can follow him on his Website, Facebook, Instagram & Twitter