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Athlete's Corner #6: Daytona Debrief feat. Tom Davis

When Tom Davis took the lead 4km into the run at the biggest Triathlon race of the year, some spectators might have been wondering who he was? Not us. We saw Tom get his start in Triathlon after switching from Water Polo between his first and second year of studies at Loughborough University. His swimming prowess and innate desire to work hard rapidly saw him picked up by the Performance squad in Loughborough, one thing led to another, and there he was, leading the biggest race of 2020!

Swapping Water Polo for Triathlon back in 2014, Tom was immediately surrounded by elite athletes and admits that turning professional and racing elite almost seemed like an expectation within the training squad: “There was such a good squad in Loughborough it created a level of training and racing where it almost became an expectation that you were supposed to be racing elite and turning professional, my objective of turning professional stemmed from that environment”.

Training with the Loughborough Performance Squad and then getting additional bike coaching from first Chris Hine and now Matt Bottril, Tom’s progression came on leaps and bounds as he broke into the pro ranks in 2018 (finishing 4th on his debut at Ironman 70.3 Tartu) and signing with the Erdinger Alkoolfrei team in 2019. In his first full year as a pro, Tom podiumed again on several races, took part in the Pro 70.3 World Championships and made his bow at the Ironman distance with another podium in China. For those following closely, 2020 had all the hallmarks of being a breakout year for Tom as had clearly found his feet as a professional triathlete.

TTL: 2020 has been a peculiar year hasn’t in Tom, did you manage to get any races under your belt before COVID came to town in the Spring?

Tom Davis: Peculiar indeed! And no not really, I only managed to do a Half Marathon in Cambridge in February but other than that it’s be a year of training mostly. (Editor’s Note, Tom ran 1:09:58 in Cambridge)

TTL: What was your initial reaction to the COVID situation, did you find yourself short of motivation or did you keep training throughout?

TD: I pretty much kept my foot on the gas all year to be honest, I think these 6 months of no racing turned into the best training block I’ve ever put together. We never get the chance to train consistently for that amount of time usually, I don’t think I missed a single day to illness or injury either and looking forward I think it’s put me in good stead for future seasons. It’s taught me that I don’t need to race so much.

TTL: We followed some of your results in Europe leading into Daytona, your preparation seemed to go well, and you got a few solid races under your belt prior to travelling to the US.

TD: I took 2nd at 70.3 Gdynia (in front of Patrick Lange amongst others) and that was probably my best race to date. Three weeks later I was on the podium at Outlaw X in the UK, I ran down Tim Don to finish second. I took a lot of confidence from that race as I proved to myself that I could use my run as a strength and wouldn’t always have to run scared as they say.

TTL: Your wildcard for Daytona was announced only 5 weeks out from the race, how did this impact your preparation? You only had a short turnaround to prepare the biggest race of the year?

TD: I was actually coming off an Ironman build as I had planned to race Ironman Portugal but it was cancelled at the last minute. I think overall I was grateful to be on the start line and didn’t want to overthink it, I had the endurance required from preparing an Ironman and just had to tune it up for the shorter distance in Daytona.

TTL: What were your expectations going into the race?

TD: I think the biggest thing was knowing that I wasn’t going to be losing any money in the entire operation, even if I finished last, I was going to cover my costs of the trip. (Editor’s note, with the biggest ever prize purse in Triathlon, Challenge Daytona paid every pro athlete that finished the race) This being said, I was very pleased with my preparation, I’d done my life-best numbers on the bike in training, had continued to build on my run and was confident in my swim. I figured that a top 20 was feasible if I had a good race, but mostly I just wanted to challenge myself to go and race without regrets and see where that would take me. This was epitomised by my powermeter failing after the travel and my decision to ride without it on raceday, this meant I had no choice but to follow the race and see what happened.

TTL: We all saw how the race went on TV, but how did it unfold from your perspective? Are you satisfied with the result?

TD: First off, the pre-race was just perfect, the PTO took all the pressure off us by putting us up in a hotel near the venue, giving us trainers to ride on in the hotel and the media obligations were easy to deal with. This alleviated the usual logistical pressure that you have when you travel alone to a race.

If we look at the Swim I’d say the first 200m were pretty hard, but after that I managed to settle into the front pack and hold onto the feet that dragged me around for the rest of the Swim. It was fast but comfortable for me on the day. Onto the Bike the first 2 laps the front boys went out hot and I held on for dear life. I still had my feet on top of my shoes 8km into the race, but once it settled I got my shoes on and settled in for the remainder of the ride. Since I was riding without a powermeter I could tell it was a solid effort throughout, but it didn’t feel outside of my comfort zone. The hardest bit was overtaking the lapped athletes as we had to put in big surges to get past them in the time limit to avoid drafting penalties. Despite that, I think the 20m draft zone was a great benefit to the race actually, as it made for fair riding and no one could hide in a group and get dragged along.

Onto the run, the guys in front went out incredibly fast as well, I was off the back of the front group through 5km and I ran them in 16:05, so they were flying. Ali pulled out and I dragged myself back up to Sam Appleton before taking the lead at about 6km. We worked together for about 2km in the lead before Gustav Iden came past us. He was on another level; he must have been going 10-15s faster per km because when he came past it didn’t even cross my mind to try and latch on to him. At this point I was still in a strong podium position and I continued to feel good until about the 12km mark when Rudy Von Berg and Sam Long came past me. That’s when I sort of imploded and shifted into survival mode. After feeling so strong on the back end of my previous races I found this really frustrating as I began counting down the positions and the paychecks as the next few athletes came past me. I crossed the line in 12th for 13’000 USD, so would have bitten your hand off at the start of the day if you’d given me that, but looking back on the race I’m definitely left wanting more.

TTL: Have you identified a reason for the struggle on those final 6km or not?

TD: It’s hard to know, I think it’s a combination of things really. I think between racing late in the day and perhaps not eating enough in the day, the surges on the bike or perhaps the first 5km on the run going out so hard, each race is different, so I’ll have to look at those factors again next time.

TTL: What’s your biggest takeaway from the race other than the rather pleasant paycheck?

TD: It’s the feeling I had during the race to be honest. Feeling confident to take it on and race against the best and truly believing that I was in my place amongst those big names. This will give me confidence to go and race the same way next year and not be scared to give it a go even against the best, I’ve proven to myself that the legs are there to compete at this level.

TTL: Looking ahead to 2021, what are your hopes for the next season?

TD: Well, I started my new season today actually, and my main aim will be to qualify for the 70.3 worlds to see where I stock up again at that level, and I’ll also try my hand at Ironman distance race again. I think my true potential is at that distance but I want to see what I can do at Half Ironman first before committing to the full distance.

TTL: Ok thanks Tom, we wish you all the best for next season and congratulations again for your performance at Daytona. Do you want to take this last chance to give a shout out to any sponsors?

TD: Thanks guys, I’m looking forward to seeing the Pro race schedule confirmed so I can pick out some races. In terms of sponsors my main one is Erdinger Alkoolfrei, and then I work with Hoka One One, Zone3 Wetsuits, Parcours Wheels and Incus Performance. I’ll be on a new bike next season so you’ll have to follow my Instagram to find out who my new bike supplier is.

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