Interview with professional triathlete Maya Kingma

Cycling Tips

Maya Kingma is a Dutch professional triathlete who recently scored a hard-fought win at the World Triathlon Championship Series in Leeds. Earlier in the season she finished third at the Yokohoma triathlon. This consistency has led her to the top of the WTCS overall standings and she is ready to keep on developing and winning. For some time now she has been coached by CyclingLab’s Maarten van Kooij. We sat down with her for an interview about the specifics of triathlon and how CyclingLab helps her to develop and become stronger.

  1. As cyclists, we are not completely aware of the status of these races. Can we compare it with the WorldTour level in cycling?

Yes and no, it is comparable to the cycling World Tour, but then the highest level races like for example the Ronde van Vlaanderen or other ‘monuments’. The WTCS races are basically 7 races (this year less due to covid) which together decide the World Championship. The best 5 races (again, this year a bit different) count for the ranking of which the number 1 will be the World Champion. My discipline within triathlon, Olympic Triathlon, is different from long course racing like IronMan. Olympic triathlon is a drafting race, just like cycling, over a 1.5km swim – 40km bike – 10km run. Besides this Olympic Distance (OD), some of our races are half the length of an OD, the so-called sprint distance. These offer fewer points. The WTCS races in Leeds and Yokohama, where I was 1st and 3rd, were OD races, just like the race in Tokyo for the Olympic title, as you might have guessed.

  1. Triathlon is a swim-bike- run event. How important is the bike leg during an Olympic Distance Triathlon?

As cycling races play out differently from race to race (e.g. Ronde van Vlaanderen vs Giro di Lombardia) or from year to year, so can our OD races. Because we are allowed to draft, the races are influenced by the course, participants and their form/tactics/plans, water temperature (which decides whether we swim in normal race suit or in a wetsuit), etc. This means a lot can happen and all races will be different. The last few years a couple of women, including me, have tried to create a small gap with the main group during the swim and extend this gap by attacking the transition and pushing as hard as possible on the bike. We usually do short laps of around 5 km inside a city. This causes some courses to be pretty technical with lots of corners and sometimes a small hill. Starting the run with a big lead over the main pack is always a win. For example, in some races we came out of the first transition with just a 5 seconds lead but managed to build this lead to 2 minutes during the cycling. As a 10 km run takes about 35 minutes, this is a big gap. However, if the group is too small or just not strong enough and the group behind keeps pushing, it can be a gap of around 20 seconds or so and it might not be worth it. Working so hard on the bike will only lead to you starting the running part with more tired legs. Because the lead group often consists of just a few athletes (3 to 6), the aerodynamics are important. I usually ride quite a lot of time at the front to try to win as much time as possible or go as fast as possible with the least effort.

  1. Can triathletes learn from cyclists when it comes to racing/tactics?

Definitely yes, we ride in pelotons, although much smaller than most cycling races. Historically, the run is considered most important and you can see that in the tactics that are often quite defensive. Now that is changing. We are learning from cycling, since saving energy or escaping from a group are just as important!

  1. How important is the bike leg and the bike set up in a multi-sport event?

It can be race deciding. It all depends on the swim and how much of a difference a group is able to make on the bike. But being strong on the bike is always a benefit, especially in the races on the highest level which are raced more aggressively. You can either escape, have a small lead group and win some time before the run, or stay in the group but start running with a bit fresher legs.

  1. So, is that the reason you went to Cyclinglab? To look at improvements during the bike leg?

I went to Cyclinglab to see if we could do something with my aerodynamics on the bike. Especially after I received my new Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7, we wanted to make the best out of it. There was definitely a lot to win in that field. The key was to balance aerodynamics and being able to push enough watts. I think we managed that quite well. I have learned a lot and was impressed by the difference it made!

  1. What will be the main points for improvement in the near future in order to make yet another step forward?

Everything is going well! My swim, bike ride and run are on point. Every week will make me a bit stronger. So I will just continue what I’m doing at the moment. In preparation for the Olympics, the only extra thing I will do is to train at altitude. I will not change my bike position anymore since it has proven to be a success and every change takes time to adapt to. After this season, I would like to do some more extensive aerodynamic tests.

  1. How do you look at the future and what will be your goals?

After my 3rd place in the WTCS Yokohama and my win in WTCS Leeds, I will just savor this! This was more than I could have imagined at the start of this season. Apart from just enjoying this, my main focus will be the Olympics, followed by the other World Championships series races. It is still unreal to realize that I’m currently first in the rankings. However, my main focus is on a good execution of the race and the choices I make in those races. I hope that I can continue to improve at them.