Interview with professional triathlete Maya Kingma

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Maya Kingma is a Dutch professional triathlete who recently scored a hard-fought win at the World Triathlon Championship Series in Leeds and earlier in the season she was third in Yokohoma. Such consistency has led her atop of the WTCS overall standings, and she is ready to keep on developing and winning. From 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, not completely aware of the status of these races. Can we compare it with WorldTour level in cycling?

Yes and no, it is comparable to the World Tour, but then the highest level races as for example the Ronde van Vlaanderen or other ‘monuments’. The WTCS races are basically 7 races (this year less due to covid) which together form 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 of the length of an OD, the 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 defines whether we swim in normal race suit or in a wetsuit), etc. This means a lot can happen and all races can 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 have short laps of around 5km inside the city. This causes some courses to be pretty technical with a lot 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. On a 10km run around the 35 minutes, this is a big advantage. However, if the group is too small or is just not strong enough, and the group behind keeps pushing, it can be a stable gap around 20 seconds or so and it might not be worth it. Working so hard on the bike will just cause you to start running with more fatigued 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 in which I want either 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 were 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 could be race defining. 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 offensively. 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 S-Works Tarmac SL7, we wanted to make the best out of that. 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 improving points towards the next period in order to make yet another step?

Everything is going well! Swim, bike and run are on point. Every extra week will make me a bit stronger. So, I will just continue the way I’m doing at the moment. In preparation for the Olympics, the only extra thing I will do is to train on altitude. I will not change my bike position anymore since it proved to be successful and every change takes some 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 win in WTCS Leeds, I will just enjoy this! This was more than I could have imagined before the start of this season.
Apart from just enjoying this,  the main focus will be the Olympics, followed by the continuation of our World Championships series races. It is still unreal to realize that I’m currently first in the ranking. However, my main focus is on a good execution of the race and choices I make in those races. I hope that I can continue having an influence on the races.