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DirtTRI Interview: Todd Wells

Todd Wells is an Olympian, a Mountain Bike and Cyclocross National Champion, and an all around cycling superstar. Now Todd Wells can call himself an XTERRA Warrior as well. Wells competed in his “first real triathlon” a few weeks ago at the XTERRA USA National Championship. DirtTRI.com is very proud to say we were able to get an interview with the MTB pro, and its a good one. Frankly, Todd did most of the work, we hardly had to edit the interview at all…which is always nice.

Note from the editor/writer – I met Todd a few years ago when we were both sponsored athletes racing for Specialized. Todd is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, and I want to sincerely thank him for being so forthright in this interview. Hopefully, I had some luck convincing him to give XTERRA another look, I’m sure we can get that swim in order.  


Its always intriguing and exciting when elite athletes from other disciplines give our sport a try. We’ve seen road triathlon legends, MTB world champions, various gold medalists, MMA fighters, even a few of those omnipresent “celebrity athletes”, and yes even the Voldemort of endurance sport, Lance Armstrong has professed his love of off road triathlon. So, naturally there was a ton of attention and interest when Todd Wells confirmed he would race the XTERRA USA Championship.

DirtTRI– This was indeed your first XTERRA, correct?

Todd Wells– Yes, first XTERRA

How did the race go for you? 

It was tough. I had a horrible swim. I had never swum in a group and it was terrifying. I’m not comfortable in the water to begin with and having people pulling and bumping into me was hard. I probably had to stop and tread water at least six times from panic attacks and do a little bit of floating on my back. I was a mess out there.

I didn’t have good splits on the bike or run but enjoyed them. I came out of the water about 10 minutes down so my motivation went from trying to do well to just trying to enjoy the rest of the event. I also hadn’t run a 10K in 15 years so I wasn’t sure how it would go. I was worried I might cramp but other then doing a slow time it was fun. I only got passed by one person in the run and he was going so much faster then me I couldn’t even try to stay with them so it felt more like a training run then a race because I was alone and couldn’t see anyone else for the majority of it.

I also thought I was going to be crippled the day after the race from all the downhill running but actually felt really good. I guess my training was far enough along to avoid injury and soreness.

Was it harder or different than you anticipated?

The swim was much harder then I anticipated. I had swum at least three times a week for a few weeks leading up to the event. I had even done some cold open water swimming to get use to the wetsuit but none of that prepared me for the race. I had done one fun triathlon before this in Tucson this winter where we swum in a lazy river and conceded about 1:30 in a 6 minute swim to Rakita. I had only been in the water a few times before that race and not for more then 10 minutes so I figured with a bit more training I was hoping to only lose about 4 or 5 minutes in the XTERRA swim. I also heard how a wetsuit makes you faster but I think the unfamiliar constrictiveness of it did me more harm then good.

The bike and run were about what I expected. I was hoping to have a faster bike split but knowing I was so far down didn’t give me much motivation to suffer. Of course I was going as fast as I could but when you are racing for a good place it’s always that much easier to push yourself.

Then on the run I knew I wasn’t going to make up any places and probably just lose time so my focus went from trying to do well to just making sure I could get to the finish and not mess myself up too bad.

So to sum it up, the swim was much harder, the rest was as expected.

You mention the TriZona triathlon you did this spring. Was that your first triathlon? 

That was my first triathlon and inspiration to try a “real” one.

Todd Wells rides through the autumn foliage of the XTERRA USA Championship. Photo - XTERRA
Todd Wells rides through the autumn foliage of the XTERRA USA Championship. Photo – XTERRA

What were your goals/plans for the XTERRA USA Champs? 

I really didn’t know what to expect. I only have a cycling background; I didn’t run or swim when I was younger so I knew those were going to be tough for me. I was certainly hoping to go better then I did but after/during the swim my objectives changed from a good result to just finishing.

We’ve had a few cross overs from the MTB world, Ned, Melanie McQuaid, Michi Weiss, Ruben Ruzafa, etc. and quite a few World Cup pros do the XTERRA World Champs. Can we expect to be seeing you at more XTERRAs in the future? 

I doubt it. I wanted to try one for a long time and do something out of my comfort zone. I certainly got out of it in Ogden. I don’t know about the other athletes but Ned had a running background before he got into cycling and had even completed an Ironman before his MTB days. I’m such a poor swimmer and not a great runner either. The time it would take to improve in those sports I don’t have to give with cycling being my focus. Just driving to the lake to swim for 30 minutes seems like it takes all day. I don’t know where the Ironman athletes find the time required to dedicate to all those sports. I think I’ll stick to cycling. 

More specifically to the race…

We noticed you had the 4th fastest bike split. Would you say you had any issues on the bike? How do you feel about your ride? 

I didn’t have any issues on the bike, everything worked perfect. I don’t know why I was so slow, obviously not what I had hoped for. I had to pass quite a few people but everyone was great about letting me by, much better then a MTB race. The course was essentially a hill climb except for maybe 5 minutes of descending so I wasn’t going to make up any time based on MTB skills. It was a 100% fitness test and I must not have had great fitness because on paper I should have gained time rather then lost it. The only issue I would have had was one with motivation after having such a bad swim and being so far down.

We’re guessing here, but one would assume that riding off a swim in pretty cold water is very different from your normal pre-MTB race warm up. Did you find this a challenge to the rest of your race? 

Yes, it is quite different. I didn’t find it to be a problem though. In a XC race you start 100% off the line and fight for position the whole time. This was more like a training ride where I went as fast I could but didn’t have to go over my limit in the beginning because the people I was really chasing were already 10 minutes ahead. I did drop my Clif Shots when I was exiting the transition but that was about it.

How ’bout the run? How were you feeling running off the bike?

Again, I was so far out of that race that is was just about finishing. I have a hard time pushing myself without other people around for motivation. I only saw one person on the run and he went by me so fast I couldn’t even try to go with him. Because of that I ran as fast as I felt I could sustain. If I could have seen someone in front or heard someone coming up behind me it would have put me out of my comfort zone but for the most part the run felt good. I didn’t get hungry or thirsty which I was worried about because I went from eating every 20-30 minutes on the bike to nothing after a hard effort, which I hadn’t done before. I had gotten some sore ankles training for the run that I was worried about that but they felt OK on race day.

Talking about equipment…[quote cite=’Todd Wells’ align=’right’]I thought the XTERRA was awesome. It had better coverage from a media standpoint with the TV and everything. The event also felt more like a big family; everyone was so nice and welcoming.[/quote]

What did you choose to ride? Any changes from your normal MTB race bike for the off road triathlon format? 

I rode the Stumpjumper HT. I normally ride a full suspension bike but with essentially a smooth hill climb for the MTB portion the HT is lighter and worked great. Everything was setup the same and I put my shoes on in transition rather then try to ride through a bumpy field with out having them on. I did try to tape my gels to the top tube that only resulted in them falling off as soon as I entered the field and having to stop to pick them up. I should have just grabbed them in transition but it was only a few seconds anyway. I also raced with a spare tube and CO2 that I don’t do in XC races because there are tech zones every 5 minutes but I do use in marathons and longer MTB events.

Would you have any suggestions for other mountain bikers considering off road triathlon? What do you think you could have done better or differently? 

I would say if you’re not use to swimming in a group practice. I would also encourage them to practice swimming in a wetsuit quite a bit or do an event that doesn’t require or allow one. I would have done some more speed work running too if my joints would have allowed it. That said I was glad I did it. It’s always hard and scary to do something you aren’t use to. I was glad I did it though because I always have these grand ideas of things I want to try but seem to find an excuse not to do them so this was awesome. I set a goal to do it and finish and I achieved that. A good result would have been nice but I was happy just to toe the line.

As an event…

How did the XTERRA race experience compare to the National Series MTB races? Was XTERRA better or worse? What could we in the off road triathlon world do better to attract more athletes, be it from triathlon, MTB, or first time athletes? 

I thought the XTERRA was awesome. It had better coverage from a media standpoint with the TV and everything. The event also felt more like a big family; everyone was so nice and welcoming. The big BBQ at the end was super cool and all the athletes; pros and amateurs alike were hanging out.

We don’t get that “vibe” at our MTB National Champs. Winning a jersey can make or break a young career or be the difference between extending a contract and looking for a new job so it seems much more stressful.

As far as attracting more athletes I don’t know what the answer is. The event was awesome and I had a very warm reception from everyone. I think it’s hard to bring mountain bikers to triathlon because riding is so much fun and most people do it for the enjoyment with the fitness being a side effect, not the goal. With triathlon it seems to me the motivation is the work out.

Lastly, Did my harping on you to do an XTERRA a few years ago at Interbike have anything to do with your racing in Ogden? Or was it all Ned? 

Ha, I would like to say yes but I don’t think so. It seems like every year there are more and more triathletes on the Specialized team so I’m constantly exposed to it. The people I know from the tri world are Riccitello, Ben Hoffman and Conrad Stolz. They are all awesome people so I figured if it was their passion it had to be pretty cool so I gave it a shot. I have a ton of respect for them and even more after doing the race. Respect.  

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Jimmy Archer

Founder and Editor at DirtTRI.com. Jimmy has been a professional athlete for over 18 years as a runner, cyclist, mountain biker, cross country skier, and primarily, triathlete. Jimmy has a degree in exercise science from the University of Colorado and is a USA Triathlon and USA Cycling certified coach. Jimmy became a freelance writer in 2000 while competing and covering the ITU Winter Triathlon World Championship. Since that time Jimmy has been head editor at two magazines, been published in numerous publications within the endurance sport, recreation, and travel segments. Currently Jimmy is competing professionally in off-road multisport. In his spare time Jimmy passionately follows Formula 1, Moto GP, and is an avid cook.

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