Just before Saturday's World Championship race in Hawaii, I sat down with Ben Hoffman for a quick chat about, what else, gear. Before we get to that, I should explain the difference between what you could call the "old guard" and the "new guard." Athletes of the old guard are of the mindset that one bike is as good as another. Put two wheels under them, and they'll just ride. Ben Hoffman is most decidedly NOT that kind of athlete. He belongs to the new guard - athletes who scrutinize the equipment they ride, get educated on the ergonomics, aerodynamics, and other physical characteristics of the gear they train and race with. Increasingly, this train of thought is becoming more important for athletes, not only to gain a competitive advantage (Crowie, anyone?), but also because being more educated about the equipment makes the athlete a more valuable spokesperson for their sponsors.
In short, the Hoff knows his stuff. And he has the palmares to back it up. This year alone, he took three Ironman 70.3 wins, and a second place at Ironman Lake Placid (which he won in 2010). So I was eager to ask him about the role of equipment in his training and racing career.
TriRig: Thanks for sitting with us, Ben. I want to talk about what you have to do to be comfortable with your equipment - what goes through your mind on race day when you're picking up your bike to head out of T1?
Ben Hoffman: Absolutely, yeah. For me, I've been fortunate to align myself with some of the best brands out there. They're companies that I can believe in, which is really important when you get out there to race. The companies I work with make extremely high-performance stuff, tested through-and-through. So it helps me to know that the products I have are the best, so all I have to do is prepare myself.
TR: So do you make sure to get educated by the tech guys among your sponsors? Guys like Mark Cote at Specialized, Josh Poertner at Zipp, do they help you understand the products? Does that help you make race-day decisions, for example about wheel choice?
The Hoff: Absolutely. All these companies I work with have incredible engineers with a wealth of knowedge. All I have to do is get on the phone or write an email and ask questions about what I should be using in a given situation. It definitely goes through my mind. Like I said, I want to get out there on race day and know that I'm prepared for a given scenario. Here in Kona, I'll be using a bike and wheels that are designed specifically for the crosswinds here.
TR: What's your wheel setup going to be?
The Hoff: I'll be rocking twin Firecrest 808's.
TR: So you're not worried about crosswinds at all?
The Hoff: No. Actually, I've been out there and it's been some of the windiest conditions I've seen out here (I've raced this race twice before). This is probably the windiest year I've seen, just in training rides. But the bike and wheels are super stable, and I'm really fired up to just get out there and race.
TR: Usually you ride with an 808 up front and a Super-9 in back, right?
The Hoff: Yeah, I was on the Sub-9 before, but switched out to the Super-9 for the added stiffness. I had gotten some brake rub before, but none with the Super-9.
TR: Does the stiff ride bother you at all?
The Hoff: Not really. I mean, I've done a lot of 70.3's and Ironmans with that setup, and it's really nice.
TR: Thanks Ben, and good luck on Saturday!
The Hoff: Thanks, guys.