Q and A with Triathlete Matthew Sharpe
About Matthew Sharpe
Matthew Sharpe is a recent addition to the Oak Bay Bicycles ambassador group. While also a member of the Victoria Wheelers, Matt’s main focus is swimming, cycling, and running around globe in spandex. Introduced to triathlon at a young age in Campbell River I remember the first day I met the lanky 15-year old at Commonwealth Pool in Saanich. While he could swim like a fish, I remember being most impressed with Matt’s maturity and strong work ethic at a young age. Now getting into the meat of his professional triathlon career, Matt has been crowned Juniour and U23 (Espoir) Elite National champion, won ITU Continental Cup races, and has toed the line with the best in world at the premier World Triathlon Series. While doing all this he still makes time to stay connected with the Victoria and Island cycling and triathlon communities; donating his time to youth events and seminars which he once benefited from. We sat down with Matt early this spring for a chat about all things that make the big man tick, enjoy!
You are just back from a southern training camp in Scottsdale. How did things go and what are you looking ahead to this year?
Yeah I’d never been down there before and it’s always interesting travelling to a new training location and seeing what things are like on the ground. Over time you learn that everywhere has their strengths and weaknesses and Scottsdale was no different. Our coach Jonathan Hall has spent the past few years living and coaching from there and so he had us in a great environment from day one. I’d say the weather was definitely superior to Victoria, however there were many times when I was craving a waterfront loop with at least a couple stops at Discovery Coffee 😉
In the past these kind of short camps haven’t actually been that kind to me. I’ve often either come in with an injury or left with one. Scottsdale 16’ was neither and with a consistent block of work completed its put me in a great place moving forward.
Given it’s an Olympic year the focus is definitely on Rio. However in order to get there and put in a worthy performance consistency in training must be achieved. So that is always the focus underpinning everything else. That being said I do enjoy a bit of success and after having raced around the world it would be nice to race well in Canada and luckily I will have a few opportunities, including elite nationals in Ottawa which I would like to win.
I feel like triathletes start in one discipline and then gradually cast their nets out to the other two, was this how it developed for you?
I grew up in Campbell River, BC and for awhile I was a Killer Whale (Swim club) and Comet (Track). A neighbour introduced me to Triathlon when I was quite young and I had my first road bike when I was 10 years old. I loved the variety the sport offered and being a competitive guy I also enjoyed the success I had racing Triathlon. I actually fully committed to Triathlon when I was 14, quite young at the time, but I’m very glad I did.
This past year you delved into more roadie group riding and racing. What spurred this on for you?
I came back from racing and training in Australia this past May and I had some new freedom in designing my program. It made a ton of sense to incorporate the VCL’s and Wheeler rides into my training and it also aligned with my belief that you shouldn’t train in a bubble. If the quality of work is there then I think you should work with many different people to not only push yourself but also enjoy developing new relationships. There’s not a lot that will bring people together quite like completing a badass workout/race.
What benefits have you discovered from riding and racing more with roadies?
The main training benefit for me was that I was able to get pushed beyond what I was capable by myself. For example, when training solo it’s very hard to replicate that feeling of being attacked on Panorama Hill after already burying yourself heading into it. That life or death (in terms of not getting dropped) feeling can only happen when you’re smashing it with the squad. In my opinion it’s the ultimate training stress. A bigger benefit I found was this instant connection I had with people through sport. I found myself making a bunch of new friends which had a huge impact on my overall mental health as I felt like part of a bigger community. I was just stoked to get out there with everyone.
Will you venture more into the road scene this year or is your program pretty specific to triathlon given the Olympic year?
The racing focus is still on Triathlon, but I’d like to incorporate the road racing as much as possible.
Word is you are aboard the redesigned Norco Tactic SLR from Oak Bay Bikes this year. What are your thoughts thus far?
Yeah after this summer I really wanted to align myself closer with the club and Trevor Mackenzie was a huge part of that. I’d actually worked with the owner of OBB, Karl Ullrich, on a previous project and it’s been nice establishing this relationship with Oak Bay Bikes. There’s a great crew at the shop who I’ve come to know, and I look forward to working with them moving forward.
Its funny how things work out because in a weird way I’d already been riding a Norco for the past couple years. My homestay in Australia had an older Norco 10 speed that I’d use as my commuter bike. I loved riding it around, from the pool to the beach to the cafe and so I already had a ton of god feels for the brand. Of course, as a kid growing up riding bikes in BC I always ripped around with my brother on our Norco mountain bikes which was kind of how I began to love cycling.
I actually haven’t been on the SLR yet as I had the opportunity to test out the new disc brake equipped Tactic. The bike handles really well and I enjoyed the responsiveness while accelerating out of corners. As a criterium-style racer these are both features I really value and I am stoked to get into a proper race. As an aside I’ve actually had a few training partners comment on the look of the bike which I haven’t really experienced before. I have no doubt I’ll really enjoy the Tactic SLR and i’m always excited for new adventures on the bike 🙂
Tell us a bit about your preferences and fit on the bike? Has it evolved over your career to deal with injuries and how does it differ over a standard road setup?
Over time I’ve developed a fairly aggressive position. However I’ve recently experimented with the fit and introduced shorter cranks. I’ve had bike fits all through my career and I’ve been lucky that I’ve never dealt with cycling related overuse injuries. Draft-legal Triathlon is all about running well off a hard ride so my position is more forward than a traditional road setup to reduce the stress on key running muscles.
How large of a component is cycling to your triathlon program and success in races?
Success in ITU racing is mostly a function of how well you can run off the bike so although being a good cyclist won’t win you races but it will definitely determine whether you make that lead bike pack, or even influence how the podium develops. Being physically and tactically proficient is crucial to success at the highest levels and the best triathletes are more often than not also the best cyclists in the bunch.
Was the level of competition in your first VCL what you expected? Lower? Higher? How would your average and normalised power in an ‘A’ VCL compare to an ITU World Cup or World Series event?
I have these painful memories as a junior jumping in the A group and just getting destroyed. So that was always kind of in the back of my mind. Thankfully I’d improved since then and when I rockedup to Speedway back in May I was hoping the level would be comparable to what I was used to. When Trevor Mackenzie made that 1200 watt jump and bridged to Curtis Dearden while I suffered in the second group it was pretty clear that the level was high and that really got me fired up.
In terms of power I would say it tends to be higher than an elite Triathlon due to the mindset of the bunch and the fact no one is getting ready to run after. When I’m racing the VCL’s I would say I don’t always make the best tactical decisions but that’s by design; I want to suffer for the maximum training effect. So in that sense it’s much different than how I would approach an ITU ride.
I’ve always been fascinated by the transition from one discipline to another – from swim to bike, bike to run – within a triathlon, how do you train your muscles to adapt to a totally different type of movement at a moment’s notice?
It’s mostly about mindful repetition. When you’re fully engaged on your form and repeat it over countless hours than your motor patterns become fully developed. Eventually the movements will become second nature and you won’t actually have to “think” about it as much. That’s when the magic happens.
When most are vying for the sprint at Windsor Park, you are thinking about throwing on your runners for a hard transition run. How key are those race specific workouts for fitness and your confidence going into key triathlon races?
Haha yeah I got a bunch of double takes and some good-natured chirps from the roadies after that one! Triathlon is a sport where you don’t actually get to compete that frequently so I wanted to get creative with my training and try and do something a little different. In the end those bike/run workouts where I would run right after a hard VCL were the closest I’ve been able to replicate that unique fatigue coming off the bike and actually gave me a huge amount of confidence heading into my European competitions.
You raced over in Europe towards the end of last summer, were you able to notice a difference in your bike as a result of your VCL experiences?
Both races I competed in Europe featured really tough bike courses. One was exceptionally hilly and the other ended up having a major crosswind. I think by racing the VCL’s I was able to push myself beyond the demands of a Triathlon. So when I jumped on to my bike I knew my legs couldn’t expect anything more painful than my experience at Newton Heights!
Unfortunately your scheduled World Cup racing this past fall was derailed by a short-sighted motorist in Gordon Head. Has that accident changed your awareness, tendencies and/or habits while riding on the road?
Whether you realize it or not I think these incidents put life in perspective and coming off it I realized how truly vulnerable I am out there on the road. I always try to be pretty mindful of the cars, I know what it’s like to be driving behind bikes and often it can be frustrating. With that being said the only thing that I believe that could have prevented my incident from happening is if it was a self-driving car. It was human error plain and simple that caused it, and if you are a cyclist I think it’s in your best interest to embrace this new technology. I can see it drastically reducing driving related fatalities, while cycling or otherwise.
After some healing, you were able to get out to a few Cross On The Rock events this fall. What were your first impressions with the series?
Fun. There was such a good atmosphere at the races which I found similar to a grassroots Triathlon. There are a few who take it fairly seriously but by and large everyone was just there rip around on bikes and maybe finish with beer or two. I’ll definitely be out there next fall and hopefully stay on my bike a little more often 😉
Obviously Rio 2016 has to be a huge focus for you this year, what do you feel you need to do and/or what results will you need to book your ticket?
In order to make the Olympic team it would require a few significant performances that demonstrate I could perform well on the Olympic course, better than the other Canadian athletes. The men are actually really talented and don’t get enough credit for their performances over the past couple of seasons, which should change soon. I’m not really focussed on trying to beat so and so, that’s not productive. Fortunately for me I’ve been healthy, and after a preseason hit out where I was able to compete with a number of top American Olympic hopefuls and perform well, I’m very excited to see how the rest of the season unfolds.
Thank-you for your time Matt and we wish you all the best for this season. I think Victoria Wheelers say it best…when they say: tear some legs off!