Vincent Luis: "We need to know which horse to bet on"

French triathlete Vincent Luis crossing the finish line of the 2020 Triathlon World Championships, where he won his second title in a row.
French triathlete Vincent Luis crossing the finish line of the 2020 Triathlon World Championships, where he won his second title in a row.

France's two-time World Champion Vincent Luis talked with Tokyo 2020 about the upcoming Olympic Games, his new life, new status and Alistair Brownlee

Before heading to the Rio 2016 Games, Vincent Luis recorded just a single victory on the international circuit.

Today, with six months remaining until Tokyo 2020, Luis is a two-time world champion (2019, 2020), ranked world No.1 and winner of five World Triathlon Series and three Mixed Relay World Championships (2015, 2018, 2019).

The 31-year-old no longer has anything to prove and will fight this summer for the only missing title from his list of achievements: an Olympic Games medal. Tokyo 2020 will be his third Games after London 2012 (11th) and Rio 2016 (7th) but everything has changed for Luis this time around, first and foremost his mindset.

"I feel less pressure than before... I competed at the Games twice already and I realised that it's a race like the other ones. We swim, we pedal and we run against the same guys," the French athlete said in an exclusive interview with Tokyo 2020.

His training has also fundamentally changed.

Since 2013, Luis was training in the northeastern French city of Reims surrounded by a team of experts in swimming, cycling and running.

But in 2018, after almost quitting triathlon in pursuit of new adventures, he left everything to join the Joel Filiol training group in the United States, where some of the best triathletes in the world train including three-time world champion Mario Mola from Spain. Since then, Luis has won two world champion titles in single events, including in Hamburg, Germany last September.

Speaking with Tokyo 2020, Luis talks about his move to the US and explains how his approach has helped him evolve to become a more mature athlete who's now aiming for Olympic glory.

The world No.1 is currently the favourite for the men's individual triathlon title in Tokyo, along with his rival, two-time Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee from Great Britain. Luis explains how Brownlee's return to peak form can benefit him.

Tokyo 2020: Six weeks before securing your 2020 world champion title in Hamburg, you didn't even know that the event was going to happen. How did you cope with this tricky situation?

Vincent Luis: When we got out of the lockdown, I put intensity back in my training. I thought that if competitions were going to happen, it would be from September to November. My plan was to be strong for that period. I headed to Font-Romeu in France to join some of my training partners at the end of August, worked hard with altitude and that's where we were notified that Hamburg was going to be the World Championship, six weeks before the competition.

By the way, could you tell us more about this new training group?

I left Reims in June 2018 to join the Joel Filiol group. Everything was going well in Reims but I felt I was not moving forward and I needed something new to give me a boost. Either I leave or I quit [triathlon].

I took some time off in Spring 2018 and I asked myself: "I'm 30, what else can I do that I have not done yet? What do I want to do?" I'm not married, I don't have kids, so I had to try and get out of the comfort of my training group to join international athletes just to shake things up.

So you thought about quitting triathlon?

Back in that time, I was not having fun in training anymore and I'd lost the motivation to work hard and didn't care. When you are fed up with something, you only see the flaws and you get irritable with training partners eventhough there aren't any issues. The real problem was the routine, which was imposed too much.

I knew that I still haven't reach my limits and I knew I could improve more. I just needed a new workflow. I needed to take risks.

Vincent Luis: Training with the best gives you great peace of mind

Two-time triathlon world champion Vincent Luis joined the American training group of Joel Filliol in 2018. The French triathlete explains to Tokyo 2020 how, since then, everything has changed.

What was the particular difference in your life in Reims?

I think the biggest change is that I'm now training with triathletes. Before, I was training with athletes specialised in their respective sport. Overall, I'm training along with the best triathletes in the world, such as Mario Mola, a three-time world champion. It's really reassuring to know that those guys are doing the same things as you do. They don't go very fast and suffer in training as much as you do. That gives some sort of peace of mind for me.

Now with the help of social media, we get updates on everything or anything really. So to have those guys around and to see their recovery running at 4:30 min/km, and finding out that it's the same as me and I don't have to try to run faster because I’ve heard [in social media] that someone else was doing it. That's something concrete. That's real. And I know what it is.

You are training with your opponents. Isn't it a bit odd?

Our coach is really good at managing people. He rejects a lot of triathletes who want to join his group. The key is that we are running together to go faster in every session, we are here to motivate ourselves to wake up every morning and train. We are not like: "I'm feeling good today, I'm gonna show them that I'm strong". Everyone has a good understanding of this. No one has a big head [in this team].

Tokyo 2020 triathlon is forecasted to happen under heat and humidity - does that impact your training?

For me, heat and humidity is 1 per cent of the performance. We must not forget about the remaining 99 per cent. Some are focusing on the conditions but we are focussing about performances.

To mimick those conditions, we have a thermal room that produces humidity and we work with that. We just need to get into that six or eight weeks before the Games. But If we spend too much time adapting to the heat, we forget about the aerobic base and other factors as we can't do everything. We can't train for a long time and hard under the heat, the body doesn't support it. We need to know which 'horse to bet on' [to increase our odds of winning] and I'm gonna bet on 99 per cent of performance and 1 per cent on heat.

Two-time triathlon world champion Vincent Luis talks about two-time Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee

French triathlete Vincent Luis, who is himself a two-time world champion, recently raced against Alistair Brownlee, Britain's two-time Olympic champion, who is back competing again. In this video, he talks about how it felt to race against his rival and his thoughts about Tokyo 2020.

You'll head for Tokyo 2020 with the stature of favourite, as opposed to Rio 2016.

Favourite, yes, but I don't have this pressure [thinking] that this race will change my life. If my career stops tomorrow, that is cool. I've won two World Championships, World Series, World Cups…an Olympic medal is missing but I'm already very happy with what I've done. In 2016, I had nothing. This Olympic race could have changed my life. Now, it can improve it but it won't change it. I already have everything that I had been dreaming since I was a kid.

Also, I may sanctify the Games a little less than before. Having competed at the Games twice already and I realised that it's a race like any other. We swim, we cycle and we run against the same guys.

Alistair Brownlee is back in the business. Do you think he will be in Tokyo and your number 1 rival?

I think Alistair will be there, it’s almost certain. From what he has shown, he came back very strong. And the British Federation knows that when he is competing together with his brother they work well. There’s a big chance that they’ll select him. It’s actually good for me as Alistair is a man who plays my game. He’s going to swim ahead and ride ahead, so it’s good for me. Alistair will always try to fight for a medal rather than play it tactically and get passed. So for me, his comeback is perfect. From what I saw, yes [he will be one of the favourites]! if he stays in a good shape. But there is still one winter to go through. And winter for Alistair could be catastrophic, injury-wise. We’ll see but with the condition he is in now, I think we have to consider him as a favourite. It’s crystal clear.

How is your tactic going to be like in Tokyo?

It's going to be quite simple. I'll try to get in front [relay] without doing more effort than others, and try to run fast.

And what about after Tokyo 2020?

I'd like to go in Paris 2024. It would be a shame not to try, at least. And there will be only three years before Paris 2024! Performing in Paris would be awesome. And then, why not try going for longer distances.