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A chat with top-triathlete Leanne Fanoy

Wim van den Broek from spoke to Leanne Fanoy after her success at Ironman 70.3 Dubai. If you'd like to read the original article in Dutch here it is:

... otherwise we have an english translation for you!

Leanne: “Triathlon sport in the Middle East is booming.”

Leanne Fanoy is not yet embarking on ultra marathon challenges, but the top triathlete is also not averse to a few kilometers or more. With her 22 years she is one of the youngest athletes in the Ironman circuit. With her performance she proves herself worthy nonetheless. On Friday she was the best age grouper of the 70.3 Ironman in Dubai. Time to get to grips with this born Dutch, but representing the United Arab Emirates. Based on ten questions. Leanne still had an abundance of energy and took plenty of time to speak to us. She talks about her ambitions, her preference for long distance, the relationship with trainer Luc van Lierde, and we learn from Leanne how the triathlon develops enormously in the Middle East.

photo Yvonne Postma

1.Leanne, first of all congratulations with another great victory in your Dubai. Does the home advantage play a role in this? Kristian Blummenfelt, e.g. had to recover from the long journey, you are already there. Know the circumstances and the climate. Tell me something about the competition from last Friday?

"This race was not in the original plan, but I could not miss such an event on home grounds! So after Bahrain 70.3 in December I registered for Dubai. I went back to France and spent a lot of hours on the indoor trainer, cycling for hours on the spot. But in spite of the uncomfortable cold, I became fitter and fitter. Indeed, I had the big advantage that I could do my last training block in Abu Dhabi, as my parents still live here. I had one week to recover from the trip and to get in some training hours, and one week to prepare for the race. I like training in the heat, and would go running during the hottest part of the day. That way I got an idea of what it would be like on race day. I did my cycle training around the new bike circuit on Al Hudayriat Island. A wide, superfast loop of 10km, especially designed for cyclists. Training in the Emirates is getting better - the facilities are in place to train safely and properly. Race day went smoothly and as planned. Mentally everything was right - I was relaxed and looking forward to it. With a rolling start I went into the water and I had enough space to swim at my own pace. In hindsight, I would have liked to show my current swimming level, but unfortunately I didn’t quite make that happen. Luckily I had no idea of that during the race, so I jumped on the bike with a positive mindset. The legs were good! I felt completely in control, I was able to pedal good wattage, and I was moving well on the course. After 2 hours and 17 minutes, I jumped off the bike with a big smile and ready to start the last leg of the race. I was flying for the first 5 kilometers. This was the feeling I was waiting for. Coach Luc was standing at 1.5km and seemed impressed about the race I was running. I was catching up to pros and received some splits from him. I managed to stay focused, and even though I slowed down a bit, I stayed strong and finished with a decent running time of 1h23."

2. When we congratulated you, we noticed your reaction. You said, "Thank you, very happy with my season closing." For most triathletes, the season starts right now. What's up with that?

"Yes that's right, Dubai is a nice season opener for most triathletes, but for me it was a closing. As I said, this was not entirely planned, but because I was still mentally and physically fresh after Bahrain, I was more than happy to continue on training for a few more weeks. I trained very differently this year, with less than half of my previous training hours. I did not feel top fit yet, but I knew I could get more out of myself before the winter break. I wasn’t able to show my current form in Bahrain, so this felt like a new opportunity for a strong result. I'm so glad that it worked out!"

3.We saw you posing in Dubai with your new coach Luc van Lierde. tell me how that contact came about and what you have achieved so far? What did you know about Luc, by the way?

"I met Luc in Kona when I was there for the 2017 World Championships. I knew I needed a new coach who could bring me to the top in the long term. I trained at very high volume and intensity at a young age. That went well, but I also realized that maybe I would not be able to keep it up and build upon it over the years. After our initial chat, it was clear what his approach would be – completely come down in training down to reset, and then slowly build back up. It clicked between us and I took the big jump to take on a whole new approach. That started with a long off season, and a lot of patience with the building of the season. I had to drop my expectations for the year, have patience to be successful in the future, and hold confidence in Luc's long-term plan. The progression we’ve booked in 2018 are very visible on the lactate tests that we do, and fortunately also at the race in Dubai. It feels like a great honor to work with such an experienced and successful athlete / coach."

4. The 70.3 IM Bahrain, 70.3 IM Dubai, World Triathlon Series Abu Dhabi. Increasingly, there are great triathlons in your area. What kind of influence do these games have on triathlon sport in the Middle East?

"The triathlon sport in the Middle East has grown enormously in recent years. These events are great for tourism, and show people the Middle East in a different way than the media often portrays it. But it also has a very positive influence on the local population and the expats. When I started triathlon in 2015 I never could have imagined it to be so popular now, and that the bike tracks in Abu Dhabi and Dubai would be visited daily by hundreds of people. There are now a wide range of training facilities, associations, and events. It brings people together, new teams emerge, and it's getting easier for beginners to enter the triathlon world."

5. You alternate between UAE and NED in big races. Is there a reasoning behind it?

"I represent the UAE whenever I can. Thanks to them, I get the opportunity to pursue my dreams in this sport. The United Arab Emirates support me completely and stand behind me and my ambitions to reach the top. I have grown up in this country and it will always feel like 'home'."

6. Your preference for long distances linked to your still young age, regularly raised question marks. So much so that you even asked once to 'hide away' your qualification for Hawaii. Does it bother you that people criticize that?

"It does not bother me and I understand where it comes from. I trained hard at a young age. Fortunately, my body dealt with it and I recovered quickly. I enjoyed the approach and always wanted to train as much and as hard as possible. I now realize that this works in the short term, but to stay in the sport for a long time I will have to be more cautious. When I started with Luc, I had to accept that I would not compete in a full Ironman for a while. I have plenty of time, but there’s still an itch to complete a full distance!"

7. As a citizen of the world, you spend the summers at Tri-Topia in France. Tell me a bit more about those training camps and what else you do?

"During the last years at school, I used the summer vacations to work as a volunteer at Tri-Topia in France. That evolved step by step, and now I am the owner of the company together with my partner Hugh! We live on a beautifully renovated farm with room for 17 guests. With a 25m swimming pool in the garden and the best cycling and running routes, it is a true triathlon paradise. We organize all-inclusive camps (accommodation, coaching, food ...) but also weeks on a B & B basis. Athletes can use all the facilities including the swimming pool, gym, jacuzzi, rental bicycles. Athletes of all ages and levels are welcome!"

8. Does your work at Tri-Topia make it difficult to do competitions throughout the season?

"Last year was pretty intense due to many changes and of course the takeover of the company. It is hard being available 24/7 for our guests and at the same time train ourselves. For this summer we have made a very good plan in which I can race and deliver camps of the highest quality."

9. At the end of last year, you met with none other than the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates. That must have been a special experience, was it?

"That was indeed quite an experience. Exciting too, because we didn’t really know how that would go. It was a great honor to meet the Crown Prince and to explain to him that I represent his country with pride in the triathlon world. The experience felt a bit unreal too, but the next day I found myself on the front pages of several local newspapers. That made it quite 'real'!"

10.What are your ambitions for the coming years, knowing that you can make big strides with Luc?

"Especially after a race like Dubai, my motivation is extra high. My ambition in sport is to reach the top. But this needs to happen in the long term, so we look at it step by step. In order to get the most out of myself, it has to be done in the right way, and I am very happy that Luc helps me with that."

Thank you Leanne. We do not care much which country you represent. We keep following you and vice versa we also like it if you keep us informed of the ups and downs from your homeland on the Persian Gulf!


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