Wednesday, March 5, 2008

TriFest '08: A New Paradigm

After stomping around for 10 hours, 55 minutes during a 50-mile trail ultra in Southern Arizona last Saturday (remind me to never do that again), I recovered by heading up to Tucson to check out the final day of TriFest, an event that stands to become a key event in multisport, and one that should have you booking a trip to Tucson this time next year.

What's TriFest? If you're like I used to be, you chase around local shops for someone to float you a media badge to Interbike, for a first look at the new goods, as well as a chance to chat up the big names, from athletes to engineers, the movers and shakers in our sport. You'd never find such a collection of cool stuff and cool people together. Until TriFest. I wanted to get them to explain it, so check out my little chat with TriFest event coordinator Oley Sheremeta and conference coordinator Debbie Claggett in the interview clips on the right.

The inaugural TriFest, a four-day event held last week in Tucson is Interbike for triathletes, and you don't need a pass. Just two cans of food, donated to the Tucson Food Bank, and you're in to see 62 vendors and their 2008 product within a 10,000 facility. You'll get to not only see (and test) new '08 gear, but also to talk to the industry players. Manning their booths were guys like Steve Hed and wetsuit queen Karen Sing, creator of the Zoot Sports' Wetzoot.

The four-day event was assembled by Sheremeta and Claggett. It was supported by, the massive online triathlon retailer co-owned by Claggett and her husband, Seton Claggett. But the event was totally independent of the store, meaning anyone could show their wares. And they did.

The beauty of this event? Let me count the ways:

First, there was no race in the periphery of the event. That is, there was no missing seeing cool stuff because you have to stay inside with your legs up for race day. Want your first look at the Specialized Transition or the '08 Guru Crono? The two not only had them, they had them available to test. Guru even had a massive motor home, a massive Crono emblazoned across the side, at the event, running test rides out of it.

Second element: like Interbike, it expanded beyond the expo component by incorporating lecture sessions. And it wasn't with some rinky-dink local. No, it was Mark Allen delivering a keynote. It was Dan Empfield discussing bike fit. It was Cassidy Phillips talking about body biomechanics. Sally Edwards talking about heart rate training. It was Hed, discussing aerodynamics. If you wanted to learn something, Tucson was the place to be.

Hell, Steve Hed even had a first look for us: the new Jet Disc. a carbon cover over a spoked wheel. Hed told me it's capable of being built up stiffer than a flat disc, can be easily trued and will be available at under 1,200 grams in clincher or tubular. I also get a chance to test the Vantage 8 aerobar, the bar I picked as one of my top four products from Interbike last fall in our magazine coverage. Sorry Riccitello... sounds like I took yours, homie. It's also where you can learn some news.. like that T.J. Tollakson, present with Pip Taylor in Tucson representing Tyr, will be riding Specialized bikes this year. (I had a feeling riding that Specialized aero helmet all of last year might lead to something.)

Third: It's Tucson. The fact that Tucson is my hometown notwithstanding, there is no better place to train in the world, full stop. The best trail running anywhere, any kind of riding (from flat straights to Kitt Peak to long grinding rises to Madera Canyon to true mountain ascents like Mount Lemmon), killer masters workouts at Hillenbrand with Jim Stites presiding on the deck, and less traffic than Phoenix. There's a reason Peter Reid, Sheila Taormina and many pro road team have all found Tucson a great training ground. And it's part of the reason Jimmy Riccitello and pro cyclist Gord Fraser call it home. TriFest organized group rides each morning that were nothing less than star-studded. Do you need any other reason to jump on a plane, leave snowy Toronto or grey and cold Philly or rainy Seattle, bring your run shoes and bike and get some sun on your skin?

"You've got the best cycling in North America out your back door here, " said Steve Fleck of Nineteen Wetsuits. "The group ride up Mount Lemmon was unreal; how often do you get to do a ride with Steve Hed, Dan Empfield, pro triathletes like Paulina Allen, Mark Van Akkeren and T.J. Tollakson? It was a great event with great potential." Never mind that the ride was fully supported, by Fluid and Guru Bikes. That's T.J. on the right.

Cassidy Phillips, president of Trigger Point Therapy, concurred. "If we can create an Interbike for triathlon, it's good for the sport."

Sheremeta was thrilled with the debut. "It was a great showing, we couldn't have asked for a better first year," he said. "To get the shapers of the industry, from vendors to athletes to race directors in one place for one event the first year was great."

It worked out nicely that I happened to be in town to catch the first year of something I think is going to be a bigger deal in the coming years. No more need to chase after a pass to the show in Vegas. Just bring a few cans of food on your trip to Tucson.

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