Tour de France 2013
Three-time Olympic medallist Jared Tallent is among the world’s very best race walkers, and he’s currently preparing for this month’s Tour de France style event held in Suzhou, China. SPIKES finds out more.
Imagine a peloton of cyclists riding for four days, over four stages in Eastern China. Similar to the Tour De France, only shorter… and not in France. Got it? Good. Now imagine there were no bikes and instead of cycling the competitors were race walking. Well that’s exactly what you’ll see this month in Suzhou, China at the Taihu Race Walking Rally.
Australia’s Jared Tallent, 29, who won a 50km bronze medal at the Moscow 2013 World Championships, is set to compete in a four-man team of Commonwealth walkers, with countrymen Chris Erickson and Dane Bird-Smith, and Canadian Inaki Gomez (the eighth place 20km finisher in Moscow).
Tallent only heard about the event at the beginning of October, but he’s clearly up for the challenge.
“It’s a great idea. It is going to be very hard, and it is going to be testing,” he says. “The skill will be knowing how hard to push on the first couple of days, to leave something for that third and fourth day.”
Stage one is a 20km race on a point-to-point course, with stages two and three raced around a 3km circuit of 15km. The fourth and final stage is a point-to-point 15km course, and the overall winners will be determined by the fastest times across all 65km.
The prize money is pretty decent, too. A cool $20,000 (USD) will be awarded to the winning team of four walkers, with $10,000 for the fastest individual and $1,000 for a stage win.
Tallent is bracing himself for a totally new experience in Suzhou, which is near to Shanghai on the east coast of China.
“The point-to-point course, used on the first and the last stages, is very different for us. Normally we would race on a 2km circuit. I’m not sure how the judges are going to follow the race. On a small circuit it is much easier to follow, but they might have to follow the action on mopeds…”
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“I’m definitely going to do ice baths every day, but I’ll have no physio or massage therapist with me. Nutrition-wise, I’ll make sure I take on board lots of protein as the event moves towards the fourth day.”
A seasoned elite competitor, Tallent reckons that the Taihu Race Walking Rally will develop similar competitive nuances to tour cycling.
“Athletes who can ‘back it up well’ [with good stamina and good recovery] will be well suited,” he says. “I guess there will be walkers like the specialist time trialists in cycling, who could be good on one day – and others are more consistent over a number of days.
“I can do hard sessions consistently over a few days, whereas some other guys couldn’t do that.”
There can’t be many places better than China to host a four-day festival of race walking, either.
“Race walking in China has done really well in the last couple of years, and they are working on promoting it a lot more,” says Tallent, who will have to deal with the likes of 2012 world champ Wang Zhen. “The Chinese are going to be very hard to beat.”
And finally, can Tallent see this Tour de France style competition catching on?
“I can’t see them holding a four or five-day race walking event at a world championships or Olympic Games,” says Tallent. “But maybe outside of those events it could be the way to go.”
The Taihu Race Walking Rally takes place in Suzhou, China from the 11-14th November 2013.