Australia’s Cam Wurf is not your average pro triathlete. And sometimes he is not a triathlete at all, but instead a pro cyclist. For 2021 he is employed as an engine for hire by the impressive Ineos Grenadier team. Make no mistake, however, when the leaves on the trees start falling this autumn, and the siren song of Kona comes calling, Wurf will be back in his speed suit, towing the line against the world’s best. Triathlon Magazine Canada caught up with our sport’s most chameleon-like character and fastest cyclist from his home in Andorra.
Triathlon Magazine Canada: Even though Covid-19 seriously disrupted last year’s racing schedule, you still had a pretty amazing year with the birth of your first child. How did that change things for you?
Cameron Wurf: I now get up early everyday! I spend time with him between my sessions and he joins us in the pool three times a week. I’ve been really lucky because I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with him this year. Wyatt’s birth has also really made me more focused when I am training, knowing that I have to make my sessions count, with a new person totally dependent on me. Even before he was born and my wife was pregnant, I used that as an advantage to push through when I was struggling at Kona in 2019.
Why are you in Andorra?
After I quit cycling, I went to work on Wall Street. When I found a job in 2016, the boss told me that I could work in that world when I’m 50, don’t waste the opportunity to be an athlete. Some random events, including a chance invitation to train with Chris Froome in 2017, opened the door to elite sport for me again so I told my boss I’m going back to sport. He completely supported that decision and said a job will always be waiting for me and he and his family have been at all of my Kona races since to support me.
When the decision was taken to move back to Europe for this new challenge in Ironman in 2018, I decided to do things better than last time. A big part of that was find a better “home” environment. I spoke Italian and loved living in Italy, but I was also very lonely there. I met my future wife in Aspen, so Andorrà was a town that ticked a lot of boxes for both of us, Fallon was used to living in a mountain town and I needed a great training environment. Here I’m inspired to be surrounded by some of the very best athletes on the planet, no chance of getting complacent. That’s how we ended up in Andorrà, then of course, through that Ironman journey, I’ve ended up back in the world tour.
You are known primarily as a long-course triathlete but before Covid cancelled most of the races year, you tried an ITU race for the first time, how did that go?
I got annihilated, but it was a great experience. I wanted to see if there was a possibility I could go to the Olympics by doing a few more qualification events, but the rest of the races were cancelled, so that idea was put on hold. I finished the race and I didn’t get lapped so I was happy about that. I really loved the energy of it as it reminded me of my rowing days. The starting line vibe was very different than at an Ironman. The start of the swim was a huge wake-up call to remind me of the intensity that I used to operate at.
Last year you went back to pro cycling after being purely a triathlete for about five years, was it a smooth return?
Rejoining the team went smoothly, but the racing itself really kicked me in the butt, especially in the first few races. I wondered for a while what the heck I was doing here, but the team support was solid and I found myself in later races moving up in the pack. When the Vuelta rolled around, I began to feel really comfortable again. The fact that I am back on the team for this year means that I am making a positive contribution here. The long one-day races that I did last year were hard and I think will really help me with my Ironman racing.
What are your goals for 2021?
My main goal is to be available for the team (Ineos Grenadiers) this year. If there are any gaps in the racing calendar I’ll be focusing on my swimming and running. If I wind up doing the Giro, I’ll likely race Ironman in Nice. If I don’t do the Giro, that’ll give me some more time to focus on triathlon and I’ll be able to get a couple of races in. I might be doing Vuelta in the fall and then right after that, I’ll do a short prep to get ready for Kona.
You’ve been an athlete since before social media for triathletes became such a big thing. Do you enjoy that part of being a pro?
The first thing I’d like to say is I hate the lack of genuine-ness in social media. An example is when an athlete changes bike sponsors and proclaims the new bike is the fastest bike, then the athlete switches bikes and does the same thing the next year. I said to my sponsors to not expect any of that from me. If I do go on social media and talk about a product, it’ll be because it is genuine. I’ll guarantee you that that’ll sell better than me doing some obligatory once a month post. My sponsors are all good with that.
Another thing are those YouTube videos where you see an athlete being filmed while training. I don’t like that sort of thing. On those rare times when asked to do that, I found it distracting. When I was with Team Sky in 2017 and now with Ineos Grenadiers, our team management explained to sponsors, there would be none of that. The understanding was that the athletes race, the journalists write stories about the races, and that photographers take pictures of the races. Training sessions are not compromised by becoming photo ops for sponsors.
As a pro triathlete, I don’t get involved in any of that. I’ve noticed many of my peers who do that sort of thing, frequently have had their performances suffer, because doing that is a distraction. I realize it’s hard to make a living as a triathlete, but because of my background as a pro cyclist, I’ve always had a guaranteed salary to live on. I wish other pro triathletes could have the financial security to be firmer with their sponsors in this regard. As I said before, it’s especially unfortunate when athletes change sponsors and have to eat their words. That eats away at their credibility, their brand is diminished. In some cases their performance is diminished if a product that they endorse, and have to use, is inferior. For me, if a wetsuit comes out and it’s proven to be a lot better, I’m going to go ahead and buy it regardless of brand. I’m not stuck using something that is second best. The same philosophy goes for racecourse nutrition. I don’t have a sponsor for that. I’ve always purchased my own, whether it was Powerbars, Clif Blocks or Enervit jellies.
If it didn’t matter one way or the other to your son, Wyatt, would you rather see him become a professional triathlete or a professional cyclist?
Professional surfer! But actually, having been both, maybe being a pro triathlete and just doing Ironman races would be it. It’s a pretty comfortable life, you just have to race a couple of times a year, you are more in control of your schedule. Sure, you have to train hard, but that’s enjoyable. Of course as a pro cyclist, there’s a whole other dynamic, there’s the travel, being part of a team, and celebrating successes, whether it’s yours or another team-mate’s. That’s an incredible feeling as well and it teaches you a lot of things. Rowing also did for me, as well as learning the ability to work with people, especially difficult people, that is a skill that applies to everything in life.