By Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi
James Corbett mightn’t be aware of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu but he’ll get the sentiment. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”.
The 20-year-old Cambridge-based Aucklander openly acknowledges he’s a long way from achieving his dream of racing for New Zealand at the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and hopefully two years prior to that at the Victoria Commonwealth Games. He also knows he won’t get any closer if he doesn’t take some big, scary exploratory steps toward triathlon’s mecca.
Cue the resumption of the World Triathlon Championship Series (WTCS) in Cagliari come the early hours of Sunday morning (NZT). While Hayden Wilde, as the series leader, can afford to take the race off and fellow Kiwi Tayler Reid will likely be mixing it with the big names up front in pursuit of more valuable Paris 2024 qualification points, Corbett will find himself in the midst of a maelstrom.
Having raced mostly at Continential Cup level during his first European season, Sunday’s race will be faster than anything he’s ever encountered. It will even be a giant step up from his one and only World Cup start, World Triathlon’s second tier, in Pontevedra, Spain in July where he placed 45th.
Success will simply be finishing but that promises to be no cinch given the short, technical bike circuit prepared for Cagliari’s WTCS debut where lapped riders will be eliminated. It’s a daunting prospect for the Singapore-born racer from Kiwi and Irish stock but he was never going to turn down the opportunity.
“I’m just going to commit to having a really good start,” said Corbett, who is coached by Wilde’s mentor, Craig Kirkwood, on the eve of his departure for the Island of Sardina.
“Hopefully I’ll come out back [of the] front pack, mid pack and then just wheel suck the whole ride and hopefully put together a run I can be proud of. Whatever that places me, it places me but I’ll just enjoy being there.
“When I got the opportunity to race I was a little bit superstitious, like, I don’t know if I’m ready for this. But I feel if I turned it down, I might not ever get the opportunity to do it again. So you’ve got to do it…the opportunity comes and you may as well take it.”
The St Peter’s College product might be fresh faced but he’s quickly become battled scarred. Part of Tri NZ’s Tier 3 Development programme, Corbett’s first European foray included getting COVID in Austria and he admits he probably came back too soon, impacting his performance in Pontevedra.
But it didn’t stop the learning, or the fun.
“Europe as a whole was a highlight, I reckon I was ear to ear smiling the whole time I was there and then training with everyone [at Tri NZ’s Spain training base] in Banyoles was pretty cool. Just racing over there, having one or two races feeling like I belonged in the race was cool. I’ve had a really good year this year and I’m generally really stoked,” Corbett said.
What have been the biggest eye-openers thus far?
“Probably how full gas it actually is,” Corbett continued. “There’s not much time, the whole race and especially the first couple of ones, it’s like you’re just waiting for it to let up a bit so you can re-set into thinking about the run or whatever. But it just never gives you that opportunity.
“The biggest thing I Iearned was just how mentally on top of it you’ve got to stay and you’ve just got to know it’s going to be an hour, two hours of pain. The other one was, how rough it is. You finish 30th and you’re like [only] 20 seconds down off the win.
“The beginning of the swim’s really hard and it becomes you’re not really swimming, you’re fighting other people. It’s just a lot of little things you don’t get in New Zealand because we don’t have the number of people to fill in the gaps.”
After Cagliari, he has next month’s WTCS Grand Finale in Abu Dhabi to look forward to and some pre-Christmas running races back home. Then it will be on to the ‘Suzuki Summer of Tri’ including some Oceania Conti Cup racing and World Cup New Plymouth on March 26, the crown jewel of the domestic season.
After that, it’s back to Europe. With Kirkwood in his corner, Corbett can at least see a pathway to the very top of the sport.
“He seems to know tonnes of little tricks and hints to get into races, he understands how important it is to get [ranking] points which is almost the second bit of triathlon, just getting enough points so you can actually race.
“Having Hayden already gone through and done it all, it’s nice to know that if I just trust the process it might click for me like it did for him.”
The elite men’s race in Cagliari, headlined by the return of Wilde’s great British rival Alex Yee, is live on *Sky Sport 1 (Channel 51) from 1.25am on Sunday. Kiwi Nicole van der Kaay will be looking to bounce back from a tough Super League Triathlon Toulouse elimination when she lines up in the women’s race from 9.14pm on Saturday, also on Sky Sport 1 (Channel 51). Both races are also LIVE on Triathlonlive.tv
*Broadcast times are subject to change. Please check listings.