A meticulously-prepared word document simply entitled “Jake plan 2019” will orchestrate Jake Birtwhistle’s plan to conquer the world from Tasmania.
Short in word but long in preparation, it outlines the Launceston triathlete’s globe-trotting season as he seeks to improve on last year’s third place in the World Triathlon Series.
Created by Joel Filliol – the Glasgow-based coach he shares with fellow podium finishers Mario Mola, of Spain, and Frenchman Vincent Luis – the schedule takes in everything from competition, training and recovery times to altitudes and visa limitations on Birtwhistle’s passport.
At a conservative estimate, it calculates to about 120,000 kilometres crossing the planet’s major oceans at least 10 times in just seven months.
Such glamorous destinations as Abu Dhabi, Bermuda, Majorca, Arizona and Lausanne may seem a world away from Riverside where the former under-23 world champion went to school and has set up home, but are all mere stopovers on the long haul to Tokyo for next year’s Olympic Games.
Quirks in the WTS program may result in the 24-year-old criss-crossing the Atlantic Ocean as many as four times as he grows increasingly familiar with airport departure lounges.
“Some of the travel’s a bit frustrating,” he said before departing on his global odyssey.
“Every other year the two Canadian races have been back-to-back so you don’t have to travel so far between them but this year we have that plus the Olympic test event in Japan so you keep having to leave Europe and go back again.
“From March to September I'm not in Australia. That’s hard on my family, it’s a long time gone, but they were very happy when I said I was here until March.
“I don’t really think about it but at the Tasmanian high school champs in Devonport a student from Deloraine asked what countries I’d been to and his face just dropped when I started to list them all.”
The schedule is built around the WTS races but also includes an Olympic test event, possible Super League appearances and frequent training camps, often at altitude.
Controversially overlooked for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics when he was Australia’s top-ranked triathlete, Birtwhistle showed his potential with an individual silver and team gold medal at last year’s Commonwealth Games and is in no doubt where all this travel is leading him.
“Tokyo is still the end goal,” said the multiple state and national athletics and cross-country champion whose 2018 achievements saw him named Tasmanian athlete of the year.
“I’ve put Rio behind me,” he said.
“I still think it would have been nice to have that experience of the environment before challenging for a win so it’s not new to me.
“But that’s the good thing about the Commonwealth Games. It’s a similar experience scaled down to a degree.
“For the most part the stars of the sport are from Commonwealth countries so it was a world-class field on the Gold Coast and multi-sport games like that in the lead-up to Tokyo are a big help.
“In 2018 things progressed a lot and my results showed that so I’m excited to build on that and with the Olympics around the corner things are looking promising … but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Listening to Birtwhistle describe his schedule offers a mixture of excitement over new destinations and happy reflections from familiar stamping grounds.
First on his agenda is this weekend's WTS opener in Abu Dhabi which will also host a relay event, along with Nottingham, Hamburg and Edmonton.
“It’s a good one on Yas Island and the bike course is on the Formula One track which is kind of cool,” Birtwhistle said.
“Then I’ll have a training camp in Majorca for six weeks before the next race in Bermuda at the end of April. I have not done that one before but have heard it’s pretty challenging so I’m looking forward to it.
In 2018 things progressed a lot and my results showed that so I’m excited to build on that and with the Olympics around the corner things are looking promising … but there’s still a lot of work to doJake Birtwhistle
“There’s a solid hill on the bike which should be good for me. I like challenging bike courses. A lot are very technical and flat so it’s nice to have a hill thrown in.”
The first of several training camps at the 2130m elevation of Flagstaff in Arizona follows Bermuda.
“It’s not the best place to train. There’s not a heap of variety, especially cycling, but it’s quiet and good for altitude which helps looking at the bigger picture.”
WTS round 3 is in Yokohama in mid-May.
“I was second there last year and with Tokyo on the horizon it’s a key race for us. It’s good practice to get travel and everything right and I like competing in Japan, there are always good crowds and well-organised events.”
With the next races in central England in June, Birtwhistle will have a training camp in Leeds.
“I was sick in England last year having travelled from home and picked something up so I was knocked around a bit for the race. Leeds is a challenge because of the timing but it was nice last year.”
After another altitude training camp in a French ski resort in the Pyrenees (“great roads for cycling and lovely running”), Birtwhistle will head to Montreal.
“I came third there last year and really enjoyed it. It’s a pretty challenging course but a great spot and I love the city.
“That will be dependent on my performances in the other four races. They take your five best results plus the grand final in Lausanne so if I miss any race, it will be Montreal.
“Then it’s straight to Hamburg. That’s probably my favourite circuit, with great atmosphere and I’ve raced well there before. I came second there in 2016 and ’17 plus it’s a sprint race (750m swim, 20km ride, 5km run) which is my preference.”
Returning across the Atlantic and another camp in Flagstaff will be followed by the next WTS leg in Edmonton.
“I’ve raced there quite a lot, it’s a good event and a good course with a bit of a short, steep hill on the bike lap which you do eight times and a lot of the run is uphill.”
Then it’s on to Tokyo (via Flagstaff) for the test event for the following year’s Olympics.
“It’s not WTS but is probably the priority for the year being on the Olympic course. I have not seen it yet and all the races I’ve done in Japan have been in Yokohama so Tokyo is new to me.
“Most countries will use that as an Olympic selection event 12 months out which makes perfect sense.
“Our selection criteria has just been announced and to gain automatic selection for Tokyo you need to be the first Australian in the top three overall in the test event.”
The Swiss city of Lausanne will host the WTS grand final at the end of August.
“I raced in Geneva in 2014 but I’ve never been to Lausanne. Most people are in the same boat because we have not had too many races there. The world champs were there a while back but not many of this generation of triathletes will be super familiar with it.”
With the WTS wrapped up, Birtwhistle may contest the lucrative Super League - which has events in Jersey, Malta, Majorca, Singapore and Bali.
“It’s not great timing but I like that and what they’re doing.
“I did Jersey last year but crashed on the bike and missed Malta and Majorca and you have to be at every event if you want to do well in the series. That might make the decision to come home this year easier.”
Birtwhistle hopes to find time in that busy schedule for a visit from his girlfriend Millie Wyllie and is even contemplating occasional upgrades on some of those flights.
“With all this travelling I’ve got to hope I can win some races early on so I can spend some time up the pointy end of the plane and be comfortable. It is an investment in performance after all.”
And when those 120,000km are finally completed, Birtwhistle can focus on his next goal.
“Then I come home and get ready for an Olympic year.”