They are the best in the triathlon business and normally Newcastle’s Aaron Royle spends his time chasing their tail.
But now the 27-year-old Olympian has joined training forces with the world-beating Great British brothers Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee as he prepares to return from injury and qualify for next year’s Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
“They are the best in the world and it’s good to be able to test yourself against the best in the world day in and day out,” Royle said.
“You get to see what the best are doing and try to chase them round the training park.”
After being back in Australia for a whirlwind wedding visit over the weekend, Royle now returns to the Leeds Triathlon Centre along with the Brownlee brothers as well as his Welsh girlfriend and fellow Olympian Non Stanford.
It comes a month ahead of his comeback to major racing, the ITU World Triathlon Series (WTS) meet in his English base of Leeds on June 10-11. He finished third at the same event last year behind both Brownlee brothers.
They are the best in the world, and it’s good to be able to test yourself against the best in the world day in and day out.
Royle has been out battling plantar fasciitis, which is basically inflamed tissue across the bottom of the foot, and while the “frustrating” injury didn’t require surgery it has left him sidelined in recovery mode since February.
He wants to regain as much fitness as possible before a key event on July 15-16 in Hamburg, which marks the last Australian trial for Commonwealth Games qualification.
“It will take a little bit to get into great shape, but the fitness is slowly coming back,” Royle said.
“The aim is Commonwealth Games selection in July and I’ve been trying to build for that.
“I want to use the first few WTS races to get back in the groove and back in the swing of things.”
One of three spots on the Australian team was sown up by Jake Birtwhistle on the Gold Coast last month.
The second can be gained by a top 10 finish in Hamburg or being the first of his countryman across the line – similar to his road to the Rio Olympics last year.
The third and final position for April is discretionary.
If successful it would be Royle’s second Commonwealth Games appearance, after debuting in Glasgow in 2014, but competing and showcasing his sport on home soil would be a rare opportunity before a tilt at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“I did one [Commonwealth Games] over in Scotland and the Olympics over in Rio, so like most athletes you would jump at the opportunity to be able to compete on home soil,” he said.
“There aren’t that many times to showcase our sport, the Olympics and Commonwealth Games are them, so to be able to do one in Australia would be pretty cool.
“And it’s pretty good to have that Commonwealth Games goal to keep me hungry and motivated in between the next four years [before Tokyo].”
Royle finished eighth in the men’s race at the Commonwealth Games three years ago and then produced the quickest race split to help Australia claim a bronze medal in the mixed relay alongside Emma Moffatt, Emma Jackson and Ryan Bailie.
He was ninth at his maiden Olympics in August.
Distance differs in competition with the upcoming 750 metre swim, 20 kilometre bike and 5km run at the Commonwealth Games exactly half the Olympic challenge.
“It’s still swim, bike, run so you generally still find the best over the sprint distance are the best over the Olympic distance anyway,” he said.
“It’s a bit of a game changer, but you tend to get fairly similar guys up the front end.”
Royle, who had previously been based out of Spain and Wollongong, said his change in training environments and coaches came after being introduced to Leeds by girlfriend Stanford.
“I’ve spent a bit of time there the last year or so being with Non but it’s been more semi-permanent since the start of this year, which has been nice outside getting through the British winter,” he said.
“There’s a group of coaches that look after us – swim, bike, run, gym – it’s a bit more of a centre.
“There’s a good caliber of athletes there and I’ve been lucky enough to join in and train with them.”
His plantar fasciitis has been an issue, “on and off”, for the past few years but the latest bout occurred three-and-a-half months ago leaving Royle with a large period between major races.
“I’m a bit anxious and a bit nervous, as with any kind of setback, to see whether I can come back,” he said.
“I just want to get out there and give it a crack.”
Before then Royle, more affectionately known as Bugs, had a taste of home.
He climbed Mount Keira with his Newcastle-based parents Ken and Kim while in Wollongong for the nuptials of former housemate David Mainwaring.
Royle reckons it may have been his easiest international venture ever.
“I was only here [in Australia] for four days so I didn’t have much,” he said.
“Not even a suit because, being a groomsman, it was already here. I just had to find an alteration place with a 24-hour turnaround. Plus I had training gear here and life is easier when you don’t have to travel with a bike.
“I might be one of the only people to ever come here from Europe with just carry on. Just a couple of pairs of undies – that’s about it.”
The WTS grand final takes place in Rotterdam in mid-September. Royle then plans to race in Australia later in the year.