Ironman 70.3 World Championships 2019- NICE, FRANCE
Unique, Historique, Lengendaire.
What a week, arriving Tuesday in Nice, busy, bustling and warm. As the week went on more and more athletes were arriving, all different nationalities, bike bags and luggage in tow. First things first, time to explore a little and get the bearings, a quick dip in the Med and most importantly find the closest cafes and boulangeries.
A big weekend to come with a split weekend- Women on Saturday, Men Sunday. The obligatory registration, check-in, security checks, wrist bands, ID/passport, triathlon license check, race pack collection, a ‘free’ dinner and race briefing etc. Organised chaos, the French way or a result of the reported 5500 competitors?
Swim- pretty simple, a triangular clockwise course in the Mediterranean Sea keeping all buoys on the right. The water was beautifully clear and a deep blue, warm and surprisingly salty- possibly due to missing the Pacific Ocean or more recently becoming accustomed to swimming in fresh water alpine lakes?
The run- again pretty simple, 2 laps on the Promenade des Anglais, pancake flat, beautiful ocean views, but no shelter, hopefully not baking hot!
The real tester would be the ‘infamous’ bike course! 91.5km, ~1400m of elevation gain including the 9km col de Vence at an average 7%. Then, what goes up must come down. The descent a technical, winding, bumpy and sometimes narrow route including several hairpin turns and some speed humps for good measure. Not to mention the quality of the French country roads!
Bike course recon- Wednesday AM- 75km. Following the promenade and a hundred or so other athletes past the airport and through the traffic for the first 10km. A left turn and the climbing begins with short steep sections then plateauing out in parts, but still gaining elevation making the way up towards Vence. After negotiating the streets and a final right turn out of Vence the main climb begins. The first 1km seems steeper than the 7% average then it seems to continue at a more steady gradient. That’s enough for today, save the legs. Back to traverse the ridge across to le Broc riding the course in reverse which is a gentle incline to the 60km mark. The descent here leads back to the main road at 80km. This descent is continually twisting and turning with no real sharp turns but requires 100% concentration.
Thursday AM- 60km. Ride back up the course in reverse through Carros to le Broc and again descend down figuring the more familiar the better.
Saturday AM- one last spin and a run to shake out the legs, finishing of course with a coffee and a croissant in the perfect spot to watch the pro women's run leg followed by the age group finishers. A great atmosphere around the transition and finish line area with a few thousand spectators cheering them on.
Saturday PM- Bike check in at transition. Deciding to wait til later afternoon as to not be standing around in the hottest part of the day but it seems everyone else had the same idea! The line seems to have no end and eventually 45min later after security checks, bike check-in and bag drop is complete. At this point I decide to go earlier than planned race morning.
Sunday- Race Day- Final pre-race checks and preparations in transition. The excitement and tension is in the air and it seems as though the 3500 men are ready to go. Pro men at 7am. It’s cool, the ocean is flat and the sun is rising. By my start at 8am there's a slight breeze and the sun is just popping up over the mountains.
Swim start- A rolling start within in age-group categories, 10 athletes every 15 seconds. Again organised chaos, although after negotiating the large pebbles of the beach and entering the water it makes the swim quite smooth and flowing with a steady stream of athletes making their way out to sea. The water is so clear and blue in the sunlight but now with a slight chop due to the wind. A beautiful swim course where it was worth taking a moment to enjoy the experience.
Onto the bike the initial part was spent getting settled, negotiating other athletes, traffic cones and barriers. The initial climb became a bit congested with athletes jostling for positions and trying to power over the short steep sections and on the approach to Vence it spread out a little bit more. At the start of the col de Vence the steep initial km was again quite congested but it was time to settle into a rhythm for the next 9km, ticking off the little milestones with the standard signs on all cols indicating the distance left and the average % to come. A lot of the climb was shaded at this time and was actually quite cool which was helpful. It was actually fascinating to see the approach of each athlete be they young or old, differing nationality, TT or road bike, disc wheel, aero or road helmet, grinding or spinning, seated or standing. Evidently everyone has their own style.
Over the top of col de Vence and time to grab another bottle and refuel before the descent. Sugar and caffeine would be helpful to stay alert. This would be another test in itself, more cognitively than physiologically. Most guys were actually quite vigilant and made good decisions. Obviously, some were faster and more confident than others. Gone was the rule stated in the briefing not to cross the centre line, a few hairpins and sharp turns where good lines were needed soon finished that. Hitting a series of speed bumps at 60 km/h will definitely ensure you are awake! Then there was the inevitable crashes. One bloke on the ground being comforted by the aluminium blanket, an ambulance transporting another off the course and a bike wrapped around a guard rail all reminders to play it safe and keep concentrating not only on yourself but what others around you might be doing. Its also worth mentioning another incident which was reported later that one guy crashed and went over the edge 30m down the cliff and was helped by 2 other athletes that waited with him for over an hour until the ambulance was able to assist. These 2 athletes then went on to finish their race together being the last 2 over the finish line. Bravo!
After ‘that’ bike the run would be another huge test for the legs. Initial feelings were good settling into a rhythm before backing of slightly knowing there was a long way to go. 2 laps with the highs of the race atmosphere and crowd support closer to the finish line and the long straight view from the airport back to the finish line making it seem never ending. As it was approaching midday the aid stations were essential in re-fuelling, re-hydrating and staying cool. The wind was up a bit more which helped but again no shade on the promenade. The second lap would be key to a good run and unfortunately this is where the fatigue really set in at about 14km, still 1/3 to go! The last 5km was especially tough with the overbearing thought of just wanting to get to the finish. The saviour as usual in a long course race was coke and ice at the aid stations! The last 1km the crowd was amazing and helped all athletes home.
A huge respect to the male and female pro’s who raced hard on that course and to do what they do is amazing. Also the top age group athletes from all over the world giving their best, it was great to see the competitiveness and respect between athletes.
What a day, like a blockbuster movie it was an epic tale with so many ups and downs and twists and turns- figuratively and literally. A massive weekend in many ways. In my opinion, everything a World Champs should be.
Au revior, Nice. It certainly was Unique, Historique, Lengendaire.