L’Aiguillon sur Mer Triathlon

Race Briefing

L’Aiguillon, France, is situated in the bay just above La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast, the drive took us about 2 hours from Saint Jean de Monts.  Our race did not start until 4pm and arriving at 1pm gave us plenty of time to relax.  We enjoyed some down time, picnic style, around the lake with many of our fellow competitors.  

With the temperature rising, jumping into the refreshing lake water seemed like the best thing to do.  Taking the plunge, the immediate taste of salt water surprised me; but of course, one could easily toss a stone into the bay from here.  Feeling like a kid at the park, I swam my warm up.

At the start line I conferred with several officials and competitors as to what route the swim took.  Getting three different answers, I asked again and again looking for some conformity or authority.  I found it when the motor boat did the course just before we started.

Feeling a little too relaxed I ran into the water with the group but within 100 meters pulled into the lead with one other swimmer.  We drag raced side by side to the turn buoy, where I made my move.  I love a strong negative split.  Speeding up I turned right to head for the finish.  Pierre, the other lead swimmer did not follow but some other unlucky swimmer did.  Asking the kayaker which way, it became obvious when he shouted and pointed to another buoy.  Ouch…I had just swam 25m off course and now had to go back.  Now, barely in the top 10, I sprinted to regain some places.  Making up some good time with a hard effort put me back in 2nd not too far off Pierre.

Charging onto the bike I made it a point to take the lead before putting my cycling shoes on.  I wanted to make the first group hard to get into and so pushed the pace.  After 1 kilometer, three riders made the lead pack with another rider looking like he would bridge up.  With Adam, my teammate, in the group race tactics favored us.

 

Having an intense training week did not leave me fresh for this race.  Using this race to continue improving my accelerations played out well at each turn around.  Getting out of the saddle and sprinting at all three helped develop some speed for the next Grand Prix in Paris.

The group stopped working well together seeing our lead grow to a comfortable margin.  Adam and I used this to our advantage.  Attacking after Pierre had done some work (with the other guy not ever doing any), Adam held up not wanting to bridge the other three up to a teammate.  In the last 3 to 4k my gap grew to between 20 and 30 seconds but I maxed out my legs in the effort.  I knew this would be helpful for Adam because this would keep him from having to do any work and force the other two to bridge up.

Having a sizable lead coming into T2, it seemed that I would be running in the lead for a while.  Wrong, Adam came up like a freight train, rumbling in behind me almost immediately.  He sped off to victory at a superior running tempo and I did my best to hold off the other two.  However, Pierre’s swiftness overtook mine.  He actually kept Adam honest to the finish while I finished comfortably behind them.

Thanks Hortense for the photos and support.  Also thanks to Mom & Dad who had to leave right after the race (and long award ceremony) to drive 5 plus hours back to Paris to catch their plane. 

Results 

Tours Triathlon

Tours Triathlon 750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run

July 19th Tours, France 5:50pm, I accepted the situation; being surrounded by hundreds of people all wearing wetsuits and not having one was going to make my swim harder and slower.  So be it.  The water temperature was inviting, the river was clean and I was feeling free and ready for the effort.  The gun snapped as the swimmers took off with maximum effort.  Slow motion ensued as I felt the refreshing water on my hands and back, breathed in deep, and enjoyed the energy within my body.  Staying present and focusing on the movement through the water is a source of joy.  Being in the preverbal ‘zone’ is having ones attention on the moment.  If there is one thing that signifies a worthy race it would be having a calm, quiet and peaceful mind.  Focusing on seemingly everything, while nothing at all, my body thrust through the water.    

To my surprise, my speed was unmatched the opening 200 meters.  The effort was too much to maintain and settling into a comfortably hard pace had me even with some wetsuits to my left.  Tucking in behind one, the exertion to create forward momentum eased while enjoying his draft.   Swimming in 2nd place sans wetsuit is bliss, I focused on the bubbles.

July 8th, Paris 12:40am, The stomach pain was undeniable and constant.  Being exhausted from a bike ride, several hours of travel from Saint Germain D’arce and a track work out was not enough to fall asleep with this unsettled stomach.  With much courage I went and loitered in the lavatory.  A couple hours and much vomiting later the pain subsided.  Weak and fragile from the ordeal with the sun rising, sleep overtook me. 

Feeling better from the ailment the lack of sleep and loss of nutrition drained me completely and I slept the whole next day and night.  My drive to train overcame my feeble circumstance and the next morning I went for a 5000m swim and planned on possibly doing a track work out.  But the swim was too much and too soon and a cold took hold of me.  I had been ignoring the signs and not listening to my body.  Now, I was forced to pay attention.  For one week I listened to my body and let it recover.  On July 16th it was energized enough for action and I did some light training.

July 19th, Tours 5:59pm There was one huge advantage to not wearing a wetsuit; T1.  Maintaining myself at the front of the swim I projected myself a further 30 seconds ahead assuming my transition would leap me forward not having to deal with taking off a wetsuit.  Sure enough, exciting the water I quickly ran past the only guy in front of me.  I put on my helmet and race belt, grabbed my bike and was off.  Enjoying my quick transition and my leap to the front of the race I ran out of transition with no one behind me.  Whistles, shouting, hand gestures.  Oh no!  Before the race I had conversed, in broken French, with a referee concerning the transition flow.  Now, in the race, I realized there had been a lack of communication because I had just gone the wrong way. 

My plan to have the quickest transition sans wetsuit was spoiled.  Instead of having a 20 to 30 second lead, I was now leaving transition with two of my competitors.  The important thing was that I quickly let the mistake go and refocused on the present situation.  The course was tricky with sharp turns, cobble stones, and rough roads on this 5 lap 4k loop.  Heading up a steep incline on cobble stone, jeered the bike and made it difficult to pedal and maneuver.  It seemed an obscene amount of bouncing and I exclaimed, “Ay yi yah!” while one of the riders looked over at me and smirked in agreement.

July 19th Tours 4:00pm French Grand Prix number 3 was under way and Javier Gomez was clearly in the lead after 200 meters.  This was a critical, ‘do or die’ race for Saint Jean de Mont.  After the first two Gran Prix’s we were in 16th and last position.  Each year 2 teams from Division I (15th & 16th) move down to Division II.  Conversely, 2 teams from Division II (1st & 2nd, St. Jean de Monts were Champions of DII last year) move up to DI.  Finishing the swim, all 5 members of the Beauvais team were in the lead pack.  Impressive!  Ninety athletes came streaming out of the water in one continuous line frantic to get on their bikes.  One athlete fell while mounting his bike creating a ripple effect with others trying to avoid the same fate.

Four main packs had formed after one lap of the bike with the elite group of nine including team Beauvais and Gomez, a large pack 30 seconds back including Ethan, Anton, Alfred, and Jullien from our team.  The third pack, another 30 seconds back included Adam.  Like cross-country only the top 3 finishers score and it was looking good for our guys. 

By the last lap the gaps between each pack had grown to just over a minute.  The run promised to be an exciting, close knit, sprint finish for best places between the top 60 racers; A very exciting format for spectators.  Gomez had stamped his authority on the race by the end of the 1st lap on the run with a 20 second gap.  It was exciting to see Ethan charging from the first chase pack in the top 15.

It was very dramatic seeing the top 60 racers finish, sprinting here and there for places.  With very little time separating the top 40, the level of competition is notable.  Saint Jean de Monts placed 9th on the day putting us into 13th overall!

July 19th Tours 6:06pm We set a blistering pace, but only I and the rider that smirked (from Saint Amand) did any of the work, while Guillaume (from Tours) sat on our wheels and enjoyed wind free riding.  Kudos to Guillaume, you would think we were domestiquing for him.  It was our mistake for letting him have it so easy.  On these rough roads with strong winds the draft was crucial for recovering.   I like to keep the pace honest, so Grouhel and I cycled through pulls. 

Midway through our 4th lap I noticed we suddenly had 3 or 4 additional riders sitting in the back sucking our wheels.  Assuming these riders had bridged up to us the pace slackened for a bit and I motioned for some other riders to take a pull… to no avail.  It wasn’t until we started taking our shoes off to enter T2 that these three riders went past us.  Then, I realized that we had lapped these guys and this goes to show you how much of an advantage the draft can have.

T2 was smooth and I was leading the race starting the run.  But there was a runner tucked in behind me and enjoying a lot of hometown support, Guillaume.  I had some support of my own, having team mates, team managers, and my family there to encourage me.  I used all the positive energy and focused on my form.  Quick feet, hips forward, straight posture.  I was happy to feel ok running after a week of illness. 

Guillaume made his move.  He pulled in front and I made a critical mistake.  I focused on his pace and his running.  Suddenly, my running became laborious and he created a gap.  Losing touch with my body while forgetting the moment for only a few seconds cost me.  Regaining composure I kept Guillaume just 40 to 50 meters in front of me.  Running within myself I felt energized again.

With the finish line nearing I was closing in on the leader and kept my pace strong without attacking.  Maybe I could charge him with my blazing finishing kick, wait, I don’t have a blazing finishing kick.  Just that thought was too much of a hesitation and it became apparent the photo finish would have to wait for another race.

RESULTS

Video French Grand Prix #3 Tours

Watching Fabian Cancellara’s TT did not make me faster in the Le Mans Triathlon.

The day before races can be tough when rest is the prescription of the day.  Not so when entertainment is available in abundance.  With the Tour de France opening up in Monaco with a challenging TT I was captivated to French TV all day.  After watching talented rider after rider tear up the course the favorites started taking their shot.  Seeing Fabian Cancellara obliterate the field by 20 seconds was stunning.  I put my hand on the TV while they showed replay after replay of his dominance in hope of absorbing some.  I scrutinize his form for any secrets that I might incorporate.  Yes, this would surely make me faster for tomorrow’s Triathlon in Le Mans.

Knowing little about this race other than the competition would be good with Stephan Bignet, Gregory Bouttier, and Christian Mac Cartney and that it was a river swim, I was excited for the new experience.  The woman got a 10 minute head start and I watched Hortense go off with the front of the pack.  It was several minutes later before they let the men enter the water.  The refs ever present in their authority.  The men packed the entire width of the river a few scores deep while I lined up in front on the left side.  You couldn’t see far down the river because of a quick left turn followed by a right.  The gun went off and I was challenged by Bignet and Allen for the lead.  My speed in the beginning proved to be enough as I took the lead and kept the pace honest the rest of the way.  It was cool to see the crowd running and fast walking along the river bank to keep up and see the swim take shape.  I did my best to make the spectators run. 

It always feels good to be leading a race but there was some unnecessary fatigue.  Concentrating on my form kept me in front but Bignet and Allen were enjoying a comfortable draft.  The three of us had gaped the rest of the field.  That surprised me a little being that the down river swim was more likely to keep everyone close. 

Thinking ‘Cancellara’ I hoped on my bike and took off like the famed Tour de France rider.  Well, OK, maybe if you add another 200 watts to my output.  Especially, considering my legs and lungs did not seem up for the task of speed.  A short ways into the bike leg Bignet took hold of the race.  Five miles later and Bouttier rode by staying on the horizon for a while before pulling out of sight. 

Allen and I rode in third and fourth the rest of the way.  I rode in third the majority of the time and always felt like my effort was too easy or to slow.  However, my body didn’t want to be talked into anymore than it was already putting out.  It’s funny; leading into this race I would have thought my race would be better than the week before in Saint Jean de Mont.  It was not to be, the sun, and travel, and training had enhanced my fatigue.

In the last half of the first lap on the bike I saw Hortnese in front of me.  It revived me to see her and made the suffering less so.  It was good to see her so close to the front of the race, riding in 5th position.

With about 5 kilometers to go I entered a round-about and turned down the wrong street.  Oblivious to my mistake I pedaled on.  Allen followed me.  Then, something didn’t feel right and the road looked unfamiliar.  I heard some shouting, horns, and whistles.  Allen had realized the mistake and was turning around.  Augh!  I turned around and 200 meters ahead I saw Mac Cartney correctly navigate the round-about. 

The mistake had cost me effort and time and put me in 5th position.  Miffed, I charged ahead, caught back up and passed the two riders with less than a kilometer to go. 

Christian was first out of T2 and his pace was too much for me to match.  Allen and I hung around each other a while before I faded.  And faded, and faded, and faded.  The humidity was stifling me and I could barely jog.  It surprised me to be so completely exhausted but I trudged on as best I could. 

Down the finishing chute I let the bad feelings and suffering wash itself away and managed a smile.  The crowds are really something in France.  A race that stared out well and went sour none-the-less rewarding in its experience.

Starting in on several cups of coke, water, OJ…like 10 Hortense was already in the finishing area.  She explained to me how she was DQ’d.  Her race belt had fallen off during the bike, which must be on you at all times for the bike and run.  A ref found it on the side of the road.  Coming into the second lap on the run a ref held up her ‘found’ race belt and gave her a red card.  To be honest, if her second lap was going to be anything like mine was…she was fortunate.  But she was hungry to do the second lap anyway and disappointed.  I had to talk her out of running it, ‘just for fun’.

Results

Photos