Race report – Cannes International Triathlon long distance (LD 2/80/16) – April 13th, 2014

I entered the race lately in February, thinking that it would be a great opportunity to kickstart the season, dust the cobwebs from the wetsuit and prepare for Nice IronMan 2014, as the race was fitting nicely in my schedule : happening at the end of a R&R week, (lightly) tappering for it would not jeopardize my training, and if paced correctly (understand not pedal to metal !), recovery would be limited to its bare minimum. This way it would be as stressful as one mammoth 6h bike ride.

Friday evening, TGV to Cannes :

Going there for 2 days, we left the car for the train, heading to Cannes on Friday evening with the TGV. The major pain in the ass of going to a race by train is the fact that you need to pack your bike in a “bike bag” or “bike case” in order to get it aboard. Hopefully our hotel was just a few hundreds meters from Cannes railstation, and by midnight we we settled in our room.

Saturday, race preparation : 

After a good night of sleep (crazy 8 hours non stop 🙂 ), we went out in the city to take a walk, enjoy the sun, get breakfast, and register for the race, before a long run by the seaside for Catherine (20k), and a short bike ride for me (25k) just to make sure everything was fine on the bike, and get legs turning.

Quick lunch, race bags preparation, and it’s already 3PM and the time to head out to the bike park, to deposit the bike and the bags (run/bike).

One thing I didn’t like about the race, is that you can’t leave your stuff by your bike and that you have to make sure everything is in the bags for the transitions. Anyway, it’s making sense and make for well organised transition and bike park, especially for such a race with large number of people heading into transition area at more or less the same time.

Time now to check water and get some feel for tomorrow race. Luckily, thanks to the sunny weather and the lack of wind, the water temperature is really nice, being around 16 to 17 ° C. Feels really good to swim in cool openwater, even if there are a few jellyfish 🙁 around … By the way, funny how I got the feeling of not swimming correctly during these 15mns, when I will have completely different sensations during the race !

Bike park on Saturday

Bike park on Saturday

Heading back to the hotel, we dropped by a restaurant we sighted on the way to the race event : Da Stefano. Real italian restaurant, 3 blocks from our hotel where we enjoyed the dinner, and even eat a bit too much and not really the right stuff for a race next day 😉 But food was so good, that I decided to trust my training and enjoy some  of the great stuff to be found there. By the way, we had dinner next to a bunch of italian people, all of them with race tags for Sunday. What we didn’t know then, was that they were some of the best italian pro triathlets, all of them starting with the pro the next morning ! We just realised when I entered the bike park on Sunday morning, just to find the same guys with bib number in the first 20th places !

Race day :

9PM, back to the hotel, time to prepare luggages and race stuff for Sunday, and direct to bed ! Found it a bit difficult to sleep so early, but I managed to get some decent rest before being awaken by the alarm at 4AM to get breakfast 🙁

Quick breakfast with Gatosport, mashed apples, and another hour sleep before getting up at 5:30AM, and heading to the bike park, after having left our luggages at the hotel concierge.

After a walk on the Croisette, we arrived in the bike park around 6:45AM. Not so much to do, out of checking the bike and putting in place my 2 bottles on it, as all the stuff for the race (out of the swim) is already in the bags. Time to head to the Port-A-Potties (race stress as usual) and queue for 15mns there, before heading to the beach for the swim warm up, authorised until 7:30AM. No need to swim for half an hour, but I like swimming drills and water-polo crawl for 15mns before racing, to get blood flowing and liver ready for the effort to come.

At 7:45AM, call to join the start area where I will take place with around 700 competitors. As always since last year, I decided to start from the front line, knowing that I will go through some tough moments. As I am not scared by water and being kicked, I found out last year that it was a good way to get a head start on the people havinf the same level performance. Starting front means that for a few hundred meters, best swimmers will go on top of you, but if you manage to survive these mns, you get a decisive advantage on your fellow swimmers, who are still lining up to enter water. It’s also easier to try to catch a free ride by drafting someone slightly faster than yourself.

Swim :

Lined up 5m behind the pros including F. van Lierde (triathlon is one of the few sport, if not the only where you can race with world champion !), all hell breaks loose at 8AM. Running into water, I already get overhelmed by faster guys, and the next mns will be a matter of surviving to people kicking you while trying to drown you. The worst triathlon start experience so far, and I never drank so much seawater in my whole life I guess. Anyway, as planned, after a few mns, the things started to settle down, and I even got open water to swim while heading straight to the first buoy. There, maybe as you guess, things get a bit tougher, but not so much as it did in some past races. From there on, I was able to swim without being really disturbed until the final 100 meters. At this point, I don’t know why, 2 guys came crossing my way, while I was swimming straight to the exit !

Swim exit

Swim exit

Upon exit, I was able to see on my watch that I swam 2400 in around 42mns. Back home, I will see that this is exactly the same speed as last year during the NatureMan race. If I consider that I was swimming at my IM pace, and went out of water in a very good condition, it not so bad. Maybe not faster, but for sure easier !

Bike :

Time to get my bike bag, put on my bike shoes (did not leave them on the bike this time, as they would have spent the night on it), my Giro helmet, pass a summer bike T in order to not get too cold, and I am done, heading to my bike. One hell of a pretty long transition overall (nearly 5mns !) compared to other races I have last year. Due to the length of the run, as well as the bag system.

Time to tackle the bike leg and its 1600 D+ (positive climb) over 80kms ! I took the opportunity to rehearse my nutrition strategy for Nice : No gel or bar during the first 30mns of the ride in order to get rid of all the sea water ingested during the swim, as well a giving blood the time to flow back everywhere, and especially in the gastrointestinal system. In these first 30mns, I can guess that I’ve done a “decent” swim, as I am passed by many überbikers who messed their swim. Around Km20, I am passed by the well know french athlet Stéphane Diagana, who is obviously a good runner, but also a not so bad biker ! Unfortunately, he will not finish the race, because of a calf injury during the run. After a while, the positions are settled, and I am keeping playing cat and mouse with a guy from Nantes, him being a better climber, and me catching up during downhill portions. For sure, I did not loose any place and even gain some while going downhill, as I reached 72Km/h after Chateauneuf sous Grasse, and finish 5th overall on Strava in the last and most dangerous descent 😉

Going donwhill ...

Going donwhill …

Run :

Around 3h after leaving the bike park, I am back, and ready to run. Time to get my run bag and pass my shoes and take 2 gels in my back pockets (that I will not use) and I am gone running the 4 laps of 4kms each on the Croisette (Cannes promenade by sea side).

My only goals for this race were to take pleasure in it, and achieve a 12km/h average on the run. The surprise is that I can pretty easily maintain this average speed, and even a bit higher in order to compensate for the sharp turns and the stop at the aid station. By the way, I didn’t stop so much, only twice to get a drink. The weather was not so hot that I would heavily sweat, I was well hydrated on the bike, and I knew that I would be fine for 16k especially if I manage to run them at 12k/h. It happened to be a good choice as I was able to maintain the plan pace, and even increase it in the last 2 kms. No doubt I would have been able to run one full half-marathon (ie 5 more kms only) at the same pace without any problem 🙂

Done !

Done !

After race :

After a few minutes spent trying to find Catherine, who has been cheering me at every passage 😉  , I dropped by the meal offered to the athletes.  The best after race meal so far, and I don’t think I will see another one like this before next year, if we come again to race here. Judge by yourself : professional catering service with dishes full of vegetables dips, hot pasta with beef, huge choice of desserts, and drinks to go with this !


I indulged myself with everything before going back to Catherine by the seaside, to shower and get my bags (street wear, bike, run).

S. Diagana during race check out

S. Diagana during race check out

With a free afternoon on our hands (as the train was scheduled at 7PM), we dropped our luggage by the hotel before enjoying the sun (hopefully back) in the city (with pints of Guinness and ice cream along the way !)

Conclusion :

  • About the event : A very nice race, well organized, nice weather. Just one comment for me : the aid station on the bike were not prepared enough. Hopefully I decided to start with 2 bottles, as at the first aid station, they were filling the bottles to be distributed with the powder when I arrived 🙁 At the second aid station, I manage to get a bottle, but the guy handing it to me kept the top in his hand ! Anyway I was able to grab water bottle later in order to fill in my remaining bottle.
  • About my result : I came to Cannes to enjoy the race and achieve a good result on the run with a planned 12k/h average speed. Fully reached both goals, I enjoyed all the race legs and especially the swim (so good to swim in the sea with the wetsuit !), and I never felt so strong on the run. Even I did not go out full throttle during the race, I was able to do the same pace I did during the Paris half-marathon, and at a much lower heart rate ! Instead of being tired, the race left me full of energy and boosted both my confidence in my training and my will for the weeks ahead. The A race remains Nice IronMan, but I know now that I might be able to achieve 5h30 for an half IronMan, maybe Aix en Provence in one month from now, or the NatureMan in October … Let’s keep up with the good job 🙂
  • Lessons learned for upcoming Nice IronMan : 
    • You can’t race enough ! Even if it’s tricky to manage the balance between race perfomance and jeopardizing the training, I am convinced of the benefits of racing : confidence, practice of nutrition, race pace rehearsal are only a few of the benefits brought by a race, whatever it is (Sprint, Olympic, long distance)
    • Swimming : Very hard to know the right pace at the beginning of the season and the first open water swim. When I see how I get out of water (not tired, not breathing heavily), I think that yesterday I got the right pace for the IM. The IM training in May will be the opportunity to further assess and practice this pace. By then, I will have put a bunch of 4 to 5k swim under my belt to raise endurance.
    • Bike : Got to check my FTP after a few days of rest, as it seems that it’s now up to 220W, from 200W. I will be able to test the target pace in May on the IM road. From an HR perspective (not human resource !), the highest average of Cannes and upcoming Aix LD will be the absolute maximum for Nice.
    • Based on my result, I am inline with a 12 to 13h race in Nice. So far so good !

PS : I compile an Excel file with the results from the PDF file provided by the organization. You can find it here !

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