Friend and contributor of Witsup, Jo Coombe, raced at Ironman Nice last year and stamped her ticket to Kona at the finish line. She takes us through the location, the event and the course in great detail.

We also look at the pros lining up on Sunday 24th June, and did you know that we have 9 Australian women racing in Nice, including pro, Suzanne Blackborrow.

 

Ironman Nice… And nice it is!

Totally spectacular are the two words I would use to describe the bike course at Ironman France. But first for some other stuff…

 

The Location and vibe

Ironman France is based in the Mediterranean playground that is the Cote d’Azur. It is located in the S.E. of France, close to the Italian border (plenty of pasta and gelati), and 30 minutes by bus from Monaco. The sea is warm, flat and clear, and 20 km north of the town, the hills of the Gorges de Verdon begin. The perfect ironman destination.

The transition area is on the pedestrian area of the Promenade des Anglais, which is quite narrow, so in order to fit the 2800 bikes into transition, it has to be 1km long – quite a spectacle! The expo is just across the road in the Jardin Albert, so everything is an easy walk from multiple local hotels. The event is run by Triangle Sports (who also run IM South Africa) and everything about the organisation was outstanding.

In race week there are plenty of athletes wandering around, but this is a major holiday destination too, so they are somewhat diluted compared to somewhere like Taupo or Port Macquarie. This actually makes for a more relaxed atmosphere than is experienced at many other events.

 

The Swim

The swim start is on the painful pebble beach, and the 2800 athletes all line up together. Pros and age groupers start at the same time, and the carnage that ensues is a sight to behold. But, it is incredibly well organised, with self-seeding by time in corrals that go from the middle outwards. As the first lap goes straight out about 800m, this creates a “V” shape, and apart from the first 100m or so, space is not a problem. Female athletes wear pink caps, male wear blue, and I was definitely aware of the male athletes giving me some space (NOT the case in Hawaii!!). The first lap of the swim is a 2.4km triangle, with a tiny run up the beach, then back into the water (over those pebbles) for a second smaller triangle of 1.4km

 

The Bike

The bike is a one loop course and is deemed by many to be the hardest Ironman bike course in the world. It certainly would have to be the most spectacular. The first and last 20km are flat, from the town out to the base of the hills. From there, it is either up, or down, through many small, typically French villages, along sheer cliffs, and through lush meadows on top of the plateau. There are two long sustained climbs, one of about 22km with an average of 2% (similar to Lake Mountain in Victoria) and another 18km climb averaging about 5% (similar to Mt Donna Buang, where we did a lot of our training). All together there is about 2000m of ascent (and descent) during the race. The descents are quite technical at times, but never too steep, so they really favour aggressive, confident riders. Most people (including the pros) ride a road bike with tri bars because of the descent.

Unlike many one loop courses, where crowd support can be scarce, the number of villages on this course makes for excellent crowd support, and almost has a “Tour de France” feel at times. The ratio of female:male athletes was low, so crowd support for females is huge! There was also a lot of camaraderie between female athletes on the course, and because drafting is impossible on a course like this, it was refreshing to see an absence of pack riding.

 

The Run

The run is 4 out-and-back loops along the Promenade des Anglais to the airport. It can be hot on the run, but you get to run through showers and aid stations every 1.7km which means plenty of soaking opprtunities. Despite this, many athletes seemed to struggle with the heat. The turnaround near transition has commentators, cheerleaders and music that you can hear from halfway down the course! Crowd support extends along the whole route, and the female specific support continued on the run. The only negative aspect was the wonderful smells coming from all the cafes along the course!

 

It’s a truly amazing race. Many people avoid it because of its reputation for being so hard, but Ironman isn’t easy, whatever the course, and with good preparation, it is a course that can deliver, both on finish time and certainly on the experience.

 

 

PRO START LIST:

Last year, Italian, Martina Dogana finished second behind Germany’s Silvia Felt, in a time of 9:45:46, and an impressive 3:04:09 marathon, but it looked like the tough bike course was what hurt her campaign the most for the number one spot. However, she won back in 2008 with a faster time of 9:35.

Making a return to Ironman France is 2009 winner, Tine Deckers. In 2009 she was these first Belgian woman to win an Ironman, and she defended her IM France title in 2010 as well. This is her first Ironman race for the year, and has been placing well at 70.3s with a 3rd, 5th and 2nd under her belt so far.

Local, Alexandra Louison has floated around the podium each year since her win back in 2007, finishing 3rd, 5th 3rd again, but then falling to the 9th last year.

Vying for the podium will be Gina Crawford who has had a solid start to her return to racing this year after the birth of her son, Benji. Taking the win at Challenge Wanaka, 5th place at IMNZ (70.3) and IM Melb, plus a 6th at the hotly contested, Ironman Austria 70.3. Kristin Moller is another to look out for with a first at Italy 70.3 and the only pro to run a sub 1:30 on the day.

Keep an eye out for our Aussie in France, Suzanna Blackborrow!

1 ANNE BASSO France
2 Suzanne BLACKBORROW Australia
3 Gina CRAWFORD New Zealand
4 Tine DECKERS Belgium
5 MARTINA DOGANA Italy
6 Tamara KOZULINA Ukraine
7 ALEXANDRA LOUISON France
8 Kristin MOLLER Germany

 

Australians in France:

Suzanne Blackborrow, PRO

Sarah Egan, 35-39

Susie Ellis, 45-49

Karen Heagney, 40-44

Gaye McKean, 55-59

Kirsty Robertson, 30-34

Elizabeth Ronson, 30-34

Kate Saunder, 40-44

Caty Scott, 35-59

 

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