Saturday, July 23, 2011

Paris Triathlon

Only five days out from the premier race of the French triathlon season – the Olympic distance Paris Triathlon, my beloved Cervelo P2 time trial bike was still considered illegal equipment in the draft legal race. Not to mention that faulty spokes on my Easton Circuit wheels meant that I had no wheels to race on either, as yet another spoke randomly broke two weeks earlier, this time on my front wheel.  With two friends from Australia also arriving in days to compete in the race with me, I was cutting it fine to get to the start line.

Thankfully for me, two little cycling angels came to my aide. A very generous gift of handlebars and Ulterga shifters from an Italian angel saw my slick TT bike instantly turn into a road bike. Then the sourcing by a French angel of a super hot pair of Mavic SLR Carbon wheels for me to purchase, together with a last minute postage by my dear mother of my old carbon aero bars from Australia meant that by Thursday, three days before the event, Seymour my Cervelo was ready to concur the Parisian streets.
With new wheels before the removal of my time trial aero bars
Although like every other French triathlon to date, that was merely the beginning of an eventful race story. My Australian triathlon training partner and party pal, Kathryn arrived on Friday. Also coming in on Friday was another triathlon buddy from Queensland, Istvan. Together the terrific trio were going to show the Frenchies how us Aussies rip up a triathlon course – none of this wearing socks business.

Race number collection and bike check in was on Saturday. Cycling the 12 minute trip from my place to the Eiffel Tower we randomly met some of my other Tri Club mates along the way. Surprisingly the registration process was well organised – “39” would be the number that I would be sporting on my race belt the next day, safely secured by three safety pins. As the President of the French Federation Triathlon association later explained at our club’s pre-race briefing that afternoon, the third safety pin was to ensure that if one fails it would still be held in place securely. I have no doubt that it is for the purpose of clearly reading your number in the event of a penalty for some ridiculous French rule I might break, rather than that illusive great race day photo.

Walking my bike into transition, which we learn is 800 metres long, not including a 400 metre run from the river, I’m told by the officials with rulers in hand measuring all aero bars as they came in to ensure that they do not go past the handlebars, that my aero bars weren’t acceptable. “Why on earth not?” Because they have to joined together at the top of the bars, they can’t be two separate bars. One of the officials suggests that I turn my bars in so that they are touching each other on the top. Multi-tool in hand I begin unscrewing the bolts. I turn the bars in, and with all the officials being distracted by a Pommie guy with a full TT set up who is freaking out because he’s being told he can’t race, I discretely slip to my transition area.

Surveying the course, a 1.2km transition was going to mean long T1 and T2 times. The swim was set in two waves, each of 1500 competitors, and the cycle course had six hairpin turns. The run included a 1km hill which had to be done twice on the two lap course. Hmm, this was certainly going to be an interesting race.

Team Aussie pre-race carbo load dinner included my traditional Bolognese sauce, although unfortunately sans kangaroo mince. This, however, was not before a lazy afternoon nibbling on a selection of French cheeses and sipping some champagne.  
A 5:00am wake up on race day, low GI brekkie and a quick Metro train trip saw us in transition at 6:30am when I realised that I had forgotten my towel to help me recognise my transition area. No matter as it turned out, towels are not allowed. Out comes my multi-tool and I’m turn my aero bars back into the straight position. Right, review of all my gear, it’s all in place – check. We then begin our 1.6km walk down to the swim start. Thankfully Kathryn and I had purchased 3 thongs to traverse the sandy and pebbly path, while Istvan with his hardened Queensland feet sprinted off to get himself prime positioning.

Ilegal aero bars still in place before being removed later by officials
At a little before 8:00am I jump into the Seine from a pontoon, hoping that no one is going to jump in on top of me. Kathryn and I swim out closer to the middle of the Seine where the downstream current is meant be strongest. We’d heard some nasty stories about the quality of water and whilst it didn’t seem too bad at the beginning, it most certainly deteriorated the closer we got to the Eiffel Town and all the cruise boats lining the banks. A strong and pungent sulphur smell was at times overwhelming and I couldn’t swim fast enough to get out.

1500 competitots at the swim start

And we're off!
Running about a third of the length of transition, I reach my bike to find that the aero bars are no longer attached, but thrown behind my bike. Yep, the French officials had spotted my ‘illegal’ aero bars in the time I left transition and got out of the water, thus kindly removing them for me. “Right, change of tactics” I thought to myself, “You’ll be riding in the drops”.

I build up speed quickly on my new wheels, and they are a dream to ride. Just after the 20km mark I spot Kathryn ahead. I tuck in behind a couple using them to draft to reach her. I pull out from behind them, and as I’m passing Kathryn, I tell her to tuck in behind me. “Thanks for the tow” she says. “No probs, that’s why I pay the big money for these wheels” I laugh in return.

Fluoro green really isn't my colour
With no distance markers at the end of the ride, I only just manage to get my feet out of my tri shoes and running off my bike all in a matter of 30 metres. Back into the mega long transition, I rack my bike and am grateful that the French officials haven’t confiscated anything else of mine.

I start my run and am waiting for Kathryn to pass me. As I get further along and up an over the hill at Trocadero, I know that something is wrong with Kathryn, she should’ve passed me by now. I later learn that the ‘funky’ smell of the Seine, meant that poor Kathryn had swallowed a mouthful which was now not agreeing with her. Poor thing!

The run seemed to go quickly, during which I noticed very very few woman. This event is most definitely male dominated, as my result of 56th in the woman’s category noted despite a total of 3000 competitors.  All in all, with limited training, with the exception of extensive wine and cheese training sessions, my Paris triathlon was just a minute shy of my personal best time set in Noosa in 2010. Amusingly to continue the fine French training style, there was cheese and bread at the race finish, together with the regular electrolyte drinks to replenish your energy stores. Of course I opted for some champagne in the park a little later for a post-race picnic with my Tri Club buddies.

A clap for me having survived the Seine

As for Istvan, whilst having an awesome Colnago carbon bike to ride thanks to ex-RaboBank cyclist boy, he suffered a flat which was kindly repaired by a random French fellow competitor as he waited on the side of the road for eons and a collision on one of the hair pin turns which slightly damaged the Sram Red rear derailleur, he managed a respectable 2 hours 30 minutes.

Despite the terrible Seine water, confiscation of equipment by officials, bike troubles, tummy upsets, and trying to overt your eyes as you’re passing men in very transparent white triathlon suits (what the hell are you thinking dude?) nothing quite beats racing on the streets of Paris and celebrating afterwards with your great Aussie mates.

One to remember - always!


  1. A blog about athletic pursuits in Paris in July and no mention of Cadel Evans????

  2. Don't fret Andy, the next post should satisfy you.

  3. Parisienne PostcardsJuly 26, 2011 at 10:45 AM

    In the pursuit of accurate reporting, please note that the shit hot Colnago bike has in actual fact a Sram Red rear derailleur and not said Dura Ace.

  4. Great reading thanks Tals and congratulations on the PB. Looks like you are having a blast over there and I do hope you find that perfect coffee (which we all know is in Melbourne)

    Take care

    Ciao Bella