Of the triathletes who descended on Nice for the 2019 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship, few might have known that the vibrant town that welcomed them was once part of the glorious Greek empire, and named after Nike, the revered goddess of victory herself. Apt, indeed!
Nice on the exotic Côte d’Azur was effectively the home of triathlon in the ’80s and ’90s.
Every triathlete who dreamt of racing a global event or competing at the highest level
aspired to toe the line in Nice. South Africans who made the journey north and wore anything with “Nice Triathlon” on it were envied and worshipped.
It was the epicentre of the sport, with the French Riviera and the language of Le Tour de France making it that much more mythical.
The legend that is Mark Allen made his “mark” on the Avenue des Anglais as he regularly dominated the scenic televised long-distance triathlon through the historic villages in the years before Kona became the focus of the sport. Mark’s amazing
10 wins on the steep and scary bike and often hot and draining run courses included some epic duals with the likes of Dave Scott, Simon Lessing and this year’s IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship race director Yves Cordier.
The 2019 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship was hosted in this historic city. Then a flock of Saff as turned themselves inside out to qualify, and experience this piece of history among the greatest pro and amateur athletes on earth. Two Saff as spent a week in triathlon paradise and share their stories with us…
The whole qualifying process was pretty strange. I had been training really hard to get the slot and, come allocation day, I missed it due to the amount of slots in my age
category. There was nothing much I could do about it and returned home to Cape Town disappointed. When I realised I had forgotten my running shoes in the massage tent after the race, I immediately made contact with organisers to try to locate them. They called me back the following day and said they had found the shoes and explained the process for collecting them. Then, to my great surprise, they asked me if I was still interested in getting a slot at the World Champs.
"The biggest year of my life."
At this point I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs with joy. I said yes immediately! It turns out that someone who accepted a slot pulled out for some reason and I was the next available athlete. At this point I knew I didn’t have a lot of time but did everything I could to put in the training.
When I arrived in Nice I was so excited, and couldn’t wait to smell and feel the air. I planned a six-day stay as I wanted to get the most out of my experience. I‘d been to Nice before so I knew a little bit about the city. And boy, what a beautiful city it is – from the scenery and beaches to the weather and vibe. It was very hard to control myself and not get carried away with the night life there prior to racing but, luckily, I have a strong mind.
Leading up to the race I did some runs, cycles and swims. The runs were along the promenade alongside other top contenders – what an incredible feeling.
The city was just vibing with so many athletes. For the cycle, I took a ride out to
Monaco. This was such a fun experience as I got to bike through the car tunnels
and enjoy amazing views over the sea.
While swimming, I felt like I was on holiday, with water temperatures around
23°C every day.
For such a big event, the race briefing was extremely organised; I was rather overwhelmed with excitement.
Afterwards, I headed back to my hotel for the evening to do final preparations for
race day. The friendly staff and volunteers had helped us rack up the day before.
On race day, I woke up and knew this was the day I had to go out and just enjoy myself. At the swim start, it was announced that it would be a non-wetsuit
swim due to the water temps being above regulation. This made me a bit nervous;
I am not a great swimmer and having my wetsuit helps with flotation. When it was
my time to start I ran into the water and swam my heart out. The sea was as flat
as a pancake, and I realised swimming in these conditions was not so bad after all.
In fact I loved it. T1 went much faster than I anticipated. I think it was the gees of the
crowds that got me moving as fast as I did onto the bike course. But I was in for
a rude awakening. For the first time in my triathlon life I was actually nervous. Biking
is my strongest discipline but this was a gruelling, hilly course. With a total gain of
1 367m over a 91km course (with 25km of just climbing), this was by far a toughie
in triathlon! I chose to take my road bike for this race as I knew my TT bike wouldn’t be very beneficial. And I was right – climbing was hard but cruising down I was able to control my bike with ease. The temperature was about 32°C so we had to keep hydrated.
Despite this course being so tough, it was consistently beautiful. I took in everything I saw, and appreciated every single moment – the memories will last forever. T2 was quick. I did a fly launch off my bike then put on my running shoes.
The awesome support near the transition area gave me such a boost as I started
running that I forgot I had just done such a difficult bike course. Running along the promenade and beaches was such a treat and made it a lot easier to endure. My first 5 to 10km was at a good pace but after the 10km mark, it all went downhill as my power cycle caught up with me. I had my family to support me in this race and that was my last motivation to take me to the end. It was hard but I pushed through the suffer fest.
Running the last few kilometres was the highlight of my race.
About 1.5km from the end, the crowd, which included my family, was insanely supportive. I ran with pride and joy waving my South African flag high up in the air as I crossed the finish line. Would I do this again? Oh yes! Would I do another IRONMAN abroad? Yes again!
This was my highlight for 2019.
This year I had the opportunity to compete against some of the best triathletes in the world at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Champs in Nice. There was no question it was
going to be a tough race.
The breathtakingly beautiful, yet challenging bike course lived up to its infamous reputation of challenging climbs and technical descents, and the run course felt extremely long on tired legs in the scorching heat. Despite the sore legs, mental fatigue, and sunburn, competing in the South of France was definitely a bucket-list item and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to experience an overall incredible race.
After having only ever raced one 70.3 event (IRONMAN 70.3 Durban), and having never travelled abroad for racing before, I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect. However, upon arriving in Nice I quickly realised I had made the right decision. I was greeted by a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with the most magnificent views of the French Riviera.
Better yet, everywhere I looked there were triathletes running, cycling and making
new friends – it was like the small town had been turned into one big race village!
Leading up to race day we explored the cobbled streets, enjoying the beautiful
pastel-coloured buildings, eating gelato and swapping race stories with athletes
from around the world. My favourite day had to be two days before the race.
I had made friends with an Australian girl and we decided to ride to Monaco for some sightseeing. With my training partner leading the way, we got very lost and landed up cycling through some awesome underground tunnels.
I still don’t know what tunnels we went through, or whether we were allowed to go through them on bikes (oops!), but it was an amazing experience and I would love to go back and do it again.
"World Champs ticked off my bucket list."
The sightseeing continued throughout race day. The swim took place in the crystal blue, warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea, followed by transition on the beach promenade. The bike leg then headed out and up (and up) into the Alps – the Col de Vence – for some incredible views and picturesque Alpine villages. Although the climbs were extremely challenging, with a summit of 963m and an average gradient of 7%,
reaching the top and then blitzing down the mountain and its hairpin bends was definitely the highlight for me. The run was welcomingly flat and consisted of two laps along one of the most iconic roads in France – the Promenade des Anglais – which was surrounded by cheering crowds and an extremely festive vibe.
From start to finish, there were spectators everywhere! The entire town came out to support triathletes and the excitement was palpable. The nights before the race were filled with dinners and drinks among the hordes of triathletes from around the globe.
I found Nice very inviting and I had a sense that the locals were excited to have us visit and proud to host. The city offers magnificent road cycling routes, sea views, cobbled beaches, bustling markets, vibrant bars and restaurants.
If you haven’t visited Nice already, you should add it to your travel list now.