I once said that I would never race IRONMAN Nice because I’m not a good climber on the bike. And that was one of the main reasons that brought me to Nice in 2018.
The past 12 months have been atypical – we moved back to Europe, London for my wife and then I went to Middle East for training. I thought I had somewhat settled well in the UAE and found my mojo after a few months. However, and considering I was also traveling between London and Dubai to see my wife, training was a bit on and off for a few months. But, as I said, I thought I had settled finally properly in the UAE by late 2017 and was ready to give Ironman South Africa early this year a good go.
The trip to South Africa itself was quite eventful – the same old hassle it is to travel with a bike across the globe – but I made it down South in one piece. Fast forwarding to the actual race, I had no legs to match the undulating bike course and was left cruising back to T2. In South Africa I didn’t feel lack of fitness, but specificity of cycling in hills, something that is hard to find in the UAE. I snapped back from the race quite quickly, perks of not having run the full marathon, and decided to do the hardest races I could find. With the plan for 2018 going down the pipe in South Africa, I might as well prepare myself for the upcoming years. With that in mind, IM Nice (and IM Whistler) came into play. I thought about doing IM Lanzarote but it would be too soon, not leaving me enough time to prepare. Also, I have been to Lanzarote and I remember spending more than a week or two there is draining without necessarily making you a better athlete. I feel the same in Kona so it’s probably a mental island effect.
So Nice, France, it was. I traveled to Nice mid-May and was down to 4 weeks of work. At first, I still had to deal with rain but the amount of options there were in Nice to ride and quiet mountain roads, made it so entertaining that even with occasional heavy rain I had a great time. During the first week, I also picked up a (now recurring) achilles inflammation, which left me a bit limited on the preparation, but thankfully it was mellow and after a short treatment, I was back on it. Nevertheless, I was in Nice to improve my bike and the location was serving that purpose to perfection.
Race weekend for IM Nice came by fast and it was Compressport’s 10 year anniversary so we had plenty of events to keep ourselves entertained. I was staying close to transition, so everything went smooth until race morning. Show time. It was a non-wetsuit swim for pros and a wetsuit legal swim for amateurs. Honestly, the water felt cold, to a point where I tried to warm up in the water but could never get any less cold so the race start was preceded by a lot of shivering. Also, I had not brought my skinsuit to Nice and was pretty much the only pro without one. Somehow, that got into my head and I started to worry… right before the start, probably the worse time to overthink anything. Bang, we were off sharp at 6:25am. The run to the water was minimal but the beach in Nice is full of rocks and all our dives looked like mishaps, at least from my point of view. I struggled immediately to find a good rhythm but did find Cameron Wurf’s shoulder and thought it was a good guy to follow. Wrong. Not sure if Cameron had a good swim or the front group was atypically fast, but he got dropped fast and so did I. Can’t blame him, as I also couldn’t catch the draft of the front swimmers once I swam around Cameron. That’s when the lack of skinsuit got into my head, I started to wonder if that was why everyone looked so fast right from the get go. I eventually got caught and past by Albert Moreno and honestly was so disappointed by my poor start along with the skinsuit-mental-block effect that just sat on his feet for the remaining of the swim, with Cameron doing the same behind. To be fair, I don’t think the skinsuit makes that much of a difference. But that’s what I say now, at cold, a few days after. Into T1 we were 3:30 minutes down the main pack, an eternity if you ask me and way too much for what I know I can swim but I was excited to get on the bike so I didn’t even think too much about it. My transition was sloppy to say at best, since I couldn’t open my bag and eventually had to rip it off.
The bike starts with 20km of pretty much flat terrain but with a slight headwind towards the mountain. Having ridden the course a bunch of times, I knew the course well so I also knew that the same headwind would swift mid day and would catch us again as a headwind (again) on the way back to transition. Wurf went out of my sight in a few minutes – while I was pushing +280w, the guy is just a machine – and I was left with myself and my powermeter. After the initial 20km we are presented with the first major climb, which was were I closed the gap to Moreno and we started to ride in sight of each other. So coming from the flat section, we turn left and we begin the sufferfest with a 15% graded climb of about 500 meters, followed by 50km of more mellow climbing (5-7%) and just a short break of a few kms in the middle there. First we go up Vence and then Col d’Ecre. Coach Jesse told me to aim for 250w for the ride. In my head, with the first 70km of ride being flat/uphill, I knew I had to be very careful with power when I felt good as it is so easy to overdo it going uphill, but looking at it now, I should have saved it even more. I didn’t overdo by a lot, but enough to hurt. Watts were going up easily and I was also spiking my power over 290-300w unnecessarily which always hurts you too. My avg power for the first 2h20 of the ride was 278w (292w NP) and if I ever do this race again, I know I need to be a little more conservative since it will play massively on the final stages of the bike. I thought it would be able to just “hold on” or rest on the downhills of the second part of the ride but reality proved to be slightly different.
After the 70km, we have about 40km of rolling hills before we are faced with the second longer climb of the day up to Coursegoulles and towards the back side of Vence. I was caught by Andrej Vistica and Tim Van Houtem right at the top of Col d’Ecre, both with who I was able to follow until pretty much the second longer climb. Right there I was on the larger ring at the front and too light already at the back and when I shifted to the small ring, I guess the bumps of the road made the chain jump too fast and fall. I use semi-synchronized shifting and I thought this couldn’t happen (because the system also changes at the back to keep tension on the chain and avoid jumps) but it did. Anyways, freaking Murphy.. the chain got jammed between crankset and frame and I had to come to a complete stop and quickly lost sight of my fellow racers. It didn’t take long to unjammed the chain but I could not bridge back to Andrej, Tim and Moreno. No worries, I still had the target power in my mind and tried to focus on it. This second longer climb of the course is really only about 7km at 5-6% but boy it hurts. I was already having a hard time going over 260w so decided to aim for 240-250w on the hill. You get to this climb with about 3hours of riding in your legs which is when the bike length really starts on any Ironman and I probably had missed nutrition already. Regarding nutrition, is really the only thing you can control at 100% during race day but with the hills I just lost track of it. Don’t ask me where, I can’t recall which intervals I missed, time flies when you are having fun (?!). ‘Fun’ here is relative.
With the second major climb done, we hit Coursegoulles at km 122 and start the descent. During the descent it’s hard to keep power but I felt confident on the turns, thanks to the recon I had done prior to the race. I passed a few of the stronger swimmers of the day and was cruising down. It is technical on some sections and you must be careful. I kept hearing my wife echo’ing in my head saying to be careful. Most of the descent is done with right turns which is where I still carry the clavicule plate and I really don’t want to slide off the road to that side. Having said that, even tho I knew the descent well, I was, above all, riding very safe. The entire final descent takes about 40 minute and once you are over it, there’s only 20km separating you from T2. These 20km is really where I think I could have done much, much better had I been more conservative on the initial stages. I started to crumble and realized I could not push more than 230w, let alone 250w as planned. I’m sure I lost a few minutes just on those final 20km. I finished the ride spot on 250w avg but with all the matches I burnt along the way, I could probably have done 255 or 260w. Every watt counts!
Looking further back at the bike a little, the bike course of each Ironman is very particular and is a bit like church – many attend, not all understand it. Here it was a case where I didn’t know how to pace it because at some point you are going to overdo and I thought on this course it would be best to overdo slightly the initial 70km. Had I kept it more controlled, I probably would have been able to power thru the final 20km. I also feel like I’ve used a wheelset that was a poor choice for the race. I know some used disc wheels, but I with the option of using a tubular 50mm wheelset vs. the 80mm clinchers that I had on, today I’m sure I would have use the 50mm. Gearing seem appropriated: I used a 52×36 front chainset and 11-25 at the back, which I felt it was spot on for me. I recon you can use a larger big ring for some of the flat/downhill sections as I was spinning off at relative mellow speeds (around 55km/h), but then the gap between the, example, 54 and a 36 is just too great so I would also need a longer cassette at the back. Maybe 53×39 with 11-28 would be my choice next time .
Arriving to T2, I didn’t feel too bad but once I started to run I immediately felt it would be a really long day. I usually like to speed up a little on the first 10-15km and then hold on, but I really had a hard time “speeding” up. Also, this is not how you should pace a marathon but it seems like it works best for me. Just FYI. I struggled to find a good cadence from the beginning and usually you must power thru the low moments and conserve energy on the high moments. On the marathon in Nice, I didn’t have a single ‘high’ moment. I became fluent in 3 languages right then: portuguese, english and profanity. I was left with trying to focus on form, nutrition and trying to remove heat. Looking back at it now, the gels that I missed on the bike (which I only realized at T2 when I saw how many I still had left) and the slight over pacing of the bike was enough to leave me dragging feet during 42km along the Promenade des Anglais. On the bright side, the marathon is pancake flat and the view along the course is fantastic as you ran along the beach on 4 laps of 10km and the crowd really carries you thru those miles. Even if you are suffering. I tried to keep a constant pace without suffering too much, because I knew if I took risks, I was running on the edge of a complete blow out. I ran it at a pace I was absolutely sure I would get to that finish line without being forced to walk. The best way to describe it is to imagine that you really have to go to the bathroom and you are only a few kms away from home, so you try not to do anything that pushes one too many muscle, while squeezing your butt-cheeks! You know, if you make every marathon a life-or-death thing, you would be dead a lot.
I finished 10th overall in 9h06. I can’t say I’m happy with that but I’m pleased with having finished a race I once said I would never do and (honestly) thought I could not finish in one piece a few years back. I absolutely loved the race and every single minute of my time in Nice. My bike has improved, and I believe with a little more rest going into the next races, my run will come around as well. Since I twisted my ankle in Dubai a few months back, my achilles has been on and off with inflammation so it has been hard to get proper run volume, but I’m confident that the 3h01 marathon in Nice can easily be improved with a wise approach to the next races and without much more training. Not that the approach to Ironman Nice wasn’t ‘wise’ per si, but when you go into a 6 week spread with 3 Ironman races in the mix, you can’t go fully rested to the first one! Done that, didn’t work well the last time, so we are going to follow the coach instructions and guidance.
Thank you for reading!