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Cruising in Cannes

Cruising in Cannes

 

Very silly way to start a blog.

Not only does it sound pompous but whatever I did in Cannes, it certainly wasn’t cruising. Then again, “cruising” is better than “crazy” or “cash” or “chuffed”, all of which definitely describe the weekend but aren’t really worthy of a race report title.

 

I didn’t even manage to cruise there in the first place. Easter weekend is not the time to be attempting a road trip to the South of France, yet like half my Western counterparts I loaded my car with unnecessary junk including the kitchen sink, filled the oversized tank and hit the motorway on Thursday evening. I managed to keep my foot on the gas as far as Geneva, then bumbled around country lanes for the best part of four hours trying to avoid traffic jams on the way to Lyon. It was to set the theme for most of the weekend.

 

Overloading the suspensions

 

I picked up my brand new race wheels from Asterion, crashed in a roadside hotel in Valence for the night before joining the queue for the Côte d’Azur once more.

At least it’s not called the Autoroute du Soleil for nothing. Windows were wound down, music was cranked up and shoes were kicked off. It meant that I got to Cannes in a relatively good mood despite the delays and erratic driving. It has to be said that road manners along the Southern French coast leave quite a lot to be desired – horns and fingers are used in equal proportion to assert one’s presence and more importantly get to destination without being driven off the road, usually by a 2002 Renault Clio blasting Sofiane (Spotify that at your own risk).

 

Setting up my old bike with new wheels!

 

My post-drive ride continued along the same lines – the ultimate lesson in bike handling with a middle finger pointed towards the sky. I managed twenty kilometres in a little over an hour, slaloming in and out of the cars trying to make their way from Cannes to Monaco. Yet despite the potholes and traffic, I couldn’t ignore my growing excitement for the race I was about to take on. I was excited to be back on last year’s bike with a set of lightweight wheels to boost it (my AsiaPac trip at least served to demonstrate that I can’t ride a TT machine to save my life), and I couldn’t wait for the hills. It was possibly the first time in about seven months I’d felt a real desire to race building inside me; it was both scary and exhilarating, but I had a couple of days to get through before I could let loose.

 

Race briefing is always part of the build up and this one was hilarious. The pro field assembled in one of the salons of the Majestic Hotel along the Croisette, sipping complimentary coffee from the Nespresso machine in the corner and waiting for someone to step up to the mike. Now the French aren’t known for their love of the English language, or proficiency when it comes to speaking it. We got a brief welcome in French before a Powerpoint slideshow (in English) was projected onto the screen in front of us. Silence descended upon the room as we started reading. In fact it was so silent that as slide two rolled over, one of the guys at the front jumped up and flicked a couple of switches on the panel in the corner. Lost Frequencies blasted out and half the athletes doubled up – some dancing, some laughing. Yeah, we were with you! We kept reading, heads nodding to the beat; priceless. Until we got to the bike course map and were told not all the roads would be closed to traffic – heads stopped nodding PDQ and started shaking instead. Were they actually trying to kill us? We would find out the next day.

 

Getting into the groove at the race briefing – photo © Ingo Kutsche

 

Someone making sure I was relaxed and laughing before the start
photo © Mario Vanacker

 

Laughing or not my heart was pounding as I lined up on the red carpet facing the sea, trying to ignore the 1500 amateurs pushing and shoving behind me. I forget how lucky the pros are to have separate starts at most races until we get thrown into the proverbial washing machine and have to fight our way through the mess everyone else usually has to deal with. Horns and fingers weren’t going to work this time round – I learned to use my fists and feet in the space of ten seconds. It still wasn’t enough to get me some clear water; lost in a sea of heaving neoprene I saw the first buoy looming above me waaaaay before it was supposed to. Getting round it on the left as required was a physical impossibility. I went under it, wondered briefly if I would be disqualified and dived straight back into the brawl.

There’s a pretty good pic of me running across the beach for lap 2 with a hand lifted to my head, making sure my lucky earring was still attached to my ear. It was. No blood either.

 

Earring still there! – photo © Mario Vanacker

 

I couldn’t wait to get on my bike. T1 came and went in a flurry of elbows, discarded wetsuits and flapping transition bags and I hopped onto my bike with half a dozen others.

I held back on the first 10km of flat coastroad, watching as the green Cannondale of Michelle Vesterby whizzed past. I knew my roadbike would be lighter and easier to handle the technical sections ahead and tried to stay patient. Making the most of the twists and turns through the village at the foot of the hill, I took the inside of the bend leading onto the ramp and never looked back; my new wheels spun smoothly as I found a rhythm and realised I was having a ball!

 

Trying to keep things together at the start of the bike course – photo © Mario Vanacker

 

Oh how I had missed the feeling, the focus! There was just my bike, my (heaving) breath – the road, the race.

 

Doing what I love best: cycling and down hills – photo © Trimax Activ’Images

 

I love climbing, I love descending even more…  and that extra concentration get during a race means you can go that much faster! I left some much bigger boys standing as I leaned in and out of the bends, pulling alongside my lead motorbike after one of the descents to laugh and shout out “that was fun!!” His grin must have reflected mine.

 

It wasn’t all flying descents though and after my Taupo escapade I made sure I kept munching away as I pedalled. I could feel the acid in my legs building and with all the climbing the distance wasn’t exactly ticking away quickly.

 

Too quick, you idiot. You’ve only done 30K. You’re going to blow big time.

 

But I didn’t. After the second big climb we were directed back onto open roads and my mind was taken off my legs as I was reunited with the joys of French driving. I can’t say I’d missed it. I caught a couple of draughts from vehicles as we headed down hills at 70+ km/h, overtaking them as we hit villages and sleeping policemen, dodging others coming out of side roads and generally ignoring most traffic rules. The volunteers at the intersections were doing their best to manage the whole circus but they were very clearly overloaded.

I followed the lead motorbike and pedalled up the white line the middle of the busy road to the left of a queue of cars, mentally shaking my head at the craziness of it all. How in hell were the 1500 other guys behind me going to get through this mess?

I was almost at the top of a little rise and preparing to negotiate the next roundabout when my brain suddenly screeched at me.

Water!! My eyes landed on the aid station positioned on the roadside. I wasn’t going to get home without filling up… Friday’s slalom training paid off as I hit the brakes, dived between a bumper and a (moving) bonnet and grabbed a bidon out of a brave volunteer’s hand. Jeeezus.

 

The last 20km were no better.

I overtook left and right, wherever I could really. Rode up queues of cars or tried to stay close to the verge as they zoomed past me. I got a couple of earfuls of Sofiane.

I screamed at a woman in a dress and heels stepping off a curb into my path with true French insouciance. It took three shouts. The look she gave me as she finally stopped could have killed.

I rode down the middle of a two-lane highway with heavy moving traffic all around me.

I switched lanes, used pedestrian crossings and almost bunny-hopped a curb negotiating several roundabouts.

 

I didn’t produce the finger, but I came close.

 

My motorbike man slowed alongside me as we finally came out of the worst of it. Gone was the enjoyment of the descent I’d seen earlier. The look on his face was almost one of shock. You OK? he asked. They’re off their rocker, I replied. He nodded in agreement and pulled ahead again.

 

When I only had a TV motorbike to contend with – photo © Mario Vanacker

 

I won’t say any more about the traffic, I think the picture is pretty clear. I loved the bike course, the views and the terrain are absolutely stunning and I also appreciate that is isn’t possible to close all roads in an area like the Côte d’Azur, particularly during public holidays. Yet it is the responsibility of the organiser to offer a safe race to all participants and if I, as lead woman with a motorbike escort, just about died several times (possible slight exaggeration, but I do want to make a point), then there is a big issue. I sincerely hope there weren’t any major accidents that day, and that no triathlete or driver went home with any lasting psychological trauma. Security aside, triathlon needs more honest, testing bike courses like the one we were served in Cannes!

 

I ran the first lap of the 16K course looking over my shoulder. As I went through for the second, the commentator shouted into his mike that I was over five minutes clear after the bike. He sounded beside himself, I wasn’t quite so overjoyed: I’d clearly left my legs back in T2 – or possibly on the last bitch of a hill.

 

Sweat-encrusted and feeling the pain – photo © Trimax Activ’Images

 

I tried to do the math as my bladder reminded me it had been filled with over three litres of fluids since 7.30am. How much quicker per kilometre do my opponents have to run to catch me over 12K…? How many people will notice if I pee now?

I did my best to maintain the pressure on the legs as the one in my stomach grew. Just as well the organisers had only planned one aid station on the 4km-loop (!) or I would have been even more uncomfortable.

 

Hurting – photo © Mouv-up.com

 

Guilhem was standing on the roadside near the end of lap 2. Splits?? I shouted. How far back are they? He caught up with me a few minutes later as I came round past the finish chute. Nine minutes! WTF??

I could feel my quads, I could feel my calves, I could feel the water sloshing around inside me. I couldn’t feel my feet. They had been getting steadily number since I’d gotten off the bike and were now stumps of pins and needles on the end of each leg. Knowing I had time, I stopped to loosen my laces; realised they were already as loose as loose could be; started off again. It felt like I was running on tennis balls stuck to the outside of each foot. 8K left to go… If I kept putting one fizzy stump in front of the other and didn’t walk, they weren’t going to catch me.

 

Must have been the last lap

 

I slowed a little (a lot). Enjoyed the antics of the two half-naked, clearly non-French lunatics shouting encouragement to all participants at one end of the course. Appreciated the shouts and cheers of the more decently-clad others lining the roadside. Gritted my teeth and set off on the fourth and final lap. High-fived the two clowns, smiled at the “hop Schwiiiz” team, guzzled a last cup of coke and finally ran down the finish chute with my arms outstretched to catch the most of the confetti raining down on me.

 

Confetti shower – photo © Ingo Kutsche

 

It’s difficult to describe winning at the best of times and quite honestly I don’t really want to try. I think my smile says more than a lot of words could.

 

I didn’t cruise in Cannes.

I fought in the water;

I ground, I spun, I flew and I dodged on the bike;

I struggled on the run.

 

But I raced. And that was the biggest satisfaction of all.

 

Congrats to all the other ladies out there, particularly Charlotte Morel (2nd) and Johanna Daumas Carrier (3rd) – photo © Ingo Kutsche
xxx
Emma

 

emmabilham.

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