I first did XTERRA France in 2012, I got lapped by Nico Lebrun and chicked by Helena Karaskova . Since then I’ve been wanting to do well at the biggest race in Europe, if not the world!
I’ve been swimming pretty well this year, so took the opportunity to sit in the main group and relax. It took some guts to be happy swimming with guys I can normally put 60secs into, but given it was such a long day out I hoped it would pay off later.
Out of transition and my left shoe bounced off my pedal and into a ditch, I lost the wheels of Carloni and Ruzafa but in hindsight it meant I rode the first climb at my own pace, rather than chasing more capable wheels. Around halfway up I caught fellow Brit Stephen Bayliss. Given he’d smashed me at the Lanza stage race in Jan, I figured I was going pretty well. I caught and dropped Peter Lehmann too and held Rui Dolores off for longer than normal! I told myself not to get too excited, but to keep pushing, electing a strategy to push hard on the technical sections, take a few risks on the downhill, and cruise the flat fire roads for some recovery. Sure enough I caught up a few more athletes and moved into 8th. I stayed in 8th for pretty much the whole of the second lap, overtaking Cedric Fleruton after he crashed just before being caught by Xavier Dafflon at the start of a descent. I was actually able to ride with Xavier on the descent and in some sections get on the brakes! I’ve worked hard to get my skills and bravery back to a high level after crashing in Italy last year and it’s finally paying off. As soon as we hit some tarmac, Xavier pumped out some watts I could only dream about and gapped me coming into T2.
Onto the run. I’ve struggled a bit recently with running off the bike. I’m not a teenager anymore, my back aches and my hips are tight which doesn’t exactly help with fast running… I was also feeling a tinge of cramp in my left hamstring . Fortunately for me there was a BIG aid-station just 100m out of transition, so I slowed down drank a lot and necked two gels in the hope that they contained something to get me through the next 9.9km. On the first climb I got caught by Felix Forissier (yes there is another fast Forissier!) and Cedric (who now had blood pouring from his head!), Both of them flew past me. Both are incredible runners, so I made a deal with myself to keep them in sight for the next 10mins and that would buy me enough time to take it steadier on the second lap. Jens Nilsen came past at the end of the lap, before I heard a shout of 2mins to the next athlete. From there I just paced myself as best as I could, actually running faster on the second lap than the first to bring it home 11th. I’d have loved a top ten, but given my pre race goal, was a lofty top 15 with a good day I’m chuffed to have bettered that considerably. I’ll wrap this up with my 5 biggest tips for anyone racing XTERRA France….
Treat the swim as a warm up; it’s a super long hard day. Your efforts in the swim have a tiny impact on your race result at the end. Relax, enjoy it, stay out of trouble and save your energy for the bike and the run.
Ride the first climb as steady as possible; If you’re fresh and you feel good it’s easy to overcook the first climb in the heat of the moment. Ride one gear easier than you think you can. You’ll thank me the second time up!
Don’t speed up, don’t slow down; relax on the fireroads, eat and drink and take a breather, but do everything other than pedaling hard to go fast. Tuck up, get aero, stay off the brakes, take good lines and carry speed.
Socks; the run is uneven under foot almost everywhere. A fresh pair of socks in T2 will save you from blisters and bruises.
Enjoy the finish line; but not too much! The maze of ramps and bridges at the finish line mean you can’t see behind you, keep running hard all the way to the end, then celebrate!