Things don't need to go perfectly to go well.
We arrive at our hotel and enjoyed the first few hours in the lovely air conditioned rooms. We devour brownies, home-made banana/date flapjacks, peanuts, biscuits… I think our glycogen stores are topped up nicely. Mum comes back from a quick trip to the supermarket across the road to get some spectator treats (wine, cheese, bread..) and Hugh and I are sorting our race stuff. I grab my flats from my bag, and then, to my horror I see the sole is separating from the shoe. I’ve only used these ONCE! Immediately I go from a relaxed, happy athlete to a stressed, worried mess. What do I do?! I have another pair of shoes with me but they’re not suitable for racing in. *&””$&$*!!
Mum immediately informs me she’s seen an Intersport just down the road, ‘'Go NOW’'. I complain a bit more and then realize I better stop because the shop might close soon. Indeed, Ouvert jusqu’a 19:00. Quick!
We hurry over to the store and are disappointed by their stock. But there, in the far right corner, I see a model I’m familiar with. And YES! They have my size AND they’re on sale. A quick test run around the shop and to the check-out we go. I end up with the Nike Legend React with 30% off. Problem solved. *please don’t buy new shoes for race day unless it’s an emergency.
6:00 – Race morning
A pretty decent sleep with the luxury of a night with air-conditioning and a 6am wake up call – not so bad for race morning! We wake up to fog and relatively low temperatures – another good start to the day. We eat our overnight oats and drink our cafetière coffee with an electrolyte bottle on the side.
Everything is pretty relaxed. I haven’t come to any stressful realizations of having forgotten anything so that was a relief. I prepare my HIDDIT energy drinks and tape some Precision Hydration salt capsules to my bike. I prefer washing away anything sweet with just plain water, so choose to take energy in the Ventum hydration system, water in my Torpedo front hydration bottle, and salt caps taped to my handlebars.
Arriving at the race venue, there don’t seem to many people around. We wonder whether they’ve shifted the race back to the original start time of 9:30, but slowly things seem to liven up and transition fills with a mixture of bikes. Road and TT frames; the latest models, the French vintage, and everything in between. The race briefing is of course, in fast spoken French. Luckily I can now understand about 80% of their language. The most important announcement is the Australian exit – come out of the water, through the ‘drapeaux’ (flags), ‘a gauche, a gauche’ (left, left), and back ‘dans l’eau’. Bike course – deux boucles, run course – quatre boucles. Drafting interdit. Dossard au velo et a course a pied. Okay, got it.
We get a quick warm up. People start swimming quite far to the right and I tell Hugh I want to go back to land, they’re going too far. Then we realize we actually start 100m down to the right, so we get a move on and swim along. Maybe I didn’t pick up everything after all.
I line up with the other women, just on the right of the men with a little rope separating us. Suddenly the men bolt into the direction of the water – the women look at each other, I think we’ve started?!
We quickly get swum over by the men and the first buoy is chaos. People stopping abruptly, people swimming over each other, clashing arms… you all know the madness of buoy number 1. I lose quite a bit of time but stay calm and finally find myself back in clear waters. By now the lead pack is quite a way in the distance. For some reason I have given myself the belief that I may have a chance of catching them. I focus on my stroke, on sighting, body position, efficiency. And slowly but surely I seem to be closing the gap! Wow, is this happening? Is Leanne Fanoy gaining on the lead swimmers? At the end of lap 1 I have caught the tail end of the group. As I exit the water I see Hugh just diving in. Time to hunt him down. As I run through the ‘drapeaux’ and turn ‘a gauche, a gauche’ I hear the words ‘premiere feminine’. Yes! Leading the women’s race!
It takes me another 200m or so to catch up with Hugh. When I get close my mind starts to wonder a bit and I find myself swimming left, right, left right. I regain my focus, find my stroke, and get ready for the overtake. I still feel good and Hugh isn’t putting up a fight. I am stoked to come out of the water and hear the words ‘premiere feminine’ yet again, confirming my lead. Mum gives me an encouraging shout – with a hint of surprise in there (me, exiting the water with the top men, as the leading woman… quelle surprise!)
T1 was uneventful, which is usually a good sign. I end up running out of transition with Hugh hot on my heels. He overtakes after the mount line and I am happy to sit 20 or so meters behind him. I know this is more his type of course – rolling, technical, dynamic. I manage to keep up for about 20km, and then he seems to slowly fade away. The course is winding and I can no longer see him with all the twists and turns in the road.
It’s a lonely race from there on, with an occasion smile and encouraging thumbs up from the French Tri official on the motorbike. They are usually quite strict and stern – a thumbs up from one of them must be a big complement! I take in positive energy from every bit of encouragement given by people along the way.
A fast decent at the end of loop one makes me feel on top of the world – my Ventum feels extremely stable and aero on these fast bits. I tuck in and watch my speed go up and up. The descent turns into another climb, and I see the aid station ahead. Time to refill my bottle with water. I take off the cover of my Xlab Torpedo hydration, which unfortunately results in it flying off and landing on the ground. &£*”&$^$. Okay, keep calm. Fill the bottle. Think. I need that cover because otherwise I will be water-less in no-time. The course is bumpy and it’s starting to get hot. I’ll grab it in a sec. Empty the bidon from the aidstation first. I start squirting the bidon into my hydration bottle, but the cap isn’t screwed on well and the water goes everywhere BUT into my bottle. *”*£&£”^£. Relax. Drink as much from it as possible. I approach the turnaround roundabout which is the only place on the course where spectators have gathered to give a cheer. I hear something over the speakers but I’m too busy squirting water into my mouth and bottle and stressing about having to stop in a second. I clumsily and one-handedly make my way around the roundabout and then focus on where my bottle cover might be. I spotted something that resembled it and rode over. Looked left, looked right for other cyclist, but no one around. At least one good thing of riding completely solo. You can stop in the middle of the road and pick up the missing pieces. I quickly put it on, give it an extra push in the hope that it will stay on at the next aid station – then continue on for my second loop.
I manage to get just enough to last me another 23km until the next aid station. I grab another bottle, and this time, the bit cap doesn’t want to stay open. I can only do one little squirt at a time. This isn’t going to work. I pull a bit harder until it almost comes off, that seems to do the trick. A nice stream of fresh water flows into my hydration system. YES! Saved! I continue on for another few kilometers, now passing a few riders doing the shorter distance. Then, I suddenly see a very familiar looking man just up the road. Could it be?! Yes, it’s him! My best training partner, fiancé, and biggest rival on the course! I try not to overdo it but get excited to catch up to him and see how he’s doing. When I get close enough, I warn him of my presence with a high-pitched ‘Yoogi-yoogi’ (a Fanoy hollo). He gives me a smile and some words of encouragement and let’s me go on. Another mental boost and positive energy as I ride off for my last 15km and get ready for T2.
Another uneventful transition. Bike on rack. Helmet off. Sit down. Put socks on. Shoes on. Visor on. Stuff gels in suit. Watch in hand. Go! I leave transition and people seem to be shouting something at me. Then I process the words are ‘Dossard, dossard!’ Oops! Turn bib to front. I fiddle with my watch a bit more and finally seem to have it on. I look ahead and find out there’s a bike to lead me around the course! Nice!
I have no idea where my competitors are but I have a feeling I’m racing against the men today, with just a handful of them up the road. I try to get a pace going but my feet are slipping on the gravel with every step I take. I look down at my watch after a couple minutes, in the hope of being pleasantly surprised by the pace I’ve been running. But that was wishful thinking. I didn’t feel like I was flying along and my watch confirmed. I didn’t let it bring me down mentally and tried to get into a rhythm.
But now there’s a ridge to run over. And then a floating bridge. Then a hill. Lots more gravel. Aid station. WATER! Now a sharp turn. Onto the road, up another hill. In the burning sun. U-turn. Short decent with a very sharp turn. Lots more gravel. Spectators! End of lap 1! This continues on for another 3 laps. My fellow competitors are super encouraging and the lead cyclist gets spectators to give some extra cheers. I hold my pace but don’t take any risks. The final 2k seems to take ages, but when I get to the last 500m I feel a huge sense of relief. I made it! Let’s get to that shute!
The finishers shute is minimal, and to my huge disappointment, does not have a winner’s tape to grab. But I throw my arms up anyway and get two big high fives from the officials on either side of me.
They give me a good 10 second rest before the microphone is in my face. En français. I am still catching my breath and only pick up a few words of the interviewer. But I manage to give him a seemingly appropriate response -
‘La parcours était magnifique mais dur aussi! Les bénévoles étaient vraiment superbe, merci a tous. Je vais revenir!’
I feel a big sense of achievement. Not just about winning, but relief that I had no symptoms of sickness like I did in my last few races. I seemed to have gotten my nutrition right today which has been a challenge in the past. I am really happy with the HIDDIT Carbo Charger and would highly recommend anyone looking for a reliable, well-absorbing energy source, to give it a try!
Typical me (and most athletes), being harsh on myself and never satisfied with my paces and power, was for once quite content with a non-pb or superbe performance kind-of-race. Did I underperform, could I have gone faster? Maybe. But today the victory was nailing my nutrition, and having the best swim of my career (to be fair, I don’t know what pace or time it was – but it FELT good!). Winning the female race and coming in 6th overall was just the cherry on the cake.