Almost impossible to verify and very vulnerable to massage, triathlon spectator counts are generally taken with a pinch of salt. But, at 6.25am this morning in Nice, it really did feel like the organiser’s claims of 80,000 punters had been fully realised.
The was sun rising, spectators were clambering on every available platform, the Black Eyed Peas, of course, were on the tannoy and an Ironman festival had broken out. Lance who?
Amongst the 2,500 participants (99% of which were age-groupers) were the Belgian duo of Frederick Van Lierde and Tine Deckers, the former here to defend his 2011 title, the latter to make it a trio on wins on this historic course. And, boy, they didn’t disappoint.
In front after the two-lap 3.8km swim in the azure Riviera waters, Van Lierde lead for the remaining 222.2km, joined only by his shadow, to break first the existing bike record and next Spaniard Marcel Zamora’s 2010 course record time of 8:25:28. Although he admitted he had nothing left on the last run lap and that “you can’t force records, they just happen,” Van Lierde had enough left in the tank to romp home in 8:21:58 to beat his 2011 winning time by over six minutes.
Ominously for his rivals he added that he was feeling fresh for Kona, with only two small races between now and October, and that he was “finally due a good race” on the Big Island. Britain’s Paul Amie was next down the raucous finishing chute before Francois Chaubaud rounded out the podium on home soil.
Over in the women’s pro field, Deckers, winner here in 2009 and 2010, had New Zealand’s Gina Crawford standing in her way of a hat-trick of titles. Crawford, with four Ironman wins under her belt, was back racing full iron-distance after taking time out after having a baby and comfortably led out of the swim to establish a 5mins lead early on the bike.
But Deckers chipped into her lead and by the time the race returned to the Promenade des Anglais for the run, the Belgian had created a gap of her own and would come home in 9:16:05 to break her own course record and complete the Belgian double. Crawford and Kristin Moller took the silver and bronze respectively.
With plenty of age-groupers still racing until the 10.30pm cut-off, tonight, to quote our friends Will.I.Am and co, ‘is gonna be a good night’. The Nicoise sure know how to stage a monumental race, even without the presence of triathlon’s returning superstar.