It’s 10 February 2012, a week after Federal prosecutors dropped their two-year doping probe, and Lance Armstrong has confirmed what the tri world has been salivating over since his retirement from professional cycling: ‘After 20 years of getting the question I’m happy to say YES I will be racing in an Ironman tri in 2012’.
The Livestrong website promptly published his race schedule of Ironman 70.3s in Panama (where he would finish 2nd), Texas (7th), St. Croix (3rd), Florida (1st) and Hawaii (1st) and finally, the big one, Ironman France in Nice on 24 June, where he would look to confirm his spot at October’s Ironman World Champs in Kona.
220’s easyjet to Nice was bought, the Nice’s 163rd best hotel booked and our Tricolore schoolbook dusted off for our best Del Boy abroad impressions.
FOUR MONTHS LATER...
But four months is a long time in the world of Lance Armstrong, and fast forward to the present day and the seven-time Tour winner’s number 11 place is absent on the Ironman France starting list. The ‘will he, won’t’ race saga had rumbled on until the WTC (who were stuck between a rock and a hard place in having to uphold Armstrong’s ban or change their rules mid-season to accommodate an (albeit a fantastically lucrative megastar unparalleled in tri history) athlete finally confirmed to ESPN.com last Saturday (16th) that Lance would be ineligible to race WTC events after all. (Let the Challenge Roth rumours begin!)
For those of us contemplating Lance’s 180km bike duel with Frederick Van Lierde in the Nice hinterland, the situation may be, to quote a photographer here in Nice, “a bummer all round”, but even sans Lance what remains is a 30-year-old race drenched in history, on a course a certain Mark Allen describes as “the best outside of the granddaddy itself in Kona.”
30 YEARS OF HISTORY
Mike Pigg (labelled by Macca as the “most hardcore racer tri has ever seen”), Paula Newby-Fraser, Peter Reid and French hero Yves Cordier have all raced here and so too, of course, has Allen, with ‘the grip’ winning on 10 consecutive occasions back when the race was the Nice Long Distance Triathlon (swim 4km/bike 120km/run 30km compared to tomorrow‘s iron-distance 3.8km/180km/42.2km) when the event, along with Kona and Powerman Zofingen, was one of the big three to win.
Since the WTC took over the running of the race, Spain’s Marcel Zamora has won five consecutive times from 2006-2010. Belgium’s Frederick Van Lierde is back again in 2012 to defend his title from the clutches of fellow Belgian Bruno Clerbout (3rd at Ironman Wales 2011) and Francois Chabaud (2nd here in 2011).
The hills of the Alpes Maritimes may not serve up some sub 8-hour action (Zamora’s best time is 08:25:28) but with 80,000 spectators expected and 99% of the 2,500 competitors being age-groupers, the race is inescapably a big deal here in Nice. As tanned Europeans (and 220) sun themselves on the beaches parallel to the Promenade des Anglais, M-Dot tattooed triathletes are making last minute tinkers to their gear set-ups, the race expo is blasting out Euro techno (what, no Dexys?) and athletes are recceing the swim course.
And what a body of water it is. Azure, warm and salty, with the Nice waterfront as the backdrop, we swam 1km of it earlier in prep for the slightly less blue Bristol Tri and, without doing a disservice to the UK race scene, the lure of racing abroad instantly becomes apparent. The only problem was getting out, with a sharp banks of pebbles ensuring comedy falls aplenty of the sort the aforementioned Del Boy would be proud. But it’s going to be hot in those hills and along the seafront marathon tomorrow, with temperatures in the high 20s.
Given our Ironman dreams remain exactly that, we’ll be with the 80,000+ on the sidelines. You can follow race updates at ironmanlive.com or head back to www.220triathlon.com for a race report tomorrow.