Free Triathlon

Many of my early triathlon experiences involved turning up at a gravel pit, leaning my bike on the curb and racing a covert triathlon with mates from Berkshire Tri Squad. I'm therefore surprised it's taken me so long to try and recreate this late-80s vibe in Strasbourg.


  • Saturday 17th June 2017


08:00 on the beach at La Ballastiere, Bischheim.

The Course

  • Swim: 600m on a looped course.
  • Bike: 16km on the old La Wantzenau Triathlon bike course. Stop at the Petanque Club.
  • Run: Two lap 4km run from the Petanque Club. 50% tarmac, 50% gravel.

Post Race

Coffee / Croissants from the back of my car.


This is not a race. It's a social swim, bike and run. Go hard if you want. Be responsible for yourself. Stay safe.


Swimming goggles. Put running shoes in jersey pockets or drop off at my car. I’ll be at La Wantzenau Petanque Club from 07:00 until 07:30.

Volunteers Needed

To watch bikes in T1 and T2.

Favourite Running Books

I’ve read a lot of running books. A lot. Physiology, training plans, barefooting, biographies, ultra, histories and fiction. Here are the best 8, not in order. Tweet me if you think something else should be on the list. And yes. I have read Born to Run.

  • The Perfect Distance by Pat Butcher
  • Bowerman and the Men of Oregon by Kenny Moore
  • Flanagan’s Run by Tom McNab
  • Running with the Buffaloes by Chris Lear
  • On a Cold Clear Day by Frank Murphy
  • Kings of the Road by Cameron Stracher
  • Running My Way by Harry Wilson
  • Better Training For Distance Runners by David E. Martin and Peter N. Coe

Tandem Touring For Triathletes

These notes were originally scribbled for a podcast. We've got the mics. We've got the mixer. Gwen and I just haven't had the time yet to sit down in a QUIET room and go straight to tape. Podcasting is an idea we've been kicking around for a while. A creative project to work on together when the boys are in bed.

If you thought that buying a tandem was the perfect way to get a non-cycling partner onto two wheels, you'd be right. Think about the possibilities. Day trips on bike paths. Easy spins in the forest. Weekend tours or longer camping trips.  

However your triathlete’s enthusiasm could put your spouse off cycling forever. We've owned two tandems and ridden in China, Greece, USA, Spain, France, Lebanon, UK, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Germany. The ideas below are specifically aimed at triathletes who are probably strong cyclists but may mot have ridden a tandem or been bike touring.

Where do you sit?

The rider at the front is the Captain or Pilot. I prefer Captain. The rider at the back is the Stoker. Stoking the fire. Usually the taller and stronger rider sits at the front. If you're using front panniers the Captain will definitely have a bigger load to handle when starting, stopping or steering.

I've never seen a tandem built higher at the back but that doesn't mean it's not possible.  If you’re going custom-made I’m sure that anything is possible. Our tandems have always been set-up racier at the front (drop-bars) for me and more relaxed (high straight-bars) at the back for Gwen.

Pack (Seriously) Light

It’s a careful balance between comfort and lightness. Something that bike tourists are always refining. We don’t compromise on bedding; packing good self-inflating mats and pillows. We do take less clothes. I always say that I pack the same for a two day trip as I would for a 2 month trip.

We’ve made packing mistakes. Not taking a cooking system when touring in the USA was one. We had this image of relaxing with a burger and micro-brew outside of a trendy pub every evening. The reality was that many camp-sites were in very rural locations. Make sure you know where your next meal is coming from. Where is the last supermarket before camp?

Slow Down (A Lot)

With two comfortable and fit riders it’s possible for a tandem to go pretty fast on flat or rolling terrain. But don’t plan on that. Don't take any ideas of speed from your time riding a solo bike.There's no comparison and it will ruin your holiday. Take it easy and the speed will come when both of you want it to.  

Stop Often and Plan Other Activities

Don’t rush. Ride all day and get from campsite to campsite. Stop at a castle, dip your feet in a stream, have a coffee or a picnic. Read, write, sleep and take photos. Swim or jog en route. Visit Museums.

Ride mornings and have other plans for the afternoon. What about a themed tour to visit places that interest you? Castles, breweries, bike shops, book shops, farm visits, wild swimming holes, surf spots, battlefields.

Don’t Compromise On The Cadence

Ride at the cadence the least experienced rider prefers. A good rider is comfortable at a range of cadences. A beginner isn’t. Let them choose the cadence and give instructions to speed up or slow down. Your stoker will hate the feeling of the pedal dropping away without them being able to exert any pressure.

Aim For A Modest Daily Mileage

New to tandeming? One experienced rider? Start out with 60km. Move up to 80km. Get the feeling of going on a journey but know the daily distance is achievable for BOTH OF YOU. Hills are super-hard on a tandem but long flat days are hard too.

Don’t plan on going to the Alps or Pyrenees for your first tandem tour. Even for experienced tandem riders the first day on tour is always hard. Plan for that. Don't worry. With long days in the saddle ahead an endurance boost is guaranteed.

Look After Your Butt Cheeks

Fact. You don’t get to stand up much on a tandem. Balance and coordination is harder than on a solo bike. Both riders have to want to / need to stand up at the same time. You’re also hauling a load. You end up putting serious force through the pedals throughout the day.

Your saddle is an investment. Spend time breaking it in and it will improve and mature. Maybe a Brooks B17. Buy good shorts. Apply copious vaseline before you think you need to. Rinse them out well every night. Ease off the saddle on downhills. Lower cadences = less leg movement = less saddle / short / bottom friction

Getting On Your Tandem

Have a routine. Practice it before you leave. Nothing worse than looking like amateurs as you leave camp or take off from a café. For us it’s both right pedals up in the two o clock position. One. Two. Three. Push down. Up onto the saddle. Left foot on. Go.


We coast the downhills. Always. We’re not in a hurry.  If you’re a confident descender take it easy and communicate with your stoker. They might be scared. Disc brakes are available now. Definitely better than rim brakes for tandems. We’ve had to stop in the past to squirt water on hot rims to avoid a blow-out.

Avoid Stoker's Knee

When we had our Thorn tandem built we asked for the gear shifters to be fitted at the back for the stoker to operate. If the captain is the gear changer make sure that they signal changes to the stoker to avoid sudden increases or decreases in cadence. Stoker's knee. It's real.

Share The Work

Have jobs on the bike and jobs in camp. I handle most of the equipment. The bike, stove and any mechanical issues. I break camp and look after route planning and finding. Gwen does logistics. Train tickets. Hotel and campsite bookings. Tent pitching. Sourcing and buying food.

Use Bike Paths

There's no valour in using busy roads to go faster or further. Don't be afraid of bike paths. In France and Germany they are everywhere. As a triathlete there's nothing worse than a narrow strip of tarmac. For the bike tourist it's a traffic-free heaven. Look for gravel roads and non-technical forest tracks. Get some guidebooks to help plan a route. Cicerone are really good.


This could be a complete blog post all by itself. However, I’ll leave you with three thoughts. Get S&S Couplings if you plan to take your tandem on a train or plane. If you just want to ride from home or use a car, get a roof rack like mine.

Ortlieb Panniers are still the gold standard, although they must have rivals these days. You’ll need something completely waterproof. Lots of pockets just complicate the packing, unpacking and finding stuff process. Carradice saddle bags are cool.

Make sure your tandem can handle multi-terrain riding. Gravel roads. Forest single track. Canal towpaths. Not just roads. Get a tyre, wheel, frame and gearing combination that allow you to go where you want and make your rides as traffic-free as possible.

Why You Should Race In France This Season

By the mid-1980s France really had become the place to be for ambitious triathletes. More so than Australia and the USA. There were plenty of races but less travelling between them. Neighbouring Belgium and Germany also had rapidly developing race calendars.

There was good prize money at most races and it was often possible to race more than once a week. Many of the foreign pioneers did exactly this. Piling into old transit vans post-race on Saturday  to travel through the night to another race on Sunday.

The club set-up was also unique. As the sport started to grow in the early 80s, triathlon clubs were created within already existing town sports clubs. There would be a football section, table tennis section, petanque section, swimming section and now....a triathlon section.

Clubs created in this way had an instant infrastructure. Running track, pool use and some clout when it came to organising events. The newly formed triathlon clubs also had an instant following in the town. Handy when you are looking for sponsors, volunteers or want to close roads for a race.

Quickly a national league was set-up with clubs travelling throughout France to fight for high positions and the pride of their town. French athletes were strong. Many athletes in this new Grand Prix were students or semi-pros with support from the military or SNCF (the national rail network). Teams also quickly realised that a fast-track route to victory was to recruit and pay foreign athletes. Australians mainly.

I first moved over in 1996 and joined a club. I had managed to negotiate a place on a French Division 1 team,  GT Vesoul 70, at the end of 1995. Back then, pre-Internet, it was all telephone calls and faxes. I had a respectable racing CV but they were only interested in previous results on French soil.

The depth of fields was nothing like in the UK. After regularly finishing in the top 10 of British Grand Prix events at the end of 1995, I was outside the top 50 in a French one in early 1996. Now if you’re lucky enough to be recruited by a French club you’ll be toeing the line with Jorgensen, Mola, Murray and the Brownlees.

One of the goals of this site is to compile a list triathlon events in Alsace, Lorraine and Franche Comté. These 3 adjoining regions have thriving triathlon communities. This event is on my 2017/2018 bucket list. So, whether you decide to come out east or not, below are 8 reasons why should consider coming over to France to race in 2017.

A Packed Calendar Of Events

The interactive race calendar on the FFTRI website is the best place to search for an event. The 2017 version should kick in soon and Triathlete Magazine will release it's events booklet. Let me know if you would like me to send you a copy. 

It's Not That Far

Eurostar still carry bikes and there are many events near Paris that you can cycle to. Also with many races starting in the afternoon you could leave Dover by car early on Sunday morning and be back in the Uk on Sunday night. Use the interactive map to find events not far from Calais.

Races Are Cheap To Enter

The vast majority of events are still organised by clubs and small towns. The for-profit companies have not really taken off. One of my local events, the Sarrebourg Triathlon is a typical example. €20 for Sprint Distance and €30 for the Olympic Distance. Races also rarely fill-up and the logistics of entering events are also getting easier. Even the smallest races now use multi-lingual online sign up sites. Just three years ago I was still sending paper entry forms and cheques in the post.

It's Part Of The Culture

Some events in Alsace, Lorraine and Franche Comte have been around for 15, 20, 25 or 30 years. They are well organised and roads are more often than not closed to traffic. Anyway, with shops are closed on Sundays, traffic is light. Races, be it bike races, triathlons or a 10 km are accepted as part of the culture of the town.

Learn The Language

Spend a summer holiday travelling to 2 or 3 events. Take some time off work, live in France and join a club.  At local races everything will be in French. Announcements, race information packs and instructions from referees (les arbitres). A great opportunity to improve your French.

Fields Are Strong

Do well at your local or regional events in the UK? Why not see how you stack up against the French? The age-group thing is not so big over here but even outside of Grand Prix Division 1 and 2 events the depth of most fields is still high.There's less prize money than before but I'm sure the journeyman pro could still make money if they choose events carefully and live frugally.

Race More Than Once

Lots of events now span the whole weekend. At the Val de Gray Triathlon there's a Half Ironman, children's races and a Relay on Saturday. On Sunday there are Sprint and Olympic Distance events. Why not link up 2 race weekends, bike touring between the two venues?

Check out the French Grand Prix

These draft legal events attract some of the best short distance triathletes in the world to race for club points. In 2017 events will be taking place in Dunkerque (21 May), Valence (2 July), Quiberon (2 September), Nice (23 September) and a round in August still to be announced.  There is also a second division that includes many British athletes racing for French clubs. 2017 events are in Besancon (4 June), La Rochelle (10 June), Angers (22 July) and Peyrolles en Provence (10 September). Below are some links to FGP videos from past seasons.

Tool Roll Prototypes 1

I'm working on two styles of tool roll:

  • The Petersen roll is designed to be taken on short camping trips. It will be able to hold three innertubes, two tyre levers, a mini-pump, a big multitool, a chain tool and a spoke key.
  • The Avignon roll is intended for races and training and will strap securely underneath your saddle. It will have pockets for two innertubes, a couple of individual allen keys, tyre levers and a mini-pump or CO2. 

Look. I'm a complete novice at sewing but I've got some project ideas in my head and I'm eager to improve. Hopefully, I'll be able to knock out a few tool rolls to give away as swag to participants on the 2017 Sarrebourg Tour

A New Kona Qualifying Procedure?

I’ve never raced the Hawaii Ironman and probably never will. There was a time when I could have qualified but as a teacher it’s hard to take time off in early-October. However, as a triathlete since the late-80s it’s a shame to see the race owned by a profit making entity that can impose a qualifying procedure based purely on other races that they own.

The Hawaii Ironman was clearly not the first triathlon but was definitely the first to be outrageously long, attract high-level travelling athletes and grab global attention. Good athletes peppered the early start lines but prize money was not paid until 1986. Professional triathletes used to race USTS and Nice for money and Hawaii for the honour.

Today the race is still only a self-proclaimed World Ironman Championship and nobody can use the name Ironman for fear of legal action. I believe that the event in Kona should be primarily a celebration of the history of triathlon and accessible to all. The event should be non-profit with a board of trustees. Money made should be ploughed into protecting the local environment and funding youth triathlon programmes worldwide.

I’ve used ideas from the Western States and UTMB qualification processes to draw up an alternative Kona Qualification Procedure. Some are workable and some are pure fantasy. Start numbers would be 60 professional athletes, 140 masters athletes (age 45+) and 1300 leisure athletes.

Leisure Athlete Qualifying

Complete 3 year procedure below before entering lottery. Extra ticket added for every year it is not pulled.  All tickets removed if you qualify. Re-start 3 year procedure.

  1. Take part in nine national governing body sanctioned triathlons over a three year period. Three * Sprint Distance, three * Olympic Distance, two * Middle Distance / Half Ironman, one * Long Distance / Ironman.
  2. Carry out 48 hours as a triathlon race volunteer. Active youth coaches offering their time can bypass this by submitting proof of their non-paid involvement at club-level.
  3. Pass a bike mechanics exam that involves a complete strip-down / reassemble and wheel building basics.
  4. Submit a diary or travelogue outlining your commitment to sustainable transport methods for holidays or everyday use. Bike commuting, bike touring, canoe holidays, horse trekking.
  5. Yearly commitment after initial 3 year procedure: 3 races at any distance. 16 hours volunteering.

Masters (45+) Athlete Qualifying

  • 140 (70 male, 70 female) slots are allocated to continental governing bodies according to their number of licensed athletes. Potentially Europe could get 36 slots, N. America 36, Australasia 20, S. America 20, Asia 16 and Africa 12.
  • Athletes must make it through a regional Sprint Distance time trial qualifier, draft-legal Olympic Distance national qualifier and Middle Distance (2500/80/20) continental qualifier.
  • NGBs fund their athletes who make it through to the continental qualifier. CGBs fund athletes who make it to Kona.

Professional Athlete Qualification

  • Top 20 athletes from WTC World Series D1*. Four races from November to August. Best three scores count.


  • Top 3 WTC World Series D2*.
  • Winner of WTC World Series D3*.
  • Any Top 3 finisher in ITU Worlds (OD and LD) from previous year.

*WTC pros divided into 3 divisions to race on 3 separate Ironman circuits. 50 athletes per division with promotion and relegation. Entry to Division 3 is via Q School, organised by ITU in August every year over a 4 km / 120 km / 30 km time trial.


  • No automatic qualification for ex-champions.
  • If an athlete has not been active in WTC divisions 1,2,3 for last 5 years they can take part in Masters qualifying.
  • Past Masters (any former top 10 finisher) are invited to take part in a team time trial the day before the race.


  • Leisure Athletes: None.
  • Masters: Handbuilt steel bike frame in Kona livery for top 10 males and females.
  • Professional athletes: Good prize money paid down to 30th.

Favourite Rowing Books

  • The Amateurs by David Halberstam.
  • Assault on Lake Casitas by Brad Alan Lewis.
  • Wanted: Rowing Coach by Brad Alan Lewis.
  • The Sphinx of the Charles by Toby Ayer.
  • True Blue by Daniel Topolski.
  • The Shell Game by Stephen Kiesling.
  • Lido For Time by Brad Alan Lewis.
  • Boat Race: The Oxford Revival by D. Topolski.
  • Blood Over Water by D & J Livingston.
  • The Yanks at Oxford by Alison Gill.
  • Olympic Obsession by Martin Cross.
  • Mind Over Water by Craig Lambert.
  • Rowing Against The Current by Barry Straus.
  • The Red Rose Crew by Daniel J. Boyne.
  • Men of Kent by Rick Rinehart.

Paddle Project


  • Buy a cheap Sit-On-Top kayak.
  • Rent different sorts of craft.
  • Explore some local lakes.
  • Buy books. Watch some films.
  • Enrol Elliot in a summer kayak course.
  • Join the local canoe / kayak club.
  • Take part in a local guided trip.


  • Learn to eskimo roll in a swimming pool.
  • Kayak club weekend trips.
  • Family trips from Pub Paddles.
  • Make a wooden paddle.
  • Buy a spraydeck, cag, boots & PFD.


  • Guided family trip with Alsace Canoes.
  • Multi-day French river family trip.
  • Buy a Dagger Axis E or Zydeco kayak.

After 2018

  • Annual family tour.
  • Tick off descents of local rivers.
  • Buy an open canoe.


  • Le Guide du Canoé en France by Paul Villecourt
  • Les Chemins d’Eau en Canoé ou en Kayak (Alsace, Lorraine, Black Forest) by Francois Guth
  • Canoeing by Ray Goodwin
  • Pub Paddles by Peter Knowles
  • Canoe Paddles: A Complete Guide To Making Your Own by Graham Warren and David Gidmark
  • Path of the Paddle by Bill Mason
  • Canoe Camping by Tim Gent
  • Song of the Paddle by Bill Mason



2017 & 2018 Triathlon Goals

  • Race in a singlet that I sewed myself.
  • Ride to a UK race with a sea swim.
  • Tour from my garage.
  • Do the BTS Club Championships.
  • Sell or give away excess equipment.
  • Build a set of race wheels.
  • Help my brother train for Roth.
  • Enter more team time trials.
  • Race on a bike that I built myself.
  • Take a triathlon road trip.
  • Get back to Vesoul.
  • Race twice in a weekend.
  • Put on a free triathlon.
  • Qualify for Rotterdam.
  • Saturday AM children’s triathlon.