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 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. The 2017 towns, dates and formats are below:

  • Dunkerque (21 May). Sprint Distance.
  • Valence (2 July)
  • Quiberon (2 September)
  • Nice (23 September)

There is also a 2nd division that includes many British athletes racing for French clubs. 2017 events are in:

  • Besancon (4 June)
  • La Rochelle (10 June)
  • Angers (22 July)
  • Peyrolles en Provence (10 September)

French Grand Prix Videos

2017 Sarrebourg Triathlon Tour

I'm considering the 2017 Sarrebourg 2 Day Tour as the first official FSR triathlon tour. I started testing the format with a three day tour with my brother in July 2014. We rode mountains, gravel and bike paths. We stopped for wild swims and tried to race and run.

Importantly, we found the limits of fully-loaded triathlon touring. The distances that shouldn't be exceeded if you want to keep your sanity while getting fit and chilling out. Once you get to camp there's always the possibility to ride and explore more.

With two children and the arrival of a third at the end of 2014 I had little time to think about the concept. However, I continued to ride potential routes, uncover wild swimming venues, test campsites and experience races tour-able from Strasbourg.

I've gone back and forth on tour formats. Sticking points were daily riding distances and whether to design strictly tarmac or mixed terrain routes. However, I knew I needed to include daily lake swimming, trail running, nearly traffic-free riding, camping and a race.

There’s also plenty of people out there thinking up ways of making triathlon complicated, expensive and even more competitive. With FSR Triathlon Tours I want to offer something that is cheap, simple and somewhat of an adventure. The way that triathlon used to be.

This year I’ve penciled in just one short tour to the Sarrebourg Triathlon. The plan for 2018 is to offer several weekend tours and a 4 Day Tour into Franche Comté. A free service to those who want to come or be inspired to roll out from home for their own tour.

The tour includes 290 km of cycling over two days, one night of camping at Celles-sur-Plaine and a taste of small-town French triathlon culture at the Sarrebourg Olympic Distance Triathlon. The tour is built around some of the best bike paths in the region.

We're meeting at 08:00 at Cafe Con Leche, 4 Rue Kuhn, Strasbourg.on Saturday 24th June. We'll be back in Strasbourg late on Sunday. There should be a few local athletes and anybody reading this is welcome to come. 

Bike Touring For Triathletes

Pencilling in a few short bike tours in the triathlon season allows me to keep training sessions super-short the rest of the year. So why might you forgo the sun and comfort of a Training Camp in Lanzarote for the potentially muddy camp-sites of France or your local area?

It’s Cheap & Simple
As triathlon seems to get increasingly complicated and expensive, a bike tour is cheap and simple. Most bike tours require very little planning. No need to book ahead as even the most popular campsites will find a space for your tent.

Unfold your map and sketch out a rough itinerary. Try and stick to back roads and forest paths. Include lakes for swimming and trails for running. With everything you need tucked tightly behind your saddle you can ride out of your garage and let the adventure begin.

Leave Your Best Bike in the Garage
Systems exist to attach a rack to your race bike or any other bike without rack eyes. However, it’s better to strike out on a bike that you don’t mind leaving out in the rain overnight and that you’ll be comfortable on all day. Don’t have a dedicated touring bike? Why not save an old frame from the scrapheap and build up a cheap, go-anywhere touring rig?

Get Comfortable
Why does my commuting bike always feel more comfortable than my race bike? I don’t move on the saddle. I flatten the pedals and drive them downwards. I feel great on the drops, hoods or tops. Saddle height feels perfect.

Of course, it’s because I ride it every day. Fine adjustments have been made over the years and my postural muscles have become stronger. Use even a short tour to decide on a powerful position that you can enjoy all day long.

Slow Down
A bike tour is a holiday and a retreat rather than a training camp. Leave your Heart Rate Monitor at home and forget about Power Data. 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.

Have an Adventure
If you’re on a quick S24O from home seek out roads that you’ve never ridden before. Turn off onto forest tracks even if you don’t know where they might pop out. When exploring foreign lands you’ll experience different cultures or grapple a with language you might not understand. When pulling into camp or stopping for a rest in a village, the sight of your bike is an instant conversation starter.

You know your destination exists as you’ve seen it on the map. But you don’t know how long it’s going to take you to get there and the obstacles that could be in your way. You’re riding into the unknown. See villages and countryside that tourist buses don’t stop at. That trains speed through and that planes totally ignore. See what’s in-between and get there under your own steam.

Work Hard
With your bike fully loaded you’ll be forced to build strength in the hills. With long days in the saddle planned an endurance boost is guaranteed. Why not push yourself on the last day with an extra ambitious route?

You can ride pretty far when all you’ve got scheduled for the day is sitting on your saddle. You’ll have a massive sense of achievement, possibly set a personal daily mileage record and the beer on arrival will taste great.

Recover From Life 
Go to bed when it’s dark. Maybe read for a little while with your head-torch. That novel you’ve had on hold for months. Get up with the sun. Eat Well. Stop and buy fresh, local produce for lunch. Get Inspired. Keep a diary. Switch off. No computer. No TV.

Pick Up Some New Skills 
We look back on our early tandem tours as cultural and travel successes but bike touring disasters. It took us 3 or 4 years before we figured out what was worth bringing and what wasn’t. Finding a balance between lightness and luxury. We also improved our camp cooking, how far and how fast to ride, pitching a tent, striking camp and basic on-the-road mechanics. 

Holidays of the Future
Petrol prices are rising, air travel is becoming unfashionable and there’s a renaissance in exploring your own country. People are starting to realise the importance of spending time in nature and the growth of cycle paths make it possible to plan tours that are nearly traffic free.

The Path Less Pedalled has also recognized that bicycle touring is changing. People are taking shorter tours, combining train journeys with biking and taking advantage of bicycle friendly accommodation options and other bicycle-focused businesses.

Simplify Event Travel
I hate loading the car and driving to events. I also have a little chuckle when fellow athletes open the boot of their car and piles of superfluous kit tumble out. As I race infrequently I prioritize events that I can ride to. I minimise kit, camp and enjoy having a weekend of steady activity rather a balls-out, results based racing experience.

Camping Is Not Compulsory
Lack of equipment or no desire to brave the hard ground shouldn’t stop you from enjoying bike touring. Checking into a Bed & Breakfast will guarantee you stay dry and sleep well. Bring your best bike if you want as it can be locked away overnight. Pack light using a saddlebag such as the Carradice Longflap Camper.

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 10, not in order. Tweet me if you think something else should be on the list. And yes. I have read Born to Run.

Running Books.JPG
  • 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
  • Strength and Conditioning For Endurance Running by Richard Blagrove.
  • The Way of the Runner by Adharanand Finn
  • Running My Way by Harry Wilson
  • Better Training For Distance Runners by David E. Martin and Peter N. Coe