Despite a strong cast of pro athletes from around the globe, it was a pair of French athletes who successfully defended the honor of claiming inaugural titles, as Herve Faure and Charlotte Morel each claimed victory at the Cannes International Triathlon in Cannes, France.
Raced under cool, overcast skies, over 1,200 athletes would take on both a short-course as well as the marquee long-course version. And both had a more than healthy dose of climbing on the bike, with the ride headed up into the Maritime Alps, with athletes treated to a flat, fast run along the famed beachside La Croisette.
The crosshairs in the men’s race rested squarely on the shoulders of current Hawaii Ironman World Champ Frederick Van Lierde of Belgium. And he set up nicely to earn that attention; exiting the calm waters of Bijou Plage dotted with fist-sized jellyfish just 10 seconds behind former French ITU star Frederic Belaubre and fellow Frenchman Robin Pasteur, who led out of the sea in 28:06. The three would check out of T1 together to ride to a minute lead on a chase group.
Spaniard Victor del Corral exited the waters nearly four minutes adrift of the leaders; he would never see the front of the race. So too would France’s Romain Guillaume, who drifted off pace, his legs still heavy after a pair of recent Ironman efforts.
Midway through the bike, a charging chase group including Faure, Italian Giulio Molinari, Nicolas Fernandez, Ivan Risli, Anthony Pannier and Herve Banti rode up to the leading trio, making for a large lead group that wended its way around the residential towns above Cannes.
It was within a series of car-cluttered roundabouts in rolling to downhill terrain with about 15 kilometers left that Faure attacked, with Fernandez quick to match. A small gap grew to about 35 seconds in a matter of a mile, and the two committed to the move, gambling on the winding descent back to Cannes in an effort to build a buffer for the run.
“The legs felt good, so I attacked,” Faure said. “The other guy (Fernandez) came with me, and we took a chance.”
Then came a bit of controversy; at a turn, a course official sent the Faure and Fernandez off course—and onto a path that took them on a road T2 with nearly a four-minute gap—much larger than the 30 seconds they had been managing.
“As we arrived into town, there was a problem; (the official) didn’t know where we must pass. We turned and we were on a new road into transition,” Faure said.
With confusion reigning among the men on the run, officials made a quick call in an effort to best reflect time order and bring racing back to status quo without disqualifying the two leaders for what was a course official’s mistake; at the end of the first of four laps on the run, Faure and Fernandez were issued a three-minute stand-down to neutralize the course redirection. All runners in the hunt for a podium were notified on course.
“I thought this was ok,” Faure said.
Indeed, it brought natural order back to the race, as Faure and Fernandez then fought to hold onto just under a one-minute buffer on the chasers. Fernandez then served a separate penalty for a yellow card served on course. While Faure was on an unassailable tempo for the win, the rest of podium was open for the taking.
The Italian Molinari strode away from the rest of the men to take second, While Fernandez recovered from both of his standdowns to hold onto third, holding Van Lierde at bay by just a few seconds.
The women’s race was seized firmly by the throat from the gun by local favorite Morel. Out of the water in 30:22, she had a sizeable lead on early chasers Margie Santamaria, Canadian Jenny Fletcher (who exited the water third place three minutes back) and Belgian Tine Deckers, who was in fourth, four minutes behind.
In fact, given this was her first long-course event as she and boyfriend Frederic Belaubre both segue from draft-legal ITU Olympic distance racing to non-drafting ITU long-course racing, multiple-time French national champion Morel thought she would be joined at the front of the race at some point on the bike, likely by Deckers, who in the early miles of the bike had already ridden into second position and had designs on chasing to the front.
But as soon as Deckers’ race got going—it was over. “ I didn’t do anything different with my Di2 shifting, wasn’t shifting while pedaling but my chain broke,” she said. Just 25 miles into the bike, she was standing roadside, looking for a ride back to town.
Morel would churn away at the head of the race while a collection of women would ebb and flow, surge and fade on the mountainous 80k bike.
As dominant as Morel was on the bike, she was positively (and admittedly) human on the run; recovering from a stress fracture in her right femur over the winter, her first run after recover was a short jog—just two weeks ago. Given that fact, plus the fact that it was the first race of the year, she would take whatever she could get.
“It was the first time I saw any other girls all day, and I took it easy,” Morel said. “But the finish was hard because the second-place girl was coming fast.”
That second-place woman was French age-grouper Céline Bousserez, who bided her time on the bike and assaulted the run, stalking Morel. On the last of four laps, Morel turned up the pace just enough and kept Bousserez at bay to preserve the win in 4:09:06. Bousserez took second just three seconds behind, and Italian Martina Dogana rounded out the podium.
“She’s so strong,” Dogana said of Morel’s performance, unaware it was her non-drafting distance debut. “I don’t know how many long races she’s done before, but today, she was very strong.”
Her competitors will certainly be aware of her now.
Cannes International Triathlon
April 13, 2014, Cannes, France
2k swim, 80k bike, 16k run
1. Herve Faure (FRA) 3:36:45
2. Giulio Molinari (ITA) 3:37:15
3. Nicolas Fernandez (FRA) 3:37:25
4. Frederick Van Liede (BEL) 3:37:35
5. Herve Banti (FRA) 3:40:41
6. Frederic Belaubre (FRA) 3:42:45
1. Charlotte Morel (FRA) 4:09:06
2. Celine Bousserez (FRA) 4:09:14
3. Martina Dogana (ITA) 4:16:20
4. Emma Bilham (FRA) 4:17:30
5. Jenny Fletcher (CAN) 4:19:28
6. Margie Santimaria (ITA) 4:20:50