The Perfect Summer and Not so Perfect Race of a Wannabe Triathlete: Living in the Cote D’Azur & racing at the Alpe D’Huez Triathlon. 

New Beginnings 

I had been doing triathlons for over a year when I decided that I wanted to leave my country due to the instability which was going on in Venezuela. At the same time, I had just started training with my coach Salvatore Cali, when I told him “Salva, I am going to move for the summer to France,  so we have to continue our training via Internet“. He immediately replied  “Gabriel, you HAVE to run the Alpe D’Huez Triathlon, you’ll be the first Venezuelan I know to ever compete in that triathlon“. I went back home, googled the triathlon and said to myself “this is going to be a summer for the books!!”.

So I decided to put my professional career on hold for various reasons (which I will not cover on this post) and moved for a summer in the Cote d’Azur, Nice. Why I picked Nice??? Well, actually I had lived for two summers in Paris before, and I wanted to finish learning French, but I didn’t want to repeat Paris. Not because I didn’t like Paris, but because I wanted a change. So…… Nice had nice weather, lots of climbing to do on bicycle, a triathlon heritage, beautiful sightseeing, strategic located in the south of France to do some tourism in neighboring cities and obviously spoke the French language.

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Swim Leg “Triathlon Alpe D’Huez

I booked the ticket, found an apartment on AirB&B, packed my TT bicycle and just enjoyed the ride… I knew no-one in Nice, but that’s one of the things I enjoy most about moving to new places and traveling… The adrenaline and feeling of not knowing what comes next, of just breaking the habit and routine while letting everything flow, with no schedule on your mind, has no equivalent feeling in life for me.

I usually start out by going to local bike shops to ask for riding routes and riding partners if anyone is interested in riding with me. Most of the time this is a pretty safe place to start meeting people, since “ski/bike bumps” working in bike shops usually eat, sleep, dream, bike/skis. This time I met Vincent V., who became my riding partner only for three rides…. I came to the conclusion that because I was not used to climbing that much on a road bike and climbs around Nice were brutal for me, I guess he got tired of waiting for me after each climb. So after  having to wait so much for me, he just ditched me and texted me some recommendations of where to ride. Eventually we had some beers and talked about the upcoming Tour de France… He had some cool stories to tell about his backpacking trips to South America, so the few times we rode together and met for beers, we kept ourselves interested in each other stories.

My daily routine during that summer was basically to train three to five hours in the  early  morning, then go to French classes, then rest by taking a nap on the beach or at my place, eat delicious food and drink all types of wines with people from different places and cultures from our French classes. Most of the touristic things I did, I did them while riding my bicycle and stoping to eat at various different small towns, although I did do some sightseeing with some magical people to the George du Verdon and the French Riviera as well. Just living the dream…

Favorite Dinning Places in Nice

  • Breakfast – Emelies Cookies
  • Tapas – El Merkado
  • Italian Cuisine – La Favola
  • Le Cafe des Fleurs
  • Beer + Watch Le Tour de France (sports) – Brasserie Lou Pastrouil
  • Night Live Music (Hipster) – Bulldog Pub Pompeii
  • Sunset Chill Ambience – Ark Apero Bar
  • Sunset Nice Nice – Rooftop at Plaza Hotel
  • Burgers – Burger Store

(Hint: So (1) if you have a hobby and you are constantly moving, you know that thats the way to meet new people. (2)If you have a hobby and are quite the contrary of a nomad, I encourage you to break your routine and move to a new place and meet new people through whatever hobby you have and (3) if your are sedentary and have no hobbies, I encourage you to change your life and get out there… remember #outsideisfree and you will NOT regret it!)

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Nice, Promenade Anglaise

Anyways.. to get back to the story, I started looking for swimming pools, bike routes and places to run in order to start the training adventure towards running the Alpe D’Huez Triathlon. I found an amazing 50mts pool in Nice “Piscine Jean Bouin” which was usually packed, but since it was a 50mts pool you had lots of time to pass people by when swimming. Most of my running was done in the “Promenade Anglaise” (picture above), where the flat (but brutal because of there not being any place to hide from the sun during the entire 42k) IM marathon takes place. Lastly, some hill intervals I did where going up and down the stairs of where “Le Chateau” of Nice is located.

Personal Favorite Rides/Climbs near Nice

  1. La Turbie
  2. Col de la Madonne (Picture Below)
  3. Col de Tende
  4. Col de l’Ecre
  5. Col de la Bonette

Bike rides are the best part of the French Riviera without a doubt and Nice is located perfectly in between all the scenic routes; few places in the world where you can have these serious climbs so near cosmopolitan cities such as Cannes, Nice, and Monaco. Bike rides varying from 50kms all the way up to 200kms can be done starting from Nice and coming back without having to go through the same route even once. Places such as St. Paul de Vence, Eze, Drap, La Turbie, Gattieres, Tete du Chien, Menton, Col de La Madonna, Monaco among many others. If you feel like traveling a little by car/train/bus you can even go to Col de Tende or to the Gorge du Verdon for impressive climbing and breathtaking views.

Road Trip with #Jessilaneeveryday

During the middle of my stay in France, just a couple weeks before leaving to the Alps to get used to the high altitude of the alps before my triathlon, my Girlfriend paid me a visit where we did a trip through the North of France. Again, breathtaking bike routes, not that much climbing though mostly flats. If you can plan your road trip during the month of July you might even run into some of the first stages of the Tour de France.

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#Jessilaneveryday @ Etretat, Normandie

We obviously started in Paris where we did all the typical touristic and romantic things like going to Montmartre, Giverny and Le Tour Eiffel, etc, etc. (If you are into bicycles and are ever in Paris you have to check out Steel Coffee Shop for great cycling apparel and atmosphere). Then we spent one day at Giverny (Monet’s house) and one day  in Champagne tasting all kinds of champagnes in a private tour. That same night we drove all the way to “Le Mont Saint-Michelle”, a must go place to visit when in France. Later, we went to Etretat (Picture above), then spent a night in a beautiful hotel in St. Malo, stopped for a quick swim at “Le Havre” (check out this amazing pool for laps!!)https://www.instagram.com/p/5AUDnIyA7vYfzRNWQmS_3nZr3CiJrxkKjA0Mo0/?taken-by=gabrielvelandiab)  I just had to stop to say that I had swim in that nonsense swimming pool, and last but not least, Fougeres was our last stop  where we saw the 7eme Etage de Le Tour de France.

The Alps

Once Jess was gone, I returned to Nice for one week, finished my French course at “IH Nice”, picked up my bike and took the train towards the French Alps. I had one transfer leaving with less than 15 minutes to switch trains before arriving to Grenoble, which by traveling with your bicycle bag and your regular luggage was supposed to imply a real challenge. I sweat my ass off running to make the transfer and ended up arriving to Grenoble. Then took a bus to Bourg D’Oisans and finally had to take one last mini bus to Auris en Oisans.

Unfortunately but fortunately, the hotel I had booked through booking.com was not in Alpe d’Huez but around 15kms from there. I say fortunately enough because my stay at “Le Beau Site” was just amazing. Camille and David (the owners) where just amazing, they served breakfast and dinner, and Camille’s cuisine was just out of this world. The view of most of the rooms in their hotel is absolutely breathtaking, you get to see the sunsets in the alps while having some french wine and food… just imagine…..

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View from my Hotel Room at the Beau Site Hotel

Getting around the alps might be a little of a hassle if you don’t rent a car, so I would definitely recommend you renting a car in Grenoble so that you will not depend on public transportation schedules. I ran with the luck of meeting a friend of Camille and David who gave me rides to wherever I wanted for a flat rate of 200euros (50 x day) for the 4 days of my stay there. He ended up driving up to le “Deux Alps” for bungee jumping, to the “Alpe D’Huez to rent a bike to do some downhill before the race (stupid idea, I know I know) and to the “Lac du Verney” where the triathlon started. (https://www.instagram.com/p/BGXiiLUspJW/?taken-by=mibicics)

Race Day

My first mistake towards the race was just getting to the alps to aclimatate 4 days before the race, it was just not enough time to get use to the altitude, specially having trained the entire time at sea level in Nice. So even though I felt stronger and more fit than ever before (I used to play hockey for my national team, so there were sometimes in my life when I have been really fit), but the elevation and climate factors were key in my performance regarding that race.

I tapered during that week by doing some hill intervals, running through the alps, trying on my wetsuit in the freezing waters of the alps and climbing in a very peaceful way the Alpe d’Huez and its surrounding mountains.

Finally the day of the race arrived. I woke up so positive and feeling again stronger than ever.. At breakfast I even received the great surprise of a family I had met the night before and shared stories with some wines, and they had written me a good luck note on a napkin. It doesn’t get any better than this I said to myself…

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The race started at 3:00pm (a very unusual starting time for a triathlon), and I found out about that just the day before the race. Also, we had two transition areas, which also made it kind of a stressful experience since you need it to have an organized layout. The two transition areas were one in the bottom of the mountains for when exiting the water and another one at the top of the Alpe d’Huez for when dropping your bicycle off. These two were my second and third mistakes; because I had never trained nutrition wise for racing at this time and because I was not ready to have two transitions. The day was so bad weather wise, raining, FREEZING temperatures at around 10 degrees celsius and the water being at 8 degrees celsius was also a surprise for me.

What I Wanted to be the Race of my Life ended up being the fight of my life

I had trained so hard for this race and as I mentioned above; felt so strong that I wanted to go all out in this race. I felt that I could! Even though the swim is my weakest part in the triathlon for me, I felt that I had to at least try to stick with the front pack. Surprisingly, I was able to stick with the front pack for the first 400mts, until this point everything was more than perfect, but I started panicking and my HR was way too high for me… This along with the water temperature and not being used to swimming with a wetsuit really took my concentration off my A Game and I had to literally stop swimming so I could calm down and not DNF. I laid on my back waiting for the middle pack swimmers to pass me, so that I could relax and then started swimming at a conservative pace.

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Transition 2

I knew I had wasted at least 5 minutes of my wanted race time while waiting to calm down after that unnecessary, and immature, push during the swim. Once I had exited the water I realized I had lost my 920x during the start of the swim, so I had no way to figure out what my swimming time was, unless otherwise asking someone about their swimming time. It was 7 minutes after the time I wanted to finish the swim leg, but I thought to myself that I could recover some of that time lost in both the bike and run leg of the race if I pushed hard. I jumped on the bike and started flying and pushing those watts really hard on to those pedals. I climbed as never before, and this felt amazing, knowing that I was doing my best effort ever in the Iconic Mountain Pass of “Alpe D’Huez” just gave me more energy to climb and pass hundreds of cyclists along the route. Once I arrived to the transition area I knew I had won some minutes over, but wasn’t sure of how many exactly. I just knew that since there were not as many bicycles in transition as I expected there to be, that I had  done a really good job in the cycling part, and still had ahead of me the running leg which was my strongest one.

Flew out of T2, and ran the 1st K really strong. I remember saying to myself at that moment, “if you can hold this pace you are going to crush this race, so keep it up”. Just a couple minutes after having said this to myself my lungs collapsed and I threw myself with no advice to the dirt. I couldn’t breath… not even a bit, and I started panicking again, for the second time in the race, (because I had suffered from asthma when I was a kid, and staIMG_3425rted feeling the same thing again after 10 years of not having suffered one attack). This was it for me. I lost around 10 minutes trying to recover my breath, and started jogging. I managed to maintain a running pace of 5:30/km  (against the 4:30 I am used to) throughout the rest of the race which was pretty mediocre for me, but at least I got to cross the finish line.

The most disappointing part of this entire experience wasn’t the fact that I had to overcome so many struggles to finish nor that I did not perform according to my expectations, but that at the end of that constant battle against my body and the elements of nature was that when crossing the finish line there were no medal given to the finishers. On top of that, the finishers shirt said duathlon instead of triathlon!!!! C’mon “Triathlon Alpe D’Huez”!!! Guess French athletes are not that into souvenirs of races…. hahaha

Some final thoughts of this entire summer experience are to do whatever you feel like doing. Don’t hesitate if it sounds immature and espontanic, just do it! You only get to live once, if you don’t live life the right way you won’t get another chance to live it the right way. Live life, take chances, be the adventure, make it count, never quit and tell stories… You won’t regret it!

PS: I ended up ordering a key chain with the Alpe D’huez Triathlon Logo and my times and standings to have it as a medal and I am definitely planning to race this triathlon again in the future! For the entire photo gallery of the entire trip go to my Facebook this link — https://www.facebook.com/gjvelandia/media_set?set=a.10152955207731981.1073741852.502481980&type=3

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Useful Links

  • Col de la Madonne Cycling Tips – http://cyclingtips.com/2013/06/climbing-the-col-de-la-madone/
  • Cycling Coffee Shop in Paris – http://shop.steelmagazine.fr/magasins
  • Cycling Coffee Shop in Nice – http://www.cafeducycliste.com/the-cafe/
  • Triathlon Store Nice – http://www.triathlonstore.fr
  • Nice Swimming Pool – https://www.nice.fr/fr/sports/piscine-jean-bouin
  • Le Havre Swimming Pool – http://www.dezeen.com/2009/01/13/les-bains-des-docks-by-jean-nouvel/
  • Hotel at Auris en Oisans – http://www.hotel-lebeausite-auris.fr
  • Info transportation from Grenobles to Alp D’huez – https://www.alpedhueznet.com/buses
  • Bungee Jump http://www.voltigebungy.com/pagesuk/bungee_jump_2alpes_presentation.html
  • Alpe D’Huez Triathlon – http://www.alpetriathlon.com/en

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