The European marathon scene is winding down after another big year for the sport, never before has there been so many stage races and marathons to choose from. This weekend marks the end of the season for many with thousands of competitors making their way to the French Riviera for the Roc d’Azur cycling festival. There’s 5 days of events starting from the seaside town of Frejus including the UCI World Marathon Series round on Friday with 3000 participants, then the big XC event on Sunday with 5000 participants.
The Roc d’Azur round of the series is the closest you’ll find to a World Champs level field. The front rows were a who’s who of cycling with pro roadies including Tour de France stage winners enjoying an end of season bash on the mountain bike, top World Cup XC riders, and all the best World Series Marathon riders. I achieved the dream of being gridded on the front row of Roc d’Azur, it’s a pretty special feeling to look behind to see thousands of participants lined up behind you.
At just gone 8am the cavalry charge began as everyone tries to be first out of the arena before filtering one by one across one of the narrow bridges. Unbelievably I led out one of the biggest bike races in the world. Me, Florian Vogel and Alban Lakata side by side leading out of the Roc d’Azur arena with a train of thousands behind. I was buzzing!.. until we hit the first big climb! I dug deep, so much so my whole body went numb; legs, body, arms! Lactate overload. Never before have I felt like that. I had to be really careful on the following descent as I still couldn’t feel my arms. The front of the race got away from me at that point.
The course is made up of some long fireroad climbs early on but on the second half of the course has some really tricky, rocky singletrack climbing. The descents from beginning to end are really rough. You finish the downs as knackered as having suffered up a climb. That’s if you successfully make it down the descents which many didn’t including the Team AG2r road cyclists.
Up front the race quickly split apart. Eventual winner Julien Trarieux quickly established a lead with last year’s winner Samuel Porro. Alban Lakata would eventually catch these 2 but would struggle to keep pace on the descents.
After my body cleared the lactate I settled into my rhythm. The best form I had back in September has now passed. This was not the top 10 I wanted but I’m happy with 20th place in this competitive field. How can you not be happy having led out the Roc d’Azur, raced 82 kilometres of fantastic trails under hot sunny skies, seen amazing sea views and been able to ride from the finish line to the gelato shop in minutes?
In the ladies Sally Bigham took the lead early and didn’t look back storming to her fifth victory at Roc d’Azur. Cross country World Cup start Tanja Zakelj was 2nd ahead of Cornelia Hug in 3rd.
Next week is the final European round of the UCI World Marathon in 2016 and my final race of the year. La Tramun will bring the series to Girona for the first time. In its 18th year the event now gains UCI status. The event has earned a reputation with its challenging trails and beautiful landscapes. I’m looking forward to exploring a new destination.
All photographs, Vermont Images