A stunning day of racing on the Côte d’Azur delivered victory for William Mennesson and Imogen Simmonds as they both proved dominant on the testing course in the hills above Nice with winning times of 4:09:48 and 4:43:03 respectively.
An early start on the shores of the Mediterranean in perfect conditions saw local athlete Brice Hacquart (FRA) exiting the water first in 23:42 with Cenzino Lebot (FRA) 14 seconds down with Australian, Nicholas Free in third 38 seconds down. As they started the brutal climb up the legendary Col de Vence, Hacquert had extended his lead to over a minute. But, as expected, the steep climb forced some changes and by the time they reached the top, William Mennesson (FRA) had ridden into first place with Hacquert dropping to second just a minute behind while Nathan Guerbeur (FRA) overtook and Free into third. By the time the leaders reached T2, Mennesson had extended his lead to just under seven minutes, his superior bike handling skills on the technical downhills and climbs serving him well. Thomas Navarro had ridden up to join Guerbeur and Hacquert and they all arrived off the bike with just seconds separating them. The run was always going to be interesting following a 96km long and tough bike course and rising temperatures. Within the first couple of kilometres, Hacquart had gained 40 seconds on Mennesson and was working hard to drop Guerbeur with Navarro and Free quickly falling off the pace. It wasn’t long before a cat and mouse began between Guerbeur and Hacquart, both exchanges places frequently and neither prepared to give away anything. But behind them, Nicholas Free was proving his reputation as a strong runner, gaining more than 20 seconds a kilometre to run himself into second place by the 15km mark. Mennesson took the win in 4:09:48, with Free maintaining second in 4:15:10 and Guerbeur holding onto third in 4:16:03.
Mennesson said he really enjoyed the day. “It was a really good day, I had a pretty good swim and was where I wanted to be. I tried to ride hard on the bike and create a bit of a gap so I had a good lead heading into the run. I really enjoyed the course and the atmosphere here.”
Second place Free was slightly awed by the terrain and added, “We have no mountains like that in Australia… they were flying downhill. I was really afraid they were going so fast but these guys are not afraid of anything and they just pass me soooh fast!!”
In the women, it was Imogen Simmonds (SUI) was never challenged from start to finish. She led out of the first lap of the swim, gaining 90 seconds in the first 950m, extending this to four minutes as she exited the swim in 26:30 ahead of Giorgia Priarone (ITA) with Lina-Kristin Schink with some making up to do on the bike six minutes down. By the time the women reached the top of the Col de Vence, Simmonds had gained another two minutes on Priarone and by the Pont du Loup at 62km, this had extended to over 10 minutes with Schink proving no threat at 16 minutes down. Simmonds entered T2 with everything to win, she had a 16:45 lead over Priarone and 19:31 on Schink and continued to extend this throughout the run, taking a resounding win in 4:43:03 with Priarone taking second in 5:01:39 and Schink rounding out the podium in third in 5:09:27.
Simmonds said she loved the course as well as enjoyed the race, “I really want to thank this beautiful part of the country, the Côte d’Azur, this is such a stunning course! It was a fantastic race, I really enjoyed it, especially the bike part, the swim was beautiful and thank goodness there were so many spectators on the run as I really needed them for that 21k in the sun! I wanted to really test myself today so I kept the pressure on all the way to the end. And anything can happen, I know Giorgia’s an excellent runner and I knew I still couldn’t slip up.”