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Versailles Triathlon 2016 Race Report

This past Sunday I raced in a popular sprint triathlon just outside of Paris.  It’s officially the Triathlon du Roi (Roi means king in French).  But more commonly it’s known as the Versailles Triathlon, which I last competed in back in 2013.  It’s held on the side of the Château de Versailles, one of the most famous châteaux in France.  It’s a popular tourist destination to escape to for the day if visiting Paris.  It’s also one of my favorite places to run to (and there’s even a huge running race that ends there, Paris to Versailles).  But enough about that, let’s get on with the day!

Pre-Race:

The easiest way to get to Versailles from Paris is via train.  The RER-C train goes directly there from below my apartment, and then it’s a short 5-minute bike ride once you reach the end station.  Given the race for the licensed men didn’t start until 3:30PM (yes, mid-afternoon), I didn’t have to leave town till until around 1PM or so.

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Upon arrival I went to find my bib number on the board and then pickup my bib.  It was only lightly raining at this point, though you could still see the mess it made.

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The whole process only took a minute or two, and was super quick.

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I then took everything out of the bag to see what the goods were:

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I got myself a swim cap, two race numbers, one sticker race number for my bike, a timing chip, and then a fabric race bag (actually a fairly nice one).  Oh, and there was a Clif bar in there.  Woot!

From there it was into transition area to get my bike all settled.  Though first they’ll inspect your bike (bar plugs, brakes), as well as your race bib (attached at three points).

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Then I made my way up the hill to my rack:

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It only took a minute or two to get everything all setup.  I had tossed some running socks in, mostly because I figured if a bunch of sand/mud was getting into my shoes during the run I’d probably want that in between the socks and the shoes, rather than grinding between the shoes and my feet.  And if done properly it only takes a second to put them on.

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You can see I had setup a GoPro Hero4 Black on the bike in a case, as well as an Edge 520.  I tend to like having a dedicated bike computer, versus switching units or looking at my wrist.  But that’s just my personal preference.

After wrapping up there I headed down to the water and got in a short warm-up swim prior to the race start.  Just 5-8 minutes worth.

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Doesn’t the weather look beautifully inviting?

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It’d actually end up raining even harder during the swim portion of the race.  So hard I could feel it through the wetsuit while swimming.  Kinda crazy.  In any case, with my warm-up complete it was time to head out of the water and listen to the pre-race instructions.

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That only took 3-5 minutes though, efficiency for ya!

The Swim:

After which it was back into the water, so the 370 or so guys worked their way down across the continually sinking pontoon docks and into the pond.  This specific wave was for licensed men.  Other waves for women and unlicensed athletes were in the morning.

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The pond doesn’t have much circulation to other bodies of water, so like most small ponds the water pretty much tasted like duck and goose crap.  But, at least there wasn’t any lightning.

Props to the undoubtedly weary folks standing along the pond ready to watch the start.  I’m sure they were just as wet as we were.  In fact, we were probably better off than them.  At least we weren’t standing in mud.  Plus, wetsuits are kinda nice and warm.

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I was wearing two watches during today’s event – the FR735XT, and on the other wrist for comparison the FR920XT.  Both were connected to the HRM-TRI strap.

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I was also using a GoPro Hero4 Silver during the swim/run, within a waterproof case.  I simply tuck it into the neck of my wetsuit once the swim starts.

And with no count-down or fanfare (as usual), the starting gun fired and we were off!

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It was actually a bit of a rougher swim than normal.  I think the muddy water churned up by hundreds of athletes near the start line basically meant that nobody could see anything below water, so you lost some of your ability to avoid and had to rely on above-water sighting for avoidance.

The swim was supposed to be 750m, and my track was pretty clean on the four-point course.  I didn’t waste that much time/distance on bad sighting.  But given how small the pond was, you could pretty easily just sight off the walls on the side for much of it. The FR735XT recorded 854m, whether or not the swim was measured correctly I don’t know (many aren’t).  I’d probably split the difference and guess I swam an extra 50m, though unlikely I swam an extra 100m – it was a pretty easy course to stay on target for.

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Once past the first buoy, things were pretty calm and I just kept trucking.  I probably should have pushed the pace a bit more on the swim.  I’d guess that my swim pace was more appropriate for an Oly or longer.  These sprints always throw me for a loop on getting the right swim pacing – I often forget just how short they are.

Speaking of which, before I knew it I was climbing on the sorta-not-really-floating pontoon dock and running up into transition.

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It’s there I found my bike waiting for me, with my shoes on it and ready to roll.  Given the race starts uphill, I had put the bike into an easier gear ahead of time.  Once I got going I’d put my shoes on during the first minute or so of the bike.

I had setup another GoPro on the bike already, configured with the one-tap recording option.  So that meant I just pressed a single button and it started recording.  I left the first GoPro in my running shoe for when I’d return.

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Oh, the total swim time was 14:18, or an average pace of 1:30/100y according to the FR735XT.  So definitely need to kick up the pace this upcoming weekend during the Paris triathlon.

The Bike:

The name of the game for the bike was simple: Don’t crash.

Seriously, that was it.

More than a enough ambulances had already been utilized earlier in the day in the other races.  The word was pretty clear among discussions at the race – play it a bit cautious.

So it was out of T1 I went.  You ran up the hill towards the exit.  It was a single long skinny transition area, a few hundred meters long:

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Once out of transition, you continued uphill and away from the park.

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You’d be riding a few minutes away to an automotive race track where the majority of the bike course was held.  Going uphill your speeds were pretty low, so there wasn’t much of a concern of crashing.  Though, the multiple sets of wet train tracks and 90° turns attached to them were reason for numerous volunteers to be standing by yelling at competitors to slow down.

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After that you were home free in the race track area.  The pavement wasn’t perfect though, which would take down plenty of people, such as this athlete to the left.

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The ambulances were standing by throughout the course and often attending to folks.  I’m guessing some crashes were solo/self-induced, while others were part of pack riding fails.

Given the race was draft-legal, packs are a very real and important part of the bike segment.  If you don’t latch onto a pack you’ll end up numerous minutes slower and you’ll have to work a heck of a lot harder for it.  Unfortunately I didn’t find much of a pack initially.  I overtook a few scattered folks, but none were riding fast enough to be of use to me.  Finally, a small group of three others formed with me, and we did a pretty solid job of rotating through.  Probably one of the better packs I’ve seen in races here (most of the times, people don’t take their turns).

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We came together into a section where volunteers were having folks slow down on a steep/rougher descent, to prevent crashes.  It was going back up the equally steep section that I dropped my chain while shifting.

That sucked.  As I then lost some 45-55 seconds trying to get enough traction pointing straight up the steep hill to get going again.

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And more importantly: I lost my group.  Thus I was mostly riding solo the remainder of the bike segment.

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Coming down off the hill (race track area) into transition I was pretty cautious.  A small group passed me on this section, but it didn’t quite seem worth it on a curved descent in the last few hundred meters in the race to try and pass.  The ambulance racing up the hill to the rest of the bike course was a reminder of that.

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Not to mention we’d all be stuck behind each other on the massive conga-line into transition.  You ran a few hundred meters with your bike, single-file, so basically it was just trotting along with no room to pass.  The right side had numerous spectators and super-slick mud, so it was best to stay on the carpet.

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While I wish I could have had a faster bike, I’m happy I didn’t end up on the pavement. I really enjoy draft-legal triathlon racing, mostly because it increases the importance of the run (which I’m generally good at).  On the flip side, if you don’t find a group, then it severely punishes you.

The Run:

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Just like the bike segment, the name of the game on the run was simple: Stay upright.

The run course was relatively simple: Two loops of the pond we swam in.  Except, there was no asphalt path.  Instead, what you see above is the run course.

Well, actually, that’s incorrect.  The first few hundred meters was a trail-run through the slanted hillside in the woods. It was basically just a giant-slip and slide.  Me and another triathlete were making our way through with all sorts of random shouts coming from us as we attempted to keep ourselves on the trail.  I don’t have any usable photos there unfortunately.

Side note though: If it’s raining hard out, you should consider leaving your running shoes in transition upside-down.  I didn’t think about that, and thus my shoes were full of water by time I got there, like small ponds.

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It’s kinda neat though, you can see the impact on the cadence/vertical oscillation/stride length in that first section in the data below.

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Once out of the woods it was onto the trail around the pond, like this:

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The trick to the run was not falling, or sliding significantly.  In some cases running in the deeper grass was the best place to be.

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Yet in others, the ground below the puddles was actually firm. So you were best just running straight through the puddles (some of which were surprisingly deep, well over my ankles).

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I passed one guy who had taken off his shoes and was just running barefoot while holding them.

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You got a slight reprieve from the mud as you crested a small hill.  This being the highest section on the course the water ran down into the pond.  It’s also where you picked up your first neck ribbon.  Kinda like grabbing Mardi Gras beads, except without as much excitement for either party.

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The neck ribbon simply acts like a timing mat.  It ensures you did the appropriate number of laps.  After you’ve got two ribbons, you can finish the race.

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It’s funny: This old-school system would have easily prevented the now infamous Canadian triathlete woman from cheating.  No lost chip excuses here.  The French race officials would have told her to run another lap and HTFU.

The bummer with the mud is that most of your energy was spent trying not to slip and fall.  So my average pace was some 6:50/mile (4:18/KM).  I think it took me about 2/3rds of the first lap to get the hang of running in the mud.

After my second lap I headed on in and did the short out and back section before working my way down the finishing approach and into to the finish line.  The expat tri team was there though, and cheering quite well – despite the downpour.

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Afterwards they had Champagne ready in hand.  Meanwhile the finishers tent had sausage and other food goodness.

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The accumulation of the mud post-race most easily seen on everyone standing around:

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Or my legs:

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Still, it was fun.  In a Muddy Buddy sorta way.  Something different to look back on years from now.

Congrats to all others who raced!  I’m looking forward to this weekend’s Paris Triathlon race.  It’s also draft-legal, but is Olympic distance.  And most importantly, there’s no run on the mud!  Here’s my race report from last year.  With that – thanks for reading!

(For those curious, here’s my Garmin Connect multi-sport file from the FR735XT.  As noted, it was connected to the HRM-TRI for heart rate, and to a Quarq RIKEN for power data.)

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55 Comments

  1. Andy C S

    Did they have showers setup for after the deed was done? Hope so!

  2. Joe E

    Great job on that race, sounds like less than ideal conditions (didn’t realize there were Tri Mud Runs…..).

    Any comments on 920 vs 735?

    • It worked well for me. The only thing I noticed at the start that was of note, was that the FR920XT will show the time of day in the upper edge of the screen whereas the FR735XT doesn’t. That useful if you have a specific start wave time, so you know how much time you have left.

  3. In your shot of the 735XT it looks like it has the same font as the 920XT rather than the thinner (and harder to read) Fenix 3 – is that the case?

  4. Asaf

    Great race report, Ray!
    These are good looking bikes, what model are you using (Giant)?
    Why do you prefer them over the Cervelo?

    • It’s a Giant Defy2. In this case, my Cervelo is a triathlon/TT bike. For draft-legal bikes you aren’t permitted to use longer aerobars, only either standard road bikes or road bikes with super-short aerobars.

    • Jet Pacapac

      Hey Rey, can we ask your bike fit? What size bike do you use and what’s height/measurements?

    • It’s a Giant Defy2, with a frame size of ‘Large’, which seems to roughly be in the 58-59cm range. Typically I’d go a bit bigger, but it was sorta a last minute purchase and I got a pretty good deal on it.

  5. Ken

    The after pix look like a new sport – CX TT!

  6. Julien

    who could be that canadian cheater!!??

  7. Mike Richie

    So, how did you do? By the way, the only real smile seen in the photos is you, just after you got your first ribbon😀

  8. Eric B

    Nice work on that Sprint. I have my first ever sprint in July. Should be fun and thinking about getting the 735xt.

  9. Tosin

    This would have been a great race for the Gingerbread Man. Super incognito.

  10. Scott

    Really enjoyed the play-by-play and pictures. I do have a dumb question though … what does it mean to be “licensed”?

    • Basically just like membership to the triathlon federation (French Triathlon organization). But unlike in the US where membership has minor perks, here it means you race in an entirely different division. So previous to this year I raced in the unlicensed division. This year I’m racing in the licensed division.

      Same course, same rules, just different groupings.

    • Agree, worth pointing out that the FFTRI (French Federation of Triathlon) is part of the ITU (International Triathlon Union) which is the worldwide organisation. So having a license means (by extension) that you are part of the ITU. Versailles is one of the few races which makes a distinction between licensed and unlicensed men, but it makes a huge difference in terms of the quality of the competitors !

  11. Oscar P

    Nice race Ray. Any flashbacks from your Seattle days? :)

    “I simply tuck it into the neck of my wetsuit once the swim starts.” I can’t picture this. How do you secure it? tied to the wetsuit’s chord? is it on the back or side of your neck? Is it comfortable?

    • No need to secure/tie it. Once below the lip of your wetsuit, it’s snug and well protected. The wetsuit is pretty tight to your body, so it holds it very snugly. I’ve done this on more swims than I can count (races included) for at least 5-6 years. Never had an issue (comfort or losing it). :)

  12. John K

    HTFU… I can guess the FU part but what is the HT?

  13. Ben Lee

    “But, at least there wasn’t any lightening”

    Ray, did you mean “lightning”?

  14. John

    Well it’s certainly an event you’ll remember,but swimming in that pond doesn’t look like all that much fun.

  15. Bethany Thomson

    In this conditions, everyone is a winner :)

  16. Fred2

    I had never heard of the bar plugs inspection before. Do I need to worry about plugging the ends of my clip-on aerobars, too? I currently use them without tape or plugs (or shifters or brake levers).

  17. Alasdair Gardner

    Always love the race reports Ray

    I hope this serves as a good warm up before next weekend’s race.

    Do you have any idea of your final position?

    I assume there was no podium finish?

    Also there is an odd power spike on the bike course 2,618 watt’s,

    • There was a podium for those at the very front!

      I noticed the FR735XT power spike as well (it was paired to a Quarq Riken). I haven’t looked yet though at the FR920XT and Edge 520 data to see if it shows up there as well. That’d help to understand if it was a PM issue or a communications/unit issue.

  18. kzy

    J’ai regardé strava et ai vu avec une garmin 920, 817m de natation :)

  19. Waes

    Great! I always enjoy reading your race reports. Keep them coming!

  20. Mike McC

    Ray,

    New multi-sport format: Swim, bike, wade.

    You mention that you like having a bike computer rather than using a watch on the bike. Do you still use the multi-sport activity on your watch(es)? Does the watch and bike computer just produce a redundant bike activity?

    As someone with an Edge 520 and 920xt with quick-release kit, for tri’s I’ve been using just the watch and mounting it during the ride. It’s worked fine for me and it’s not a deal breaker, but there are advantages to the Edge over the watch on the bike. Not to mention, I may then take the quick release kit off and bring down the stack of the watch making it less conspicuous in “normal” life.

    I realize that all your activities likely have concurrent files associated with them, but aside from adjusting your GC/Strava/Whatever accounts, for the rest of us are there any complications with running a watch and an Edge on your bike leg at the same time when you only have one set of sensors (power, speed, etc.)?

    Thanks!

    • Mike Richie

      Ant+ is one to many, so all your devices can receive the same sensor data. You can just use the 520 for a better display of data while riding and then delete that activity later in Garmin Connect.

  21. Richard

    Great race report, Ray!
    Any further advice/tips for setting up one’s transition area in a rainy triathlon? Looking at a likely rainy triathlon this coming weekend myself, and hoping to keep some of my stuff a little drier before needing it later in the race.
    Thanks so much, and best wishes in the Paris Triathlon!

    • I think the biggest thing is to keep items dry that you care to be dry. So for example, turn running shoes over. Also, if you have any nutrition that’s water-sensitive (i.e. salt tablets), ensure those are also well protected.

      Socks go both ways. In this case, I didn’t bother wearing socks during the bike, but did put them on for the run (for reasons as noted). I’d probably ensure those are also inside your shoes upside-down to keep them dry (mine were soaked). At least initially it might be nice. Or, just put the shoes inside a non-tied cheap plastic grocery bag (upside-down). Easy to remove with one pull.

      I don’t worry about things like keeping the bike seat dry, etc… As that’ll be soaked within 5 seconds of my arrival onto it. And it’s the last thing you’d notice in a race (unless you were trying to keep it dry overnight because you had an Ironman race the next morning and it was going to otherwise be dry).

      Good luck!

    • Richard

      Thanks, Ray!!

  22. Looks like a fun race. Actually the run part reminds me of the several mud runs I’ve taken part in.

  23. Emilien

    Hi Ray
    Next year, if you want to discover a new triathlon, you should try the Enghien-Les-Bains Olympic distance !

  24. Looks to me more Spartan Race than a Triathlon XD

  25. Nice race story! I’ve seen that pond in nice weather and didn’t think it looked too great for swimming, so I’m a little grossed out by the idea of swimming in the rain in it… but I’ve swam in some yucky bodies of water for triathlons too, just try not to think about it… in any case, glad to see you back in some races!

  26. Joseph

    Does the HRM-TRI allow one to many? Did you use one strap for two devices, or have two straps?

    “I was wearing two watches during today’s event – the FR735XT, and on the other wrist for comparison the FR920XT. Both were connected to the HRM-TRI strap”