The Epic History Of Triathlon In Nice, France
The Ville de Nice in southern France and the sport of triathlon have been bonded together since 1982. Yet, even though iconic races have taken place there over the last 37-years, a lot of its amazing, dramatic history is unknown to most triathletes today.
Over the next several months I’ll be sharing stories about triathlon in Nice. Many have been told before. Some will be completely new, shocking and revealing in a way that shows how impressive this history is. But even the ones you have heard before are so worthy of telling again! I’ll also be interviewing a select group of athletes who were all an intimate part of shaping the history of triathlon in Nice.
The event was born in the fall of 1982. That’s the same year that IRONMAN Hawaii skyrocketed into worldwide sport fame.
The idea was conceived by International Management Group. IMG hopped on the wave of triathlon’s stardom status and brought that sparkle to Europe. They wanted to stage a world-class triathlon on the Mediterranean. The race would also be aired on television in the US on CBS, which was a direct competitor of ABC where IRONMAN had its home at the time. So it appeared that they also wanted to be a direct competitor of IRONMAN!
The location for the inaugural Nice Triathlon was going to be the famed Principality of Monaco. Unfortunately, just two months before it was to take place, Princess Grace of Monaco died in a horrific car crash. Monaco in mourning put a moratorium on holding any kind of celebratory sporting events like the triathlon for one year. IMG needed to immediately find a new home for its race.
As only history can now see as a fortuitous twist of tragic events, the race was shifted a short distance west along the Mediterranean Sea to Nice. The swim would be in the iconic blue waters at the base of Nice. The cycling leg would scale the Maritime Alps through tiny villages where it seemed time stood still. And then the run would start and finish on the Promenade des Anglais, a street as famous as any boulevard in the world.
The distances that very first year were awkwardly in favor of the runners. The swim was 1,500m. The cycling leg was 100km. But then the run would be a full marathon.
The athletes knew it was run heavy, but didn’t complain a whole lot because we were going to be racing a world-class triathlon in Europe, in Nice, on the Cote d’Azur!
Why was that mix of distances selected? Perhaps the organizers felt anything less than a marathon for the final leg wouldn’t be grueling enough to match IRONMAN”s distances and challenges. Safe to say, if that was their intentions, they succeeded! (I’ll share an intimate account of that first race in the next story about triathlons in Nice.)
Fortunately, in an effort to balance the three disciplines, the next year in 1983 the distances became a 3,000m swim, a 120km bike and a 32km run. That was the magic formula. Even more hills were incorporated into the back country cycling leg behind Nice. And the run, although shorter, was able to extend to an out and back hugging the Mediterranean coastline the entire way.
The race consistently had one of the top international fields anywhere.
Winners of the race include many athletes who have also been IRONMAN World Champions, ITU Champions, and many who focused solely on being the Nice Triathlon Champion!
The race had great success in its first two decades. But by 2004 interest from athletes to race there was waning. The ITU had taken over running it in 1994, with initial success. Yet ten years later it was clear that the ITU was putting all its efforts into its Olympic distance series of events around the world. Triathlon in Nice had been neglected. But that in no way meant it was dying a slow death!
In 2005, the race took its final transformation. Triathlon in Nice became IRONMAN France. That was the fuel needed to ignite a new era of racing in Nice.
Triathlon in Nice started in 1982. It has evolved into being one of the jewels on the IRONMAN World Circuit. That 37-year journey has a new chapter that will be written this September. It’s going to be a chapter that I am sure will be one of the greatest in Nice’s triathlon history. Nice will host the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships!
My goal in the next few months is to share with you stories from the amazing history of this race as a way to help you understand why the World Championship there is going to be an incredibly impressive chapter in the ongoing iconic history of triathlon in Nice. Stay tuned!
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