I endured a little hiccup on the train in Switzerland where I was oblivious to the fact that there are trains where bike’s are forbidden and almost ended up with 150 Euro fine and a night in jail! I confused the guard by telling them I was from Australia but presenting a Dutch passport. The Swiss guard didn’t really get my sense of humour, and I was thrown off the wagon at the next stop. After that experience I was more than happy to cross the boarder to France!
The lovely family Charbonnier were waiting for me with a big smile at Colmar train station and welcomed me to the home of Xterra France, Xonrupt Longemer. I learned that this charming family consists of a mum and dad, two sisters, Lucy and Mary, a son in law Damien and a son Paul. They all had chosen to stay in the area and work in the family business of making wood slats for beds. It became apparent very quickly to me why the children had returned here after finishing University. I immediately fell in love with the mountainous scenery, it’s multiple lakes, forests and little villages. The Charbonnier family also runs Gerardmer triathlon and aside from Xterra France organise a road triathlon event in September with distances ranging from Olympic to half ironman. Although known for its amount of climbing and toughness of the course, they attract over 3500 participants for the weekend.
Xterra France itself is one of the fastest growing triathlons around and is sold out many months prior to the event. With over 800 participants in the Xterra classic event they hold now one of the biggest fields in the World. They also have an option to race Xterra light with 700 participants and an Xterra kids race as well. It’s impressive how they managed to design a course technical enough to please the keen mountain biker but open enough to be able to hold that many athletes without too much hold up.
Xterra France is known to be one of the hardest and longest Xterra courses in the world, but that doesn’t stop people from coming here. I believe this is all credit to the Charbonnier family. They go above and beyond making everything as easy as possible for their athletes plus supporters and their charm is heartwarming.
The whole family went out of their way to help me, for no other reason than that they could. They had organised a self-contained flat for me in Gerardmer which was easily located to everything.
I was very happy I decided to spend a week in this little outdoor enthusiasts paradise. The refreshing smell of the forest itself made me want to explore the trails and on my first ride I felt like I was in a Disney movie with chipmunks running up trees and a baby deer crossing the path in front of me!
In Switzerland I had made friends with Dutch champ Maud Golstein, who also stayed in the area for the week and I had an awesome week riding, running and swimming with her. It was great to be able to speak Dutch and discuss all sorts of random topics while exploring the trails of Xonrupt.
Maud is a true star with lists of achievements to her name and still as modest as they come. She had a bad race in Switzerland and was hoping for a better one here. I was very impressed with her talent and motivation being able to compete against the best whilst juggling the hours between a full time job and training. Very quickly I learned that many top Xterra athletes have other professions to finance their passion. In the bunch of pro’s I have met there is a wood worker, a DJ, psychologist, massage therapist, teacher, and numerous more I haven’t found out about yet. Some may say that this makes the sport less professional and underdeveloped, but I find these athletes more inspiring because of their versatility and housing a spirit to aspire to.
Although I highly enjoyed training on the course, leading up to the race my body felt tired and hadn’t really felt right since I set foot in Europe. I knew it was going to be a very hard day for me, but Xterra France is not a race you can turn your back on, you just have to give it a try!
Race weekend arrived and I can not emphasise how well this race was organised and what an awesome atmosphere the Charbonniers managed to create. From bike mechanics to race gear and nutrition, the expo was one of the better ones I have seen at any event. It was great to catch up with fellow athletes I met in Switzerland at the pasta party the night before and although feeling a little anxious about what lay ahead, I was looking forward to the race.
With music booming from the central race site, the suffering began! A mass start in the swim meant a lot of swallowing water and dodging being kicked in the head, not the easiest for a weak swimmer. With fatigue in the legs I still managed to really enjoy the MTB leg, especially the 2nd lap where I did not have to weave my way through the trees in order to pass people, but could pick my own lines. Each lap would finish with a ramp where some serious air could be made. What a buzz! I was pretty much gone on the run but the thought of how disappointed the Charbonniers would be if I didn’t finish the race inspired me to endure the pain!
My training buddy for the week, Maud however raced a whole lot better than me and showed what a truly great athlete she is finishing in 4th place only just behind the big names of the sport, Marion Lorblanchet in 3rd, Jacquie Slack in 2nd and pocket rocket Helena Erbonava taking the win. I had to make do with 9th but will claim Maud’s performance being positively influenced by having me as a training partner!!
Even knowing I didn’t have it in me from the start, a bad race is always a bit disappointing and it was so nice to have Coralie Redelsperger consolidating me after, telling me she struggled with 13th place here last year and managed a solid 5th place this year. There is still hope for me after all! Never ever give up she said with a big smile on her face, my words indeed.
Although this European racing experience isn’t really going as well as I hoped, I have even fallen more in love with Xterra and the people who are passionate about it. A massive thank you to all the people involved in making Xterra France such an awesome event, and all the athletes and supporters on tour making this a truly memorable experience. No doubt in my mind I will be back here next year, faster, stronger and better!