Last year I raced Embrunman for the first time and came in 4th. I really liked the race and realized that to do better there I need to do some specific preparations. This year I spend 4 weeks leading into the race in St. Moritz, 1800m above sea level, training with Brett Sutton group. Except for benefits brought by living at altitude I also did plenty of rides and runs of similar profile to the one in Embrun, so I was hoping the race would feel like just another training session.
The start was as usual at 6:00h in total dark, so we had to follow a boat with reflector for the first 20 minutes of the swim. I exited the water 3 minutes behind the group with most of the race favorites. Together with me was Victor del Corral who was another favorite. I was expecting to swim faster than him, so I was a bit disappointed. However, it was more the case that he had a good swim than that I had a bad one.
First climb starts straight after first transition. I let Victor set the pace and a bit later noticed that Gustavo Rodriguez caught up with us. Del Corral set a good pace and from time to time I could see the front group in the distance. Once on the downhill I dropped the two Spaniards and went after the group. Just as we approached Embrun again, about 40km into the ride, I caught them. Initially, I planned to ride in the group and save energy for Col d’Izoard, but I felt good and decided to stretch the legs a bit. When I noticed that a gap opened, there was no turning back any more. Not long after I passed Robin Pasteur and found myself in the lead.
On the foot of the Izoard someone told me I have 2 minutes on the group. I was a bit worried I pushed too hard until then and that I’ll suffer on the climb, but as soon as I started climbing it was clear that the legs had plenty of energy left in them. Few kilometers later I heard the gap to Zamora increased to 3min, then later to 4 min… As I approached the top of Izoard the rain started and the temperature dropped to 5C at one point. I tolerate the cold quite well and knew it will hurt others more than me. At the top of Izoard, I had 3:15 min on Cunnama, 4 min on del Corral and more than 6 minutes on Zamora, Jaskolka and Bittner.
The downhill was slippery and cold and I managed to further strech my lead. I enjoyed last part of the downhill through Briancon. Felt like a president of the country as I had two police motorbikes and one lead motorbike clearing the road in front of me and there were plenty of spectators cheering along the road.
I was expecting I’ll start to pay for my earlier efforts but that moment never came. It took until about 160km of the ride that I got another split and I almost fell of my bike when I saw that I now had 8 minutes on Cunnama and more than 10 on all others. During the last part of the ride my mind was already on the run so the gap dropped to 6min to Cunnama and 9:15 min to del Corral.
Although the gap was quite large the race was far from decided. Both Cunnama and del Corral are known for their strong runs and both have ironman maratons in 2:40h range. I started the run well at 4:00 min/km pace which felt surprisingly comfortable. Although not extreme as bike course, the run course in Embrun is far from easy. Run course record is 2:49h which tells enough. I knew that if I manage to hold that pace, my chasers will need a super effort to catch me.
Despite my strong start, Cunnama took one minute out of my advantage in the first 3 kilometers. However, after that the gap wasn’t going down so quickly and by halfway point he only took another 40 seconds out of my lead. I was unaware that he reduced the gap at the end of the bike and I thought I had at least 8 minutes at the start of the run. So when I heard I have 4:20min lead at half-way point I thought it could be close. At around 25th kilometer I heard the gap stayed at 4:20 minutes. Few moments later I run past a loudspeaker and Guns n’Roses song „You could be mine“ was playing. At that point I thought for the first time, this race could be mine.
I was still on a 2:50h maraton pace and my lead started growing again. At 36km mark I found out I have more than 10minutes and it was time to slow down a bit and enjoy the last kilometers. I managed to add fastest run split (2:53h) to the fastest bike split and won the race 12 minutes in front of del Corral and 13 minutes in front of Cunnama.
Embrunman is a cult race in France. This was 32nd edition of the race which makes it one of the oldest races in Europe. It’s also one of the hardest and probably the prettiest. Winning this race is definitely my biggest accomplishment so far and big motivation to continue the chase for more successes.