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Extreme racing in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur

Between sea, lakes, plains and mountains, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is a fabulously diverse playground for sports fans and, especially, triathletes. Every year, thousands of runners head to the region to take part in its many races and triathlons. Here are some of the most mythical – and novel!

In Provence: Aix-en-Provence to the Verdon Canyon

It would be impossible to talk about triathlons without evoking the most famous of them all: Ironman. Created in Hawaii in 1978 and now a registered trademark, Ironman is a multidisciplinary challenge kicking off with a 3.8 km swimming race, followed by a 180 km cycling race and ending with a marathon, i.e. a 42.195 km road race (to be precise). Over time, the Ironman craze has spread to the entire world and, of course, the South of France. Every year in May, Aix-en-Provence is the venue for an Ironman 70.3, or “Half Ironman”, i.e. half the distances of a classic Ironman. The course, which brings thousand of participants together every year, begins with a swimming contest in Peyrolles lake, then continues to Aix-en-Provence by bike via an uphill climb of 1,185 metres to mount Sainte-Victoire. It ends with a road race through the streets of Aix and La Torse park. Now an international benchmark, “Ironman” is commonly used to designate long-distance triathlons, while various races have adopted spinoff names. The Natureman Var race in September in Les Salles-sur-Verdon takes place on the waters of Sainte-Croix lake and in the superb mountains surrounding it. This fairytale site also forms the backdrop for the Swimrunman challenge held every year in April in the Verdon Canyon (Gorges du Verdon). Unlike the classic Ironman contest, the athletes compete in teams of two and there is no cycling race. In addition to legendary triathlons, Provence also provides the stage for a very different type of challenge: obstacle races! Whether it’s the Ruée des Fadas in Rocbaron, the Mud Girl or La Folle Furieuse in Peyrolles-en-Provence, the fun run concept always remains the same, with participants navigating obstacles to the best of their ability and getting very wet and muddy in the process!

In the Southern Alps: Mercantour to Embrun

Trail runners, ultra-trail runners, triathletes and other extreme runners love our alpine terrains too. The Mercantourman challenge takes place every year in June and as its name suggests, it is staged in the heart of the mountains lining Mercantour National Park. The swimming race starts out from Cap d’Ail and finishes at Port d’Èze, Silva Maris. Here, the swimmers magick themselves into cyclists and climb aboard to pedal up the magnificent mountain roads of Mercantour, crossing the stunning villages of the Monaco and Menton hinterland, including La Turbie and Sospel. As tradition would have it, the triathlon ends with a road race around the village of Peille. A bit later on in summer, in August, it’s the turn of the Hautes-Alpes to welcome a must-do triathlon challenge: Embrunman. Created 40 years ago, this very long-distance triathlon has earned itself an iconic reputation. With a layout even longer than the Ironman course and uphill climbs of 5,000 metres by bike and 400 metres on foot, Embrunman is resolutely one of the world’s most gruelling competitions. Luckily for mere mortals who do not have the stamina of an ironman or ironwoman, the Southern Alps is also the playground for the Forca Run. You won’t find any time trials or rankings here – this fun, family obstacle race takes place in Forcalquier, generally in September.

On the Côte d’Azur: Cannes to Nice

The Côte d’Azur’s undeniable charm has made it a hotspot for the world’s top triathletes too. Every April, thousands of them gather on Ile Sainte-Marguerite to take part in the Cannes International Triathlon. After the swimming race to Cap de la Croisette, the competitors peddle through the hinterland of Nice via Pégomas, Tanneron, Saint-Cassien lake and Le Tignet, before looping back round to Cannes, where they abandon their two-wheelers and finish the race on foot, with a loop around Cap de la Croisette. A bit later on in the year and further to the east, you’ll find the Challenge Family in Cagnes-sur-Mer held every June. A mix of élite athletes and amateurs, the course includes a cycling race to Gréolières via Saint-Paul-de-Vence, amid gorgeous, hilly scenery overflowing with colour. The road race takes place along the coast, between the hippodrome and Cros-de-Cagnes. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to push back your limits in the Estérel hills too, thanks to the Spartan Estérel Saint-Raphaël. This obstacle race is naturally a bit more easy-going than a triathlon, but its magnificent decor of turquoise waters and flaming red rocks makes it just as impressive. Last but not least, let’s wind up with one of the most-awaited dates on the triathlon calendar in Nice: the Men’s VinFast Ironman World Championship, a competition usually reserved for Kona, Hawaii, which took place in the French city for the very first time in 2023. In 2024, the men will be going back to compete in Kona, while the ladies will be arriving in Nice for the final of the Women’s VinFast Ironman World Championship. Since its first triathlon in 1982, Nice has remained one of the world’s top extreme racing venues. The first city ever to co-steer the Ironman championship with Kona, Hawaii, Nice’s love story with triathlons is set to go down in history…