Recalled: 5 Big Triathlon Moments in Nice

When it comes to Ironman World Championships, Nice, France may not have the same street cred as Kona, but that doesn’t mean the city isn’t storied in triathlon lore.

Photo: Patrick Hertzog/AFP

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

When it comes to Ironman World Championships, Nice, France may not have the same street cred as Kona, but that doesn’t mean the city isn’t storied in triathlon lore. The coastal town, which will host the men’s Ironman World Championship in October (and the women’s race in alternating years) has been the site for plenty of fireworks over the past 41 years. Here’s a look at five major moments that’ve gone down in the French Riviera.

1982: Nice becomes a triathlon hotspot

Mark Allen Nice 1982
Mark Allen is surrounded by a spectacle as he races the inaugural Nice International Triathlon in 1982. (Photo: Christophe Croze/Nice Booklet)

In the early 80s, triathlon had taken off in the U.S., but the sport still lagged behind in Europe. So the International Management Group (IMG) set out to create a European-based triathlon that would make as much of a splash as Hawaii’s Ironman. The group selected Monaco as the site of this new event, but just two months before the slated race date, Princess Grace tragically passed away in a car accident. With the country in mourning, Monaco opted out of hosting. IMG then turned to Nice, hosting some 57 competitors—including Americans Scott Molina and eventual champ Mark Allen—to the shores of the chilly Mediterranean on November 20, 1982. With TV cameras rolling, the race (featuring an odd distance including a shortened 500m swim, 60 mile bike, and a marathon run) was eventually broadcast throughout France—elevating interest in the sport on the continent. The result? The Triathlon International de Nice, (which became Ironman France in 2005, with a 70.3 added in 2018), one of the longest-running and most famous triathlons in Europe.

1993: Mark Allen makes it ten

Mark Allen Yves Cordier Nice Triathlon
(Photo: Thierry Deketelaere/Christophe Croze)

If Paula Newby-Fraser is the Queen of Kona, Mark Allen is the King of Nice. The prolific racer broke the tape an unprecedented ten times, his final win in France coming at the age of 35 towards the end of his 13-year pro career (but not before he picked up his fifth and sixth Ironman World titles, in 1993 and 1995, respectively). Having written extensively about his impressive run in France in this three-part series, Allen remarked that his ten-time triumph in Nice was even more meaningful than his six wins in Kona.

1994: Nice hosts the inaugural World Triathlon Long Distance Championships

With the city firmly established as one of the top triathlon destinations, World Triathlon chose the locale as the home of its premiere endurance event. Meant to rival the other world champs in Hawaii, the race covered a 4K swim, a 120K bike, and a 32K run, with The Netherlands’ Rob Barel and France’s Isabelle Mouthon-Michellys winning the men’s and women’s fields, respectively. Nice hosted the event again in 1995, 1997, and 2002. The race persists to this day, with the distance changing slightly based on the location: The recent iteration in Ibiza featured a 3K swim, 116K bike, and a 30K run.

2013: Frederik Van Lierde punches his ticket to Kona (and wins there, too)

French triathlete Frederic Van Lierde celebrates after winning Ironman France 2013.
French triathlete Frederic Van Lierde celebrates after winning Ironman France 2013 in Nice. (Photo: Jean Christophe Magnenet/AFP)

After taking his very first Ironman win in Nice in 2011 and his second in 2012, Van Lierde, of Belgium, put on one of the finest races of his career in ‘13, setting a still-standing course record of 8 hours, 8 minutes, and 59 seconds. Van Lierde battled with countryman Bart Aernouts, who nearly ate up Van Lierde’s 8-minute lead on the run. Some four months later, Van Lierde would top the podium in Kona, winning his first and only Ironman World Championship by nearly three minutes over Australia’s Luke McKenzie. Van Lierde had victories in France again in 2017 and 2019 for a total of five titles, tying Spain’s Marcel Zamora Perez as the winningest man in Nice over the Ironman distance.

The women’s current record, 9:11.39, was set by Great Britain’s Corinne Abraham in 2018. Belgium’s Tine Deckers has the most wins in Nice, with five (2009, 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016).

2019: Iden, Ryf Rule the Ironman 70.3 World Championships

Daniela Ryf wins 70.3 Worlds in 2019.
Daniela Ryf wins 70.3 Worlds in 2019. (: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images for IRONMAN)

France’s foray into hosting the 70.3 champs doubled as a dazzling debut for Norway’s Gustav Iden, who dominated the men’s race to take his first world title (in just his second-ever half-Ironman). The then-23-year-old—the youngest 70.3 World Champion—notably navigated the hilly roads of Nice on a road bike with clip-on aerobars and various other borrowed pieces of gear, but managed to outclass the star studded field, including runner-up Alistair Brownlee and third-place Rudy Von Berg, with the fastest run of the day (1:08:10). Iden would go on to win 70.3 Worlds again in 2021 before winning the Ironman World Champs in 2022.

On the women’s side, Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf became a record-setting five-time 70.3 World Champ on the streets of Nice, winning in dynamic fashion over Great Britain’s Holly Lawrence by nearly four minutes. “I enjoyed racing here,” Ryf said. “It’s a fair course, and it makes it easy for everyone to separate.”

RELATED: First Look: The New Ironman World Championship Course in Nice

Jan Frodeno Reflects on His Final Ironman World Championship

Immediately after finishing 24th place at his final Ironman World Championships, the Olympic medalist (and three-time IMWC winner) explains what his race in Nice meant to him.