The Crash No One Saw Embrun Triathlon Short Distance 1991

There are Olympic Distance races, then there is the Embrun Courte Distance Triathlon! It is by far the most demanding short distance triathlon on the planet. I raced it once and only once in 1991. At the race briefing I was fairly relaxed. But I would soon realize that I had made a huge mistake. I had not seen the entire course before I raced it!

A rare photo of the one and only beard I had ever!

Not only was I racing a course I had not seen the full demand it would exact, but I was racing one of the greatest triathletes this sport has ever seen, for the first time!

Simon Lessing

It was Simon Lessing. He would become a four-time ITU Olympic Distance World Champion, the first of those titles just one year after we met in Embrun.

Race day still looked like a fairly relaxed affair. The swim was in a lake, nothing to be concerned about. But the bike to follow was going to push me to the limit beyond anything I had experienced in an Olympic Distance triathlon.

It was time to face the reality of the toughest short distance race on the planet. It was on the bike. The course was 44km and it felt like I was climbing for the first 30km of that ride! It was relentless. How could I still be climbing nearly twenty-miles into the bike!

On the welcomed descent, I realized that I had made a huge tactical error. I had not seen the entire bike course before the race. I was descending at incredible speeds. A left "virage" or curve was coming up and I could see that I was going too fast to negotiate it. But if I went off the road I would go off a cliff!

I had two choices. One was to stay upright but go over a ledge that was over a thousand feet down. The other was to try to lay the bike down and crash, but stay alive!

I waited until the last moment, braking as much as I could. Then I laid the bike down on my left side, sliding on pavement then gravel, coming to a stop just inches from going over the cliff on my right.

No one was around. The lead vehicle was well ahead because of the speeds we were going. I didn't dare look at my left side that I'd slide on. I picked myself up, remounted my bike and kept descending. Lessing was behind me, but I needed as much time as possible to be able to stay ahead for the run.

It worked out. I held off a strong charging Lessing. No one knew I had crashed until I crossed the finish line. I didn't look at the damage until the race was over. It only took minutes after I stopped running before I was stiff from the crash.

It took years for the scars to disappear. But they are gone now, and the only thing left is the great memory of my first race against perhaps the toughest and most talented competitor I would ever face. It's hard to explain why Simon was such an incredible athlete, but safe to say I never once took his potential for granted!

A win even with a crash against Simon Lessing at the Embrun Courte Distance Triathlon in 1991

A special thanks to Jean-Pierre Renard, Herve Villard and Didier Martinez for the photos you have seen in this Spark presentation!

Always A Step Ahead!


Jean-Pierre Renard

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