Triathlon has a long history in France. ITU was founded in Avignon, France in 1989. Avignon hosted the first ITU World Championship that same year. San Diego is credited with hosting the first modern triathlon, but the true beginnings of the sport were in France, where a number of “les trois sports” events were hosted as early as the 1920s. These events combined swimming, biking and running in various orders and distances.
While triathlon may have plenty of roots in France, only one Frenchman has ever been crowned world champion. (Olivier Marceau, who won worlds in 2000 and now races for Switzerland). The only other French triathlete to podium at a world championship is Frederic Belaubre, who finished third in 2006.
For much of the last ten years the French team has consisted of Belaubre and a number of promising young athletes. Flash forward to today and those promising young athletes are now International contenders and the French team’s stock continues to rise.
Leading the way for the French squad during the past two seasons has been Laurent Vidal, who finished sixth in last season’s world rankings. The 26-year old had a breakthrough year in 2009, posting three top five results in the Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championships Series, including a third-place showing in Kitzbühel.
“The French team is improving every year,” says Vidal. “A few years ago there was only Fred [Belaubre]. I think it helped the rest of us young guys to have someone like that to look up to. We all saw Fred racing well and realized that if we wanted to race like him we needed to train like him.”
Belaubre is the veteran of the French team with 53 ITU races under his belt. The 30-year old’s career is highlighted by three ETU European titles (2005, 2006, 2008) and a third-place finish at the 2006 ITU World Championships. Belaubre has also been solid in his two Olympic Games races, finishing fifth in Athens and eighth in Beijing. He has built a reputation as one of the most consistent performers on the circuit throughout the last decade, finishing in the top 10 in 28 of his 53 races.
With Vidal and Belaubre in the spotlight, 25-year-old David Hauss was able to fly under the radar until the opening round of this year’s Series in Sydney, where a gutsy performance saw Hauss cross the line third, only seven seconds behind race winner Bevan Docherty.
“I knew I felt good before the race in Sydney, but since I train alone, it’s a little hard to tell how fit I was,” said Hauss. “I definitely did not expect to be on the podium at the first race of the year though.”
After a disappointing DNF at round two of the Series in Seoul, Hauss heads into round three ranked seventh in the world.
“I don’t feel any pressure after finishing third in Sydney,” Hauss says. “I’ve always said that my goal is to be in the top ten as often as possible and I plan on following that line.”
Another Frenchman coming up big in Sydney was Tony Moulai, who finished sixth after leading the race early in the run. At 34-years old, Moulai just now appears to be finding his best form, picking up the first win of his career at last year’s Hong Kong Asian Cup. Moulai’s other career highlights include a runner-up finish at the Lorient World Cup in 2008 and a silver medal at the European Championships in Lisbon that same year.
On the women’s side, the French are led by veteran Jessica Harrison, who began her triathlon career racing for Great Britain, but became a French citizen in 2005. Harrison represented her adopted home country at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, finishing 12th. She has had a solid start to the 2010 season, posting a seventh-place finish in Sydney and eighth-place showing in Seoul. The 32-year old currently sits in sixth in the world rankings.
The French also have a number of up-and-coming female triathletes, most notably Emmie Charayron, the reigning Junior world and European champion. At only 20-years old, Charayron is seen as a serious contender for the 2012 and 2016 French Olympic Triathlon Teams, along with 21-year-old Charlotte Morel.
Log on to triathlon.org next week for a profile of the Russian Team.