This year everything was different. Last year no one expected me to win and this year I felt like I have a target on my back. Start number one, my photo on the cover of race booklet, on posters through the city and in finish area... Despite that I didn't feel much pressure. I had a great race in Embrun 2 weeks before and I knew there's a chance that I won't be able to pull out 100% of my capabilities at Challenge Vichy. However, I felt good and I wanted to try to replicate last year's success.
After getting out of swim start mess I noticed the group gapped me. It took me 700-800m to close the gap and then the pace slowed down significantly. I recognised Koceic and Jeuland in the group so I knew I was in a good position and it was time to save some energy. Only 3 guys were in front of our group after the swim.
Koceic was the only one who followed me on the start of the bike and soon we caught Petsuk from Hungary. My plan was to ride conservative in the first loop and then try to reduce the size of the group as much as possible in the second loop. I didn't look behind too much, so it wasn't until 60k when Bastie went to the front that I realized that he and Jens Kaiser bridged up to us. Leading duo came into the sight 70k into the ride. I picked up the pace and when I started to slow down Kaiser went to the front and kept the speed high. At the end of first loop there was only 4 of us left in the lead group.
There's a short climb at the start of each loop and I picked up the pace to try to further reduce the size of the group. Bastie and Kovacic got dropped and only Jens stayed with me. I rode with him at my first iron distance race in Roth '11, so I was thinking this could be a replay. However, he had other ideas and got away. I held good speed and had him in sight for a long time so I knew the gap won't be too big.
Entering T2 I was in 2nd place, only 1:07 min behind Jens. Other dangerous runners were quite a bit behind me and so far running has been Kaiser's weakness so I was in a good spot. Biggest concern was a bit of soreness in the knee that was left after Embrunman.
Luckily the knee pain got away and now my concern was the gap to leader that was melting much slower than I had anticipated. During first 2 loops I thought he started too fast and he'll have to pay for it, but that wasn't happening and run turned out to be a real thriller. At the start of last lap Jens still had 20s lead. It was mentally exhausting to run so close behind without catching him, but I knew it's even harder for him. Finally, I managed to get into the lead with less than 10km to go. I got a small gap straight away and few kilometers later it stretched a bit so I could enjoy the atmosphere in the last few kilometers.
Win and a course record. Something that I was hoping for but couldn't expect it only 2 weeks after one of the hardest ironman distance races in the world. Once again I managed to pull off a perfect race and on this day that was necessary to beat Jens.