Ironman Times Three in Le Fontanil, France

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in ULTRA Cycling, Fall 1994, and Triathlete, August 1994

What's in a name? Well, when you're Honda's Le Defi Mondial de l'Endurance, or "World Challenge of Endurance," held annually in Le Fontanil, France, the name is not just hyperbole but an apt description. Consider the event's triple Ironman distance: 7.2 miles of swimming, 336 miles of cycling, and 78.6 miles of running, held back to back to back with a 55 hour hour time limit. Or consider that this year's event included 41 hand-picked endurance athletes representing 24 countries from around the globe. Or consider the media coverage, spectatorship, hype, and hoopla so outrageous that the Le Defi could easily be mistaken for a particularly famed stage of Le Tour de France held on nearby Alpe d'Huez.

The event organizers, Jean-Yves and Jocelyne Poirier, went to Kona last October to promote their event as well as to take notes on event production. The results of their homework were evident at the 1994 Defi, the seventh annual, held May 6-8 in and around the Grenoble suburb of Le Fontanil in the Isére region of south-eastern France.

There couldn't have been a better venue available for the showdown between new American upstart John Quinn of Boulder and the three time Defi champion and course record holder, Wolfgang Erhart of Austria. Quinn was first out of the water, after a mere two hours, 38 minutes, and attacked the bike course like it was a mere 40K time trial. Swiss triathlete Michel Salzmann was second out of the water and also rode strong, but would later falter big time on the run and end up in 21st place. American pro triathlete Tina Bischoff of Florida was third overall to leave the water, after three hours, two minutes, but had a mysterious crash during the night when she blacked out and rode into a ditch. The perennial top ten Ironman distance racer had won two previous ultras, the Big Island Ultraman in 1989 and Earth Journey British Columbia in 1991, but the Triple was not to be for her in 1994. She'll be back.

Erhart may have been 8th to leave the water, fully 32 minutes behind Quinn after the 7.2 miles, but the 336 miles of cycling allowed him to close to within five minutes by the start of the run. Meanwhile Quinn pounded out the miles in his trademark Nike Aquasocks ("I can run more natually in them," he says) just like he had when he won the Double Iron Triathlon in Huntsville last September. Unfortunately for Quinn, the Defi has a triple marathon run, not a double, and it during was the final marathon that Erhart poured on the steam. It was a calculated move by the Austrian king of ultra-distance, "letting" Quinn set the pace for almost thirty hours non-stop, and it worked. As Quinn faltered, Erhart surged, and he took the lead decisively after a last minute effort by Quinn to hold him off. The crowds went wild with all the jockeying for position and Erhart gave it all he had in setting a new course record of 33:28:16, collecting $7,500 for his efforts. Next year, he says, "John Quinn will do 31 hours, but not me." All told, 24 athletes finished the race, including Astrid Benohr of Germany , who set a new women's course record of 40:19:28, also picking up $7,500 for her efforts.

For the 1993 Triple Ironman report, click here!