French age grouper Anthony Philippe grabbed the 50-54 title in Kona and thus defeated fellow French athlete and former road professional Laurent Jalabert, who had beaten him in Nice at the 70.3 World Championships. Phillipe's Kona time of 9:17:29 was made up of a 1:02:49 swim, a 4:58:55 bike and a 3:08:10 run, and that meant 8:24 ahead of second placed Jalabert and 9:32 ahead of third placed Swiss athlete Stephan Meinecke. American Eric Harr was fourth in a time of 9:31:54.
Slowtwitch: Anthony, thank you for your time.
Anthony: I’m sorry about my English, this is not my language.
ST: I think we will manage. Tell me what have you been up to since Kona?
Anthony: I’ve been resting, and I haven’t seen the days going. It has already been one month since the race and I just went for small runs, and small swims. In France the cold is coming, and it’s the end of the season.
ST: Are you not traveling abroad during the winter to race in some exotic warmer location? Or maybe do some other events in France over the winter?
Anthony: At the area where I live in France, it’s difficult to train in winter especially on the bike. Then It’s difficult for me to race in some exotic location during winter, because of those training conditions and my job. The earliest race I did recently was the South Africa Ironman in April. And longer ago I just did the long-distance triathlon in Abu Dhabi in 2011, a race was at the beginning of march. The week before that race, I was on holiday skiing in the Alps!
ST: What do you do for a living, and do you have kids?
Anthony: I’m teaching Engineering Mechanical and Process at a University in France. I’m married with Fabienne (Physiotherapist) and we have 2 children (13 and 17).
ST: Talk about how much you train during the season, and what does a big training week look like for you?
Anthony: I train an average of 13 hours a week, and to prepare for an Ironman maybe 15-16 hours. I also try to have about 2 weeks of 20 hours, and then 2 weeks tapering. My coach is Stéphane Palazzetti of S. Palazzetti Consulting, and he knows me perfectly well and I think I have an almost ideal training hours / results ratio.
For a few years now, but especially this year, I had very specific and targeted mental training. It is really important to be mentally strong in such a hard race. I knew I had to be mentally strong to have a great race there.
ST: Earlier this year you raced the 70.3 World Championships in Nice. How important was that event for you as a French athlete?
Anthony: I loved this race! Triathlon and Nice have had a long triathlon story and the first time I competed there was in 1993, in a long-distance race. It was really great to have those World Championship in France, and especially in Nice, with the beautiful water, the hard bike course, and the fast and flat run course.
ST: You ended up 3rd in a time of 4:40:27. How did you feel about that effort on that day?
Anthony: I really had a good race there, and I was very happy with all 3 disciplines, but especially with my run, where I had a time of 1:20 for the 21k run. I knew then that I was in good shape, but the big block training was still coming, to be ready for Kona. I was ok with my speed, but now I had to be ok with my endurance.
ST: The winner of that 50-54 age group was fellow French athlete Laurent Jalabert. Is that someone you looked up to when you were younger?
Anthony: I used to be a fan of the 90’s cycling, until I became so disappointed with the doping problems.
ST: I think during the awards ceremony you made it clear what think about doping.
Anthony: I have a very high level of passion, when I talk about ethics. I love sport, but I love positive sport. I mean I love sport when it is nice to see, when it is inspiring, when it seems to be easy thanks to the mastery of elite athletes, I really love it. But of course, I hate when it is about cheating. I’m not blind, I know that there might be doping in triathlon, but everything must be done to fight this phenomenon.
ST: How bad do you think doping is in triathlon?
Anthony: I don’t know, but unfortunately I’m afraid that some athletes are ready to cheat in order to qualify for Kona. But I hope it’s rare. Something must be done to stop doping for pros as for AG athletes. I hope that the work done by Rodolphe Von Berg (IRONMAN AG Anti-Doping Testing Petition) will have results. But I think that things are beginning to change. As an AG, I’ve already been tested 2 times at Ironman races - one time winning my AG in South Africa, and this year, in Kona. In Kona this year, many AG winners were tested, and the top pros athletes. It’s really a good thing.
ST: You knew you were going to meet Jalabert again in Kona. Did that help motivate you?
Anthony: Yes, I knew Laurent Jalabert would be in Kona. I know his level and I know mine. I was almost confident in my run since Nice, but nothing is done before the race in Kona. There is the theory and the practice, and it’s not the same - especially on the Queen Q. And Jalabert was not alone, there were also many other qualified and strong athletes!
ST: Did you do well at previous Kona events (you raced there 15 times)?
Anthony: In 2010 I finished 2d in 40-45 AG and from that, I already had a Umeke at home. I finished 4 times in the top 100. In 2003: 93th; 2004: 67th; 2006: 62th; and 2010: 79th.
ST: And what was your best finish time in Kona, and outside of Kona?
Anthony: My best finish time in Hawaii is 9:08 in 2006, and my best time in another Ironman race was 8:54 in Klagenfurt 2003. And I competed in 38 Ironman races.
ST: What about your 2019 season leading up to Kona?
Anthony: Yes, 2019 was great for me! I had a dream season and it’s unbelievable! In my age group I finished first at Marbella 70.3; first at Ironman Lanzarote, first at Challenge Roth and third in Nice. It couldn’t have been better!
ST: Going into the 2019 IRONMAN World Championships how did you feel?
Anthony: This year was my 15th Kona and I was feeling really good the last weeks of training for the race. But when I arrived on the Big Island, I didn’t feel well during the last week before the race. I was always tired. I didn’t expect to be in one of my best shape of my life!
ST: When did you arrive?
Anthony: I arrived on Saturday one week before the race, like I usually do.
ST: Did you participate in the parade of nations?
Anthony: Yes I did, I love to meet my friends there and there are some people that I only see there, once a year! The parade of nation is the real start of the race week for me. When I’m back at the place I am staying after the parade of nations, I know I’m beginning to be in the race.
ST: I think your race bike is very French. Could you please describe it?
Anthony: My bike is a Look 796 Monoblade RS. Yes, this is a French bike. Look is one of our team sponsors. I love this bike, very aero and very light, and very nice! I told you I like sport when it’s nice! Because of the wind that can be terrible in Hawaii I had chosen 60mm Corima wheels.
ST: What kind of tires did you run on it?
Anthony: In Kona I used a 23mmm Continental Grand Prix 4000 in front, and a 25 mm Continental Grand Prix 5000 in the rear.
ST: Have you ever been to a wind tunnel with your bike?
Anthony: No, never. I just try to get the best aero position as I could while watching others and experimenting by myself!
ST: Talk about the actual race day.
Anthony: Race day was like a perfect day! A day with hurt legs, ok, but a perfect day, like you only just have a few times in your life. I had one of my best swims there, since a long time. I swam 1:02:47. After that I had a good start on the bike and I really appreciated that with the new start wave departures, there was almost no problem with drafting. It’s really a good thing for our sport and for this top event. Everything was ok until Hawi. After the turn point, the wind began to be present but not too hard. I was very focused on my gels, my feeds, my aero, and I also tried to keep focused on the race, to be in the race, not to be disturbed by a lost bottle, the wind, or the heat. I really felt good entering T2 and came across a friend or mine who started his run. He was now a target! During the first part of the marathon, on Alii Drive, I really had good legs, always remembering not too fast or you go to pay for it on the Queen Q! I kept cruising for the moment. I know the run really begins at the top of Palani Road, entering the Queen Q once again! At that point, I knew I was 4th of 5th in my age group. I passed Laurent Jalabert around the 17th km. Then I knew I was almost on the podium, but I didn’t know where the lead was. I just had to continue to stay focused. The Energy Lab and its terrible difficulty was just there. I was so happy to still have the energy to get up of this terrible part of the run and now just about 10km to go. My legs began to hurt me, but it is normal at that point of the race. I was still able to not have a bad run.
ST: At what point of the race did you take the lead?
Anthony: I took the lead of the age group in the Energy Lab, but I didn’t know it. Then I continued to push hard until the end, well almost the end. Just 1 mile before the finish line, on top of Palani, a friend of mine told me that I was first. It was incredible for me and I couldn’t believe it. I was crying going down Palani, and it was really great. I had one of my best marathons in a long time. I ran 3:08 and I was so happy with that.
ST: What went through your mind as you crossed the finish?
Anthony: I stopped at the finish line, trying to appreciate the moment, to catch it, to live it, to love it. I was lucky to be alone at the finish line, alone to appreciate for a few seconds – my seconds.
ST: How did the awards ceremony go?
Anthony: I was so excited to experience it one more time, to experience it with my wife and my friends. Being there is really a great honor and I felt like I didn’t want to leave this magical place.
ST: And how did you celebrate after?
Anthony: Unfortunately it’s not so easy to celebrate in Kona. Restaurants and places to celebrate are almost closed after the ceremony and too many people in line for the official places.
ST: Can you also talk about your diet? What kind of food do you typically eat and does it change before a race?
Anthony: I’m not vegan or something like this, but I’m trying to be careful of what I eat almost every day. It’s natural, and for me it has been like this for almost 30 years. During the race, I eat gels all day long, with sometime just a bit of an energy bar, just to change the structure. I’m very dependent of what I eat during the race. I must be very careful to not miss a gel or forget to drink every 7 or 8 minutes. If not, I may experience a painful hypoglycemia. It happens to me so many times at the end of the bike, or in the terrible Energy Lab. Nowadays, we have a lot of different flavors of gels. It is really a good thing not to be bored with what you eat, and I’m also lucky to almost never have any stomach problem.
ST: I think you also have a passion for car racing.
Anthony: The pic below been taken just a few minutes before the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, with David Zollinger - a very good friend of mine.
ST: Any final thoughts?
Anthony: Initially I didn’t want to be back in Kona, I was ready to stop there at the top. I knew I was living something really special, at the top of my possibilities. But after a few days, the will to be back in the field to defend this title was there. I’m lucky to be already qualified for 2020 and I think I will take this chance.