Emmanuel Besse's story - Mercantourman XTREM Triathlon

We are happy to share with you in its entirety the story of Emmanuel Besse who won his freedom on the Mercantourman XTREM Triathlon 2021 road bike version. Happy reading everyone.


 »It's been 10 days since I took the start of the MercantourMan Xtrem Triathlon and the emotion is still intact. I hope that this report will allow me to share a little the unique experience that it has constituted, the result will probably be imperfect, the best is to come and participate in the adventure!

The principle and the format:

Le MercantourMan Xtrem Triathlon in its road version (because there is also a gravel version for unreasonable people) is a triathlon in a format close to the Ironman: 3,8 km of swimming in the Mediterranean, 205 km of road cycling in the Mercantour massif and 42 km of trail near Lake Embrum. BUT, the total elevation (5500m D + by bike and 1600m D + in running), a course in total autonomy (no refueling offered by the organization, prohibition to be assisted by a following car, no first aid station ... ) as well as the lack of classification at the finish make it more of a small "adventure" than a race.  Cédric Armand the organizer, passionate and enthusiastic, wanted to highlight autonomy, self-sufficiency, freedom!

Genesis of my participation:

September 2020, Didier (an avid reader friend of the Team) sends me an article with the only comment: “Something for you”. The organizer of MercantourMan explains his concept, his search for authenticity and a return to the sources of the effort. As the ordeal requires monitoring by a loved one to ensure safety, I take up the challenge on the condition that he accompanies me… which he accepts.  Here I am embarked on the adventure. I am therefore embarking on registration, the first test in itself since it is not only a question here of taking out your bank card but that you have to answer a long questionnaire, describe your sporting background and your "references" and explain what we are looking for in this type of race! Indeed, the organizer limits registrations to 50 participants and, to avoid the “first come, first served” phenomenon, selects the lucky ones from the file. A bit like applying for a job, but I definitely like the concept of this event!

The approach phase:

The year 2021, with its 3rd wave and its cancellations of races in the spring did not encourage a very structured preparation. Having had the project of a running crossing of the Massif-Central in June (partly aborted following an injury) I ran a lot (too much) in the spring and very (too) little rode.  If my participation in Chtriman in July allowed me to complete my 11rd Ironman distance in 11 years, she also made me measure how insufficient my bike preparation was. So I spent 6 weeks of summer riding for a long time and slowly doing a little D + in the Pyrenees and a long Paris-Deauville-Paris outing, in pairs with a friend… delighted by the 6 hours of rain!


It's tomorrow, we are on the beach where the T1 will take place. Scrupulous review of safety equipment and material by the organization. It's all good from my side, EXCEPT for a whistle that I thought was hanging from my trail bag and that only existed in my imagination. The organizer is nice but firm, I'm good to go buy one at the Monaco Decathlon and come and present my compliance. At least it's serious that reassures me.

We await the briefing and I find Florian from the UASG who is also doing the test accompanied by his sister for assistance. Our last joint Ironman dates back to Nice 2013, and I also note that just like me, he still uses the transition bags from the time to store his things. Nothing is wasted with triathletes.

Briefing and a few reminders that would almost be scary. Warnings such as “You are independent, if you bend your ankle at 2600m…. well you go back down on your ankle, we are not going to call the chopper for that ", Some examples of situation" You have a whistle, always keep it on you ,. On you not on the bike. If you fall into a ravine where the bike is 10m away and you broke your pelvis, you will understand that it is better to have the whistle on you ”, Evidences“ If there is storm and that you are on the ridges go back down,… you will see that it will appear natural to you ”and the best“ Take shelter under what seems to you adequate: rock, tree,… In short get out of it! ". It's good, we are ready, more than to go.


Emmanuel Besse Mercantourman 2021



 Short night after finishing organizing the bags for each transition. The departure is at 7 am at the first light of the day, in a cove-shaped beach. Everything is calm and peaceful. We are only 44 at the start, no jostling, no outburst of voice, it is almost meditation before the event. 

Emmanuel Besse Mercantourman 2021


 The start is given at the bell, a few kayaks provide security (swimming is the only part of the event to be secure) and we leave in the first light of day. The water is clear, calm, almost warm with a few cooler currents that correspond to underground springs. I pick up my pace and settle into a trio that seems to me to be the leader. Out in the Australian way after 1000m, I discovered that in our trio, there is a swimmer who seems very comfortable and does not seem to be forcing. Second section a little more agitated with swell to pass the Cape which separates us from the T1. There is foam and we get stirred up a bit, but nothing unpleasant with the view of the Yachts at the Monaco Yacht Festival. Last section, pushed by the current in still clear water, surrounded by fish and junction of the T1 after 1h00 of pure happiness. I come out first of the trio but in 2rd position because another competitor doing the gravel race was ahead of us by 5 min. Quick shower, video interview by the organization and departure with Alexandre (the future winner of the road event)

Video link to T1 here


The bike and its 205 km, but especially its 5500M of D +, scares me a little. So I set off very cautiously with the idea that as long as the Col de la Bonnette is not reached we should not make "any" effort. The road rises from the 3rd kilometer and offers us a magnificent spectacle on the coast and Cap d'Ail. I chat quietly with Alexandre, a computer scientist from Lyon, and we discuss what drives us to do this kind of test (if you want to know, you have to come and do the test). The first bump, barely visible on the profile of the race, is still 700m D + and ends with the Saint Pancrace pass km 22. Some competitors overtake us and if my companion at the time Alexandre does not keep pace with their pace I feel it is very easy. At the end of the ascent "the swimmer" (Héloïse), catches up with me accompanied by her partner (the test can be done in duo), she is impressive in terms of ease and her friend does not seem so comfortable. We exchange a few words and switch to the descent towards Peille. 

 Col de Turini: All is well, the weather is nice not too hot, a small sandwich with local ham completes the moment, refueling at a fountain on the side of the road, I am ready to attack the Col de Turini. We approach it via Lucéram: 27km and 1400m D +, an average percentage that is apparently not bad, but if the first kilometers and the upper part are rather flat, the intermediate section stings much more with passages at 9 and 10%. Héloïse and her partner overtake me at the foot of the pass (they had to take a picnic break), Didier catches me halfway up the climb, it's hotter and the effort is more intense, but all is only patience … I progress (slowly) and reach the top around noon, in pretty good shape. 65km and already almost 4 hours on the road, all is well, new little ham sandwich in front of the fountain and careful descent.


Emmanuel Besse Mercantourman 2021


Col de Saint Martin: The objective is to pass without forcing the next pass of Saint-Martin after having climbed the Vésubie valley, ravaged by storm Alex a year ago. The images are striking and the landscape is lunar. The stream that we would cross in a few strides, flows in the middle of a bed of stones 100 meters wide. We see houses cut in half, half-collapsed and condemned bridges replaced by temporary constructions or barely dry concrete. The most striking: a house that did not collapse following the flood, placed in the middle of a bed of stones. The partly broken windows give a glimpse of piles of pebbles accumulated in the rooms. The garage door must have been torn off by the waves, in the frame stuck diagonally, the family car which rests on a bed of stones will not go any further… The kilometers pass (slowly) and the images are oppressive, I am happy to branch off towards the pass even if the last kilometers are steep in the heat of the afternoon. 100 km and 6:05 of cycling, end of this 3rd ascent. Small stop for water supplies, a new sandwich, some dried fruits and the descent until km 120. 

Col de la Bonnette: That's it, more than a climb, THE climb to the Col de la Bonnette, 25 km of false flat uphill then 30 km of ascent, I am at the foot of the mountain… literally. It's all a matter of patience… and legs! I am also happy to have changed my cassette for a small development in 34 × 31 which seemed to me overprotective but which I do not regret now. The landscape is magnificent with a view for miles. You can hear the deer's roar in the forest, the setting sun gilding the ridges and rocks with its rays. It's beautiful but… it's long, really long, with several fairly steep sections of 10 or 11%. After 4h30 for 54 km and 2100 m of ascent, I finally reach the summit at 2700m, it is cold there (9 ° C) and despite the windbreak the descent is painful. Night falls and I go at 55-60 km / h wide-eyed, lit by the headlights of Didier who follows me in the car. A deer crosses in the distance then a rabbit closer, it's great… as long as they are at a distance! 22 km of descent and 10 km of flat before the T2. The dish is a bad surprise, I forget my resolution to be patient and I press hard to get rid of it quickly. I finish the bike in 12:20, i.e. at 20:35 p.m.

T2 the low point 

We had everything planned the day before, outfit, number of cans, number of sandwiches, energy gels etc… and Didier royal prepared everything accordingly. Yes, but here it is, my eagerness to finish the bike reached me a bit and I have a big "bad blow". I don't want anything, not thirsty, not hungry, not sure what to wear ... I feel that I am confused, burnt out and have only one idea: to set off again as soon as possible to do the hiking mode. trail part and finish on time. I change my outfit 3 times, decline the sandwiches, only take 3 out of 4 flasks of water, refuse the energy tablets and neglect the sticks. Anything ! After 25 minutes of approximation I leave T2, realize that I am cold, add a KWay, go in the wrong direction, correct the direction…. And decides to change again after 400m, in the middle of nature in the dark… Really anything…

The trail 

Trail didn't scare me, being pretty sure I didn't have enough energy to run and do it in hiking mode. I had all the same underestimated the small concern that a departure at 21 p.m. brings, alone, on a course without markings, taking a path little used (and therefore not very visible), with the objective of passing a pass at 2600m ... if possible before 2:00 am, the storm being able to occur from 3:00 am…. Sigh. So I set off on a brisk walk for 16km and 1600m of D +, the first section to the Col des Orres. The start of the route is steep but the progression is fairly easy. However, I get lost after 40 minutes and take 5 minutes to find my way. Two competitors have overtaken me in the meantime, I overtake a first and continue with the second. He is from Nantes, a surgeon and we talk for a large part of the ascent. The path is difficult to spot, we grope several times, luckily my companion is experienced and does orienteering.… It's cool! With an expert surgeon in CO, I tell myself that I am safe. That's good, because having eaten nothing for more than 3 hours I feel that the batteries are dead. I nibble a little cheese, and consume in very small quantities the only energy gel taken with me,…. A fortuitous but happy decision, having taken it only because it was lying on the table when it was time to leave. After 3h30 of effort we see very far away, very above us 2 head-ons heading towards the pass. I can't believe that there is still so much distance, but above all so much vertical drop. Do not forget that “All is only patience”… My sidekick, who is starting to show signs of weakness, says he is impressed to see me ride without poles… I prefer not to comment on this judicious choice made at T2! I drool well but little by little, still sucking my energy gel, I detach myself and reach the summit alone at 2 am. 4h40 of ascent, incredibly long! The wind is blowing hard and it's cold, I don't linger. The time to load the GPS track of the descent and off I go… in search of the trail. I test, I shoot, I come back… not easy. I finally find a mark of yellow paint and tell myself it must be "over there, down". It's pretty rough for almost a mile, when I realize that my watch has lost the GPS signal. Ouch, it's ugly! At this point, the track is in a straight line, I don't know if my screen is frozen on the last signal or if I am really in the right direction. Test with my phone and a 2rd GPS, directions seem to match but still no trail mark. The rain begins to fall. Fortunately, I see in the distance the yellow / green glow of the 2 frontal seen before the collar, that reassures me a little. So I continue in that direction and realize a few moments later that these are those of the eyes of a huge cow towards which I am heading straight!  Small detour and continuation of navigation "by judgment" in the increasing rain. Finally victory, after 50 minutes "roughly" I come across a forest track which corresponds to the description given the day before at the briefing. The GPS track is consistent, I'm on the right path phew! I then alternate walking and running to reach the road marked on the route that I hope to be at 5 or 6 km… and which is in fact at 10 km! It is long, but all is only patience… I have something to distract myself from, because fatigue and darkness populate the edge of the paths with statues, sculptures and other drapes, which I know are are the fruit of my imagination, without always being able to understand what the real object is. I continue my progress, do my calculations to check that if the expected arrival at 5:00 am becomes improbable, I still have room to finish in less than 24 hours and win the Rudius finisher. 4:30 in the morning and finally the junction with this *** road that I no longer hoped for. I find Didier there, always brave and always there to encourage me as well as Marion, Florian's sister, who is waiting for him to finish the race with him: Chapeau! She tells me he's probably 3 or 4 km behind me, which puts a lot of pressure on me! There are 10 km left, impossible to resist Florian who runs like a rabbit… which is to say that it is done. It annoys me, it's stupid ... but I continue. Small section on the road, with a portion covered with tags and drawings. A local artist took pleasure in representing here a man leaning on the window, there a family in a car, further from the people walking… A little incongruous on a country road in the middle of nothing, except that he it is about the tar recoveries made on the cracked road… which I understand a little further. I'm starting to feel good in the West!

 The rain redoubled and the storm bursts, illuminating the sky. It is very strong but also very far away, so I have no fear as far as I am concerned but I have a thought for those who are still near the pass… Go more than 3 or 4 km and Florian will never let me down. still hasn't caught up. An idea occurs to me: if I run without interruption now, he may not be able to take me back! So it started, and surprisingly, the more the kilometers go by, the more I accelerate! Another one or two orientation errors which make me fear to see a frontal appearing at the back but no, nobody. I finish “with a bang” (good ok 10 km / h) and finally reach the point of arrival which I reach in 23:05 to the cheers of: Didier in his oilskin and the organizer under his umbrella. Here no red carpet or speaker, very small welcoming committee but enormous happiness! Official photo with the famous Rudius, little debrief… and return to the car after 5 minutes. The pouring rain, the cold and the lack of shelter discouraged me from waiting for Florian who will also obtain his Rudius.

No frills, far from the business approach of some organizations, I LOVED the raw aspect of this event. 10 days later I have not recovered, only one desire to go back. If you managed to read this loooong account, until then…. You have predispositions for the MercantourMan… where all is only patience!… ”


Emmanuel Besse Mercantourman 2021
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