He had picked out words he recognized—blini and gnocchi. He ordered two of each and then three of the "Surprise Chaude—une galette de céréales et légumes." He had a fair idea of what céréales et légumes were. He also found himself with a large wedge of what looked like quiche, and a vegetarian burger. When he was served, the scene looked like a model of the solar system; Scott was the sun, and his plates were the planets.
He started eating at 7:15, and at 8:45, as he was finishing, the waitress came by with a large platter of what looked like cake.
"Is milk and cheese," she said.
"Is that a dessert?" he asked.
"No, is from beginning." So at 9 p.m. Scott started from the beginning.
Twelve hours later, at 9 a.m., a classic triathlon swimming start was under way.
The Baie des Anges was the marine equivalent of rush hour on the Rue de la Paix, complete with tailgating, pileups and inadvertent scratching. Scott, by the halfway point, was third in a lead pack of four. One could see the distinctive, wide recovery of his left arm. Though he's the world's best triathlete, Scott accurately says, "My stroke is horrendous, but I'm competitive. I don't care about leading out of the water, as long as I'm close to the front."
The top three swimmers picked up their pace, but near the end Scott stopped swimming freestyle and began doing the less efficient back-and breaststrokes. He knows the freestyle flutter kick, with the legs extended and the toes pointed, can cause the calves to tighten and cramp as the bicycle leg begins; the frog kick, feet flexed, tends to have the opposite effect. As Scott said earlier, "It loosens up the hip flexors and calf muscles, causing the feet to dorsiflex, the position they're in when riding." Most top-level triathletes know this, but few, other than Scott, ever do anything about it.
Molina completed the swim in 35:35, eight seconds ahead of Allen and 49 ahead of fourth-place Scott. England's Mick Flaherty was third, but he would cease to be a factor in the bike leg. It's impossible to be a world-class triathlete and be weak in any of the three disciplines. But versatility is no guarantee of success. Tactics and planning are just as vital. Kick too hard on the swim and your legs are slow to start on the bike. Gulp salt water and your stomach won't work, on the bike or off. Don't ride hard enough, and you'd better be a five-minute miler. Ride too hard and you die on the run. Don't drink enough on a hot day in a lengthy triathlon and you really die on the run. Ride carelessly or fail to check your bike out and you may not even get to the run. But those are just basic triathlon variables. At Nice, as the race progressed, there were others, some merely unique, some bizarre.
Now the leaders sat in the swim-bike transition area, practicing the new art of speed shoelace-tying. Allen led the little pack on to the Promenade des Anglais, which stretches about five miles along the Baie. He had a quarter-mile lead on Molina at the 14-mile point, the start of a bridge over the river Var; he was halfway across, following the car with the pace clock, when a policeman on a motorcycle pulled up next to him and shouted, "Turn around! You're going the wrong way." The cop was wrong. Allen knew that the course crossed the bridge and continued north to the village of Plan-du-Var, the start of 35 tortuous miles along the Gorges de la Vesubie and beyond. Finally, it would double back, recross the bridge and take a rugged nine-mile loop before returning to Nice. Now Allen was being told that the loop came first. Confused, he turned around at mid-bridge. Meanwhile, Molina, no less befuddled, had also been directed to reverse course at the bridge entrance. Suddenly, Allen was second, with Scott coming on strong, as usual.