By Pamela Hunt
On any given day, you can find most elite off-road triathletes in the water, on the trails, or at the gym. But if you are looking for France’s Francois Carloni, chances are he won’t be where you expect.
Although he won the XTERRA European Tour title last year, Carloni spends more than 40 hours a week managing the hardware store he owns and runs in his hometown of Frejus in Southeastern France. Carloni oversees the store operations, orders and manages inventory, and sells directly to customers alongside his seven employees.
“My father helped me buy it six years ago,” said Carloni, who has finished in the top five of the XTERRA European Tour each of the last four years. “Since that time, I’m at the shop full-time, about 45 hours a week. I can do everything that needs to be done, and quite often, I have to.”
While many athletes might be daunted by trying to train and work full-time, Carloni looks on the bright side. “Having my own business, I definitely feel responsible for it all the time,” he said. “But the advantages are that I can organize my day as I want. I can train in the morning and come into work a bit later and stop when I need to rest. I’m also lucky because my wife – who is also a triathlete - helps me a lot, as she does in all areas of my life.”
Most days, Carloni is up by 7AM and gets in a quick run or workout before heading to work.
“I work until about 12:30 and then I ride between 1:30 and 3PM. I quickly eat in my office while checking emails and work until I close the shop at 7PM. Fortunately, I can get a swim in four times a week at 8PM. Sunday, I do a long ride, or I race.”
It’s clear Carloni is as conscious about fitting in workouts as a stone mason is about finding just the right rock, and it’s working. As proof, he finished in the top five at nine races last year, top three at four of them, won XTERRA Belgium, and was 9th amidst arguably the strongest elite men’s field ever assembled for the XTERRA World Championship in Maui.
“XTERRA Worlds was incredible, especially because of the conditions,” he said. “I’m not a very technical swimmer, but I like the waves. When I got out of the water, I knew I was in a good position to start the bike. Conditions on the course were muddy, but that’s better for me. I knew the course in Maui is physically hard and even more so in the mud, so I decided to race at my pace, without pushing too hard.”
Carloni slowly picked off guys in front of him until the final section when he had a mechanical issue.
“My chain guide completely turned around,” he said. “I stopped for about two minutes until I finally destroyed it with my hands. I know it sounds crazy, but it was the best solution.”
On the run, he was caught by his friend and Organicoach teammate, Maxim Chane, who would go on to finish 30-seconds ahead of him in eighth.
“Max caught me on the last climb, and we ran in together on the beach. It was a very friendly and emotional battle because we didn’t care about who would beat whom. We both finished in the top 10 which was our goal, and we celebrated that performance together.”
As for winning the 2018 XTERRA European Tour, surprisingly, that wasn’t Carloni’s goal. In fact, winning the Tour wasn’t even on his radar.
“My goal was to enjoy the season,” he said. “I chose races I liked and trained to be in good shape for most of those. I was happy that I felt good in each of the races I did. I knew after I placed fifth at XTERRA France and won XTERRA Belgium that winning the tour was a possibility. But I wasn’t sure I had it until after Denmark in September.”
Roger Serrano won XTERRA Denmark, but Carloni had a solid race, and chased down Max Chane on the run to finish third. All told, he competed in 10 European XTERRAs and racked up points with the same consistency he uses in both his professional life and his training.
“If you are lucky, you have these races, where you don’t know how, but everything is easy and you feel great from beginning to end,” said Carloni. “Belgium was one of those rare days. I had so many problems in the bike with my chain, I derailed about eight times. I had to stop every time to fix it and rode the second lap without a rear break.”
Despite the bad luck on the bike, Carloni was still in second place.
“I thought about quitting but kept going,” he admitted. “When I got out of T2, I never believed I could have run properly. But after a few meters, I realized I felt great. I caught Theo Dupras, who had an amazing race, and was able to hold off Anthony Pannier.”
A former mountain biker and the overall amateur XTERRA World Champion in 2008 before turning pro, Carloni is respected by many on the tour for his technical skills. At XTERRA Norway, Roger Serrano – the eventual winner – waited on the bike course for Carloni, who was about 40 seconds behind him.
“I didn’t want to do the whole race by myself and I knew that Francois was the best guide to ride with.”
Just as in Denmark, Carloni had some bad luck in Norway and lost about two minutes fixing a flat. He still finished third, less than a minute behind Serrano.
Carloni still loves to ride, and recently finished 52nd at Cape Epic in South Africa out of about 650 two-person teams. Together with his teammate Karl Shaw, they each rode about 700 kilometers – including 2000 meters of climbing - in 32 hours over about seven days. Before the race, Carloni’s longest ride was 100 kilometers.
“I wasn’t sure if I was able to do it,” he admitted, “But even though we rode between 70 and 112 kilometers every day, I felt stronger as the race went on.”
After a short break, Carloni will head to XTERRA Greece this weekend.
“Every year after Maui, I have the XTERRA blues,” he said. “I come home and don’t race until March. Usually, I work double-time in the shop and start training again in early January.”
He still isn’t sure about the rest of the season, yet, but what’s certain is that in the races he enters, he will show up with a great attitude and a whole lot of grit.
“My plan is to have fun and enjoy each race. I never know how it will turn out, but I hope for the best.”