By Anthony Tan
Retired cycling stars Laurent Jalabert and Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel demonstrated their ability in a different sporting arena last weekend, participating in the famed ING New York City Marathon. In his first-ever attempt at a marathon, the now 36 year-old Jalabert completed the 26.2 mile (42.16 km) course in an excellent time of 2 hours, 55 minutes and 39 seconds - good enough for 391st place among a field of 36,894 runners!
The winner of Sunday's race was Kenyan Paul Tergat, who won the New York Marathon from defending champion Hendrick Ramaala, the South African desperately stumbling over the line in a dramatic finish to the race. Tergat's time of 2'09'30 was only one second faster than Ramaala's. 35 year-old Dutchwoman Zijlaard-van Moorsel, who retired only recently after winning gold in the women's individual road time trial at the Athens Olympics, finished the same course in 3 hours 49 minutes and 4 seconds, earning a place in the top 20 percent and among the top 1000 female competitors.
"You know, I think when you've been a full-time athlete, no matter what sport, my theory's always been you're kind of an addict - you're addicted to the endorphins, the sweat, to just working out," Jalabert's friend and former professional cyclist Marion Clignet told Cyclingnews. "He's probably not done a whole lot for a while apart from a ride here and there, and Sylvie [his wife] probably made the suggestion. I saw him in Madrid [at the world road championships] and he looked really lean."
"When you stop, you kind of lose a little bit of perspective; you end up working towards an objective and sort of work in circles, and I think you kind of need that to keep surviving afterwards."
Both Jalabert and Zijlaard-van Moorsel's other halves also took part, Sylvie Jalabert completing the course in 5'38'27 and Michael Zijlaard coming across the finish line roughly an hour after his wife, the clock stopping at 4 hours and 53 minutes.
"I'm not sure he'll stop here," said Clignet when asked if she thought the New York Marathon was a one-off for the former classics star, who also won his share of week-long stage races and finished off his career in style by winning the mountains classification at the 2002 Tour de France. "He told me [in Madrid] his main goal was to run a 3-15 or 3-30 and if he finished, he'd be happy - but he may now have ambitions to do other ones."
Concerning the polarised schools of thought that exist when one poses the question: Can running be combined with cycling in the off-season?, Clignet, a keen runner herself, offers a resounding yes. Regularly combining weight lifting, running and cross-country skiing during her time as a professional cyclist, which includes four world championship titles to her credit, the 41 year-old said emphatically, "you can't always be on your bike".
"I think it's a great sport, a great alternative, especially on trails. I did a lot of mountain running in the off-season, running up stairs for plyometrics. I think it's a good change, because it takes less time; you don't have to spend as much time running as you do on your bike, and you need to change pace. Cross-country skiing is probably the best option, but if you don't have snow, trail running is a good option. I used to run to the gym, lift [weights] and run home, and that was a great workout."
Clignet intends to compete in a marathon herself in April next year. Held in Albi, the start town for stage 18 of this year's Tour de France and near her hometown of Colomiers, Clignet says she has no desire to compete in the New York or Paris marathons. "I think I'd get too claustrophobic with 40,000 people running next to me."