The face behind the franchises, Ironman and Fitlane
Ironman and Fitlane are well-known brands in the region. The guys in charge don’t just talk the talk but run the race.
Walking along the Promenade in Nice last September I was startled to see the Ironman France equipment set up across from Jardin Albert 1er. The Ironman Nice event is in June, and the half Ironman in Aix-en-Provence had just taken place. When I learned that this was the scene of a movie (starring Alexandra Lamy, wife of The Artist’ s Jean Dujardin) I realised how the Ironman brand has crossed over into pop culture. “These days people have the Ironman logo tattooed on their leg,” says Yves Cordier, Director of Ironman France, “and when you walk into an office, you see on one side of the desk a picture of the person’s family, and on the other, an Ironman finisher photo.”
Ironman France Director Yves Cordier. Photo: Thierry Sourbie
Yves started swimming at the age of 12 and trained five hours a day outside of school hours to be able to compete in the pool at a national level. “This training gave me a rhythm that I’ve kept all my life – I get up early, and my days are busy and full.”
At 18, Yves stumbled across the Nice Triathlon (4km swim, 120km bike, 32km run). “In 1983 there wasn’t the choice of races like today. It was either athletics or cycling. Without thinking about it, I bought a bike and soon started winning triathlons in France. What’s unique in this sport, aside from the challenge of three disciplines, is that if you’re injured you can still swim or bike.”
Yves took over as Director for Ironman France, which is managed by Triangle, nearly a decade ago. “The Ironman is more than just a challenge – it’s a dream and the phenomenon grows every year. Like the Vendée Globe, it attracts a lot of attention even though it’s a one-man race. There are some sports that are just incredible feats. Ironman Nice has a 70% foreigner participation rate – about 64 nationalities. It’s the South of France and thanks to the Tour de France, the mountains fascinate competitors so the course, difficult but achievable, attracts athletes from all over the world.”
In 2011, Triangle added an Ironman 70.3 in Aix-en-Provence to the calendar. “We fell under the charm of Aix, which met all of our objectives in creating a Half Ironman. And we’ve just finalised our third Ironman 5150 which will hold its first edition on July 28th this year. It’s taken years to find the right place but patience has paid off.”
Training, as I learned firsthand from the Aix Ironman (see further articles below), is about enduring heat, distance, and pain. Yves points out, “Around 15% of Ironman participants are female. I greatly admire the level of women’s training. They know themselves and where they are going. Their daily performance and workouts are just better organised.” Of course, I remind Yves, that it’s not just in sports that woman are better organised.
Fitlane’s blue billboards with the now-famous Et Vous? slogan can be viewed everywhere along the Coast. A brilliant marketing campaign of two simple words, as explained by Fitlane’s Marketing Manager Cynthia Fernandez: “It’s an open-ended question without targeting a particular client profile, and it reflects our diverse clientele and wide-ranging activities.” Plus most nationalities and ages (even my five-year-old niece) know the meaning of these two words.
Hans Peter Franklin, founder of Fitlane. Photo: FitlaneFitlane hit the local health club scene in 2004, when founder Hans Peter Franklin opened a club in Mandelieu. Now, less than ten years later, Fitlane has become the largest chain in the country, covering 11,000m2 in the Alpes-Maritimes.
For Hans Peter, the business of fitness is similar to that of a supermarket: a place for any age regardless of background or social status. As he told Nice Matin last year, “In the United States, 11% of the population has a gym member- ship, in France it’s less than 3%. So is a French person different, or is it just that he’s just not found a gym that interests him?” He added that he would open a new facility ever year if he could find the minimum adequate space needed.
With popular locations in Cannes, Cannes La Bocca, Sophia-Antipolis, Mandelieu and Nice St Isidore, two new clubs are scheduled to launch in 2013: in mid-February Nice Centre (7 rue Halèvy, behind Casino Ruhl) and later in the year in Juan les Pins. You know what to expect when you walk into any Fitlane club – it’s a brand recognised for cleanliness and quality.
Having made his mark in Hong Kong with a chain of clubs based on the American model, this Danish-born English businessman saw an opportunity in France and has revolutionised fitness clubs. “A gym has to be simple to join,” Hans Peter said. “None of this pay the year in advance stuff but monthly direct debits. And a club shouldn’t be located more than 15 minutes from where you live or work.”
A Fitlane membership gives you access to all seven clubs, with more than 1300 classes a month, as well as the latest technological workout equipment, power plates and squash facilities.
And at last, a gym with a Western state of mind: it’s open seven days a week. “Every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day” Fitlane’s doors are open 7am-10pm weekdays and 7am- 8pm weekends and holidays.
And for Hans Peter, who ran a RacingThePlanet 250km endurance race over 7 days in 2011, what’s his idea of fitness? “No one is too busy to find one hour a day for themselves. Book an appointment with yourself and mark it in your diary. After all, you wouldn’t cancel an appointment with your banker so why would you cancel one with yourself?”