The Hidden Path EP2 – Step into the ring again
A few weeks ago, Maxime Marotte released the first episode of his web series, The Hidden Path. One worldwide pandemic later, the rescheduling of the Tokyo Olympic Games to 2021 has thrown the international mountain biking season into disarray, together with virtually all other sports. This situation, almost unimaginable just a few weeks ago, has forced the Julbo athlete to adopt a completely different training regime and to rethink his season. Before the crisis unfolded, Maxime had travelled to South Africa for a start-of-the-season training camp with his team. He’s brought back some fabulous footage for us to enjoy of his time at the camp. Let’s “Step into the ring again”!
Maxime, with the Olympics not happening this year, what key dates for the 2020 season are you now preparing for?
That’s a very good question! For the moment, we are waiting for the UCI to set out a more definitive timetable. In principle, the season will start in August and we’ll then be looking at a massively condensed international season with a tight sequence of competitive races lasting about three months. The most important thing for me is that I get the chance to compete at some point in 2020.
Even in the midst of all this disruption, I still feel really motivated and I’ve got my sights set on the series of world cup races. I’ll then switch over to specific preparation for the world championships, which should happen in October.
Even in such unusual times, are you able to prepare as you'd like for such a late start to the 2020 season?
Despite everything that’s going on, I believe that I’ll be in good shape for when the season finally starts. In many respects, cyclists haven’t got too much to complain about. If I was a javelin thrower it would be very different. On a modern home trainer, you can really look after yourself physically, and the new generation of connected smart trainers makes your workouts a lot more interesting, since you can ride along, remotely, with your friends.
Self-isolating is not easy for anyone, but you have to look at the bigger picture and bear in mind that the issues we face as athletes are minor compared with the human consequences of Covid-19 on society as a whole.
At the moment, I’m keeping my mind busy by setting small daily goals. I find that this keeps up my energy levels. However, I’m very careful not to do too much, because the effects on your body of riding on a home trainer are very different to those from actual cycling; especially indoors since you sweat such a lot. It’s very easy to overtrain. Right at the start of lock-down, I worked with my coach to develop a strategy and, after following it for six weeks, it is still suiting me very well.
As a professional athlete, I’m used to rising to a challenge and this challenge is much less difficult mentally than, for example, recovering from a bad injury.
Going back to your web series; in this second episode, we see you in South Africa, last December, at a training camp with your team. What is the thinking behind getting the team together like this?
The training camp shown in the video is the first of the winter for the Cannondale Factory Racing team (Maxime’s team for the last 4 years, editorial note). Usually, two or three training camps are held there every year. South Africa has sort or become the team’s HQ since they rent a house locally for several months.
All the support staff and riders are there and, through spending time together, this team has become my second family. Something very special happens there, led by the team manager whose goal is to create a strong team spirit and close bonds between everyone. Whenever we find ourselves in a more stressful setting, such as in the paddocks ahead of a world cup event, this team spirit gives us a real advantage.
So, this start-of-the-year camp is a blend of serous training with the all-important down time, some of which is on bikes, since we all really enjoy riding together, or in a restaurant with a glass or two of wine. This year, the camp was slightly unusual for me, since it was my first proper training after a long two-month break over the autumn.
To start with, I wasn’t able to go on some of the same rides as my team mates, who were in a bit better shape than me, but the conditions were perfect for getting my fitness back on target. I came home raring to go, just like I used to feel as a young rider!
In this episode, there are some great sequences when we see you riding on trails that would make any mountain biker very jealous. South Africa looks like it’s an ideal training location. Is that right?
I've been lucky enough to go to Stellenbosch two or three times a year for four years now and, yes, there are some magical spots for cycling. In addition to the climate, which is lovely and warm when it's winter in France, the training conditions are perfect. The trails are both enjoyable and challenging and there’s some incredible countryside.
But perhaps most importantly, the trails are very similar in terms of features and terrain to modern XCO circuits (Cross-Country Olympic, editorial note). If you add to that the fact that there is almost no time difference with France, so no jet lag, you can see the logic of having the team’s base camp in South Africa.
Now that the 2020 games have been postponed, I imagine that the web series will be modified. What changes are you thinking of making compared with what you had in mind initially?
The initial plan has been blown out of the water! We were going to cover the gradual build-up to the Olympics and particularly the world cup event at Nove Mesto which would determine my qualification. When self-isolation measures were introduced in France and elsewhere in Europe, the footage for episodes 1 and 2 was already in the can. However, for episode 3 and later episodes, we’re clearly going to have to work out a new approach.
This situation creates all sorts of problems for athletes who’ve been preparing for this goal for four years; but from an outside perspective, it should make for interesting viewing!
For the rest of the web series, we’ll have to decide what to do quickly. The overall objective is still to produce something authentic, which shows what is actually going on for me, albeit with a different timetable. Above all, it must be entertaining for everyone who has been following the project!
Finally, are you feeling positive about the 2020 season?
More than ever! I’ve been “locked up” for six weeks, and with every passing day I’ve been more aware of how much I appreciate being able to live the life of an athlete. I’ve never enjoyed what I do as much as now.
Of course, I’ve missing going out on my bike; training with the team, hurtling downhill at crazy speeds, punishing myself on a steep climb and putting on a racing bib, All that still motivates me just as much as ever, and at my age, that's surely a good sign. So, yes, I’m all in for 2020!"
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