#TheHiddenPath EP4 - The opening round
After a few weeks' break, "The Hidden Path" is back, coinciding with the opening of the MTB World Cup tour. This international season has been extremely short, lasting just one week! But with two XCO rounds and two short tracks one after the other, the challenge has been a significant one, especially as these events were followed by the world championships a week later. Maxime Marotte talks to JULBO about this unprecedented tightly packed schedule.
Maxime, you've just completed five races in two weeks, something that's never happened before in the international calendar. How did it go?
Overall it went pretty well. I arrived in good shape and managed to maintain a high level throughout the fortnight. That meant I was able to stay in the leading pack and regain a position I'd been chasing since the last international races at the start of the season.
The first two races of the week went very well (3rd and 2nd spots, editor's note), then the stars weren't quite so aligned in my favor! Despite my legs being good, I had a few ups and downs. A fall on the short track meant I was a long way out on the starting grid in the second race of the week, and I struggled really hard to get back into the race. Doing two World Cup rounds (and therefore two short tracks) back to back, and the world championships after that, was like diving into the unknown to be honest. I have to admit I was apprehensive about so many events packed together, but I surprised myself by feeling pretty comfortable at that intense pace. I even found that I enjoyed tackling the days as if it was a stage race. Even though it was relentless, I found it exhilarating to work out how to manage recovery, the pressure of the race, preparation for the next competition, peaks of fitness, etc. In fact, everyone wanted to be in good shape during this period, so it was really interesting to see the different strategies people used.
Of course 2020 will definitely be remembered as an unusual year, but I really enjoyed the experience of that fortnight.
How do you manage recovery over such a tight schedule?
The methods are pretty much the same as for conventional racing over a weekend. The phases of preparation, warm-up, race and recovery simply follow on one after the other. I talked about it with my coach and we decided to approach the two weeks like a stage race where we'd have to be on our game every single day. The first short track was on Tuesday, so Monday was treated as a pre-race day with the usual routines. The most important thing is the ability to quickly refocus when necessary and "switch off" a little bit when possible to regain the mental energy you need. Thanks to my experience, all that happened naturally. I was confident in my fitness levels so that really helped me cope with the mental challenge of it all.
What role did the staff play in all of this?
I'm lucky to be in one of the most professional and cutting-edge organizations in the paddock, so there weren't drastic changes to make. But yes, we were even more meticulous than usual. Lots of prior work was done with great attention to detail so that we were ready for anything. As soon as we got up, everyone knew what they had to do, and in terms of those little details, for example, we were even better than usual.
The weather was really autumnal, both in Nove Mesto and Leogang, so we made sure we didn't catch colds and the staff were really vigilant about that. It was a strange, tricky week with the transition from summer to fall which makes a lot of demands on the body. In addition to the usual recovery routine, the team was also very careful given the "tense" health situation. We'd been living pretty much self-sufficiently anyway for three weeks since the last Polish cup. We couldn't take any risks with Covid, as we had to take several tests, and especially with the upcoming world championships in Austria.
And how were the world championships in Leogang for you?
I was a little disappointed, obviously. I felt really good but my race got more difficult after 20 meters when my Cannondale teammate hit me, and in the crash the clip got pulled off my shoe. In addition to the discomfort of doing the entire race without my foot clipped in, I spent the whole time fighting to catch up. The start at the front of the race was very fast and you can't afford to have this kind of incident if you want to be among the frontrunners. In some events you don't have any problems, and at other times they seem to multiply. After the last two events in Nove Mesto, I could have done without those issues on the day. I had a solid second half of the race and moved up from 15th to 4th place. The podium was still up for grabs one lap from the finish. So I decided to attack and take risks on the descent to gain a few seconds. At the bottom of the descent, I felt my rear wheel hit some kind of obstacle... In 80% of cases, this type of impact has no effect. But on that day it was a flat! I then rode past the technical area knowing that I'd lost air, but decided not to waste fifteen seconds changing the wheel. It was the medal or nothing. In the end, I continued to lose air and had no chance of keeping my placing. I finished sixth but have no regrets. I attacked and took risks, but it was my only chance to go for a medal on that one-day race.
The Hidden Path is the road that may lead you to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. What happens next for the Games with so many French athletes at the top of the global rankings?
The situation is still the same and there will only be two places. But in this instance, we were racing without having that pressure in the back of our minds. The selector had announced that the races over the fortnight wouldn't be included in the criteria for 2021. So for the moment everyone's on stand-by, even if they've got a world champion's jersey on their shoulders! As far as I'm concerned, my Olympic dream remains intact. It's still the Olympics and I want to go get the medal that slipped through my fingers in Rio. The Tokyo circuit is fantastic and it will be a great advertisement for our sport. Even though 2020 has been a very unusual year, we want to believe in the 2021 Olympic Games.
If you had to take one thing from the 2020 season from a sporting point of view, what would it be?
It would undoubtedly be that mad week in Nove Mesto, with four races one after the other. It was really crazy stuff. The atmosphere in the team, the psychological pressure – all of that will always be a unique experience.
I was surprised by my body's ability to recover. The mind has a massive influence on the way you can feel. I got up in the morning and didn't necessarily feel like I'd been racing the day before. As soon as I woke up, I was on my game. That's one thing that will help me going forward...