THE HIDDEN PATH Ep. #6 – BACK TO BUSINESS
After a number of significant changes in his professional and personal life, not to mention a new bike, Maxime Marotte is primed for the 2021 season and ready for a fight. The races to select the riders who will represent France at the Olympic Games, the holy grail for every competitor, have never been so fiercely contested. The five contenders competing to wear the tricolour shirt in Tokyo know that there are only two places to play for! But the “Games” are not a game and focus point at this stage of the season. Every rider is preparing, going through the scenarios and testing every detail dozens of times to optimise every aspect of what they do. Even though the international cross-country mountain biking season has kicked off at an insane level of intensity, the Julbo rider found time to share his thoughts on the season ahead.
Maxime, the racing season typically starts with national races that the lead riders use as preparation races; but this year they have come thick and fast. There are races every weekend, with large fields of riders. The general impression is that everyone is very keen for the international season to start. Is this different to previous years?
This season has certainly started like no other! The participation in the races has been very different compared with previous years. Usually, the lead riders from each country compete in the races in their own country until April, to build up their strength. However, because so many races have been cancelled due to Covid, and particularly the cup races in France, Switzerland and Germany, almost everyone has competed in the same races. You can win precious UCI points at national races (Editor’s note: the UCI is the international governing body for cycling). The pursuit of UCI points has made these races much more competitive, with teams taking part from all over Europe. This has made these races much more attractive for everyone and we’ve seem the top cyclists battling it out from the season’s first races onwards.
The riders have noticed that there’s much more interest, both in the media and expressed by the general public, with lots of chat on social networks. The races are held behind closed doors, but lots of people are following the coverage. I hope that what we’ve been through since the start of the year can be a catalyst and that the teams can get together to create, in the future, a proper European circuit of races to open the season, before the world cup rounds start. More races per season would give the brands greater media exposure, which would be beneficial for the sport overall. Having said that, the riders would need to make sure their fitness levels are high from February onwards, and any rider who doesn’t will have to get through a nasty start to the season.
In view of the unusually high demands on riders this year, aren’t there risks associated with a longer season, such as peaking too soon and being too tired to perform well at the major international events?
This high density of races is a positive thing overall; in my opinion at least! Competing in a race under a bit more pressure than usual is a great way to prepare yourself, mentally and physically. This year, I was in good condition and wasn’t afraid to take on the best. When you compete with guys such as Schurter or Flückiger you have to race hard, and if you manage to push them you know that you’re in form, which is good for your morale. But winning these races aren't significant goals; you often go into them with heavy and tired legs after a hard period of training. You have to be careful not to be excessively competitive and get caught up in a personal battle that might be detrimental to the overall training process. It's good to target high levels of performance right from the start of the season, but you mustn’t compromise all the work that goes on away from the races, the focus of which are the priority goals.
From a team perspective, these races are a great opportunity to experiment with small changes, to test our routines and fine-tune our setup under racing conditions. This is particularly useful for me due to my recent change to a new team.
In terms of this year's Olympics, is your focus on the games themselves in August or on the world cup races in May which the French team will use as qualifying races?
I’m “all-in” for Albstadt and Nove Mesto! (Editor's note: the first two rounds of this season's world cup). I have to be at 100% for these two races so I need to hit peak form in May. Physiologically, the body responds well to having to work towards two separate peaks during one season. There should be plenty of time to prepare for Tokyo, so long as things go to plan in May. So far, everything's going well. My performance during recent races has confirmed that I’m riding smoothly and able to rival the best in the world.
I’m also in the frame compared with the other French riders, although we are all at about the same level. Everyone is at some point in their preparation cycle, but we’re not all necessarily focused on the same dates. So, it’s all very open and these two rounds of the world cup will be decisive.
This crucial race at Nove Mesto is fast approaching. What is Maxime Marotte thinking about this event and the outcomes which will be decided on that day?
For the moment, the top priority for this season is the Olympic Games. I’ve spent much less time thinking about the other outcome! I’m totally focussed now on the first two rounds of this season's world cup. In the evening after the Nove Mesto race has finished, there will be time to think about the options on the table for me. If everything goes well, my goal will be the Olympic Games. If things don’t go to plan, it will be a lot harder to deal with, but I’ll recover and will focus on other goals, notably the summer’s world cup races and the world championships. The advantage I have over the others is that I have already experienced both outcomes: I missed out in 2012 for London and was selected in 2016 for Rio. And, if you look at things objectively, the situation in France is such that you can fail to qualify for the Games, yet still be one of the top 5 riders in the world!
You have dedicated a lot of time to the Hidden Path project. What feedback have you had from those following the web series?
The feedback has been really good. Some people who aren’t particularly familiar with mountain biking or high-level sport have told me that they have understood and shared my emotional highs and lows. This was the aim of this project and in this respect it has achieved its goal, since The Hidden Path was never meant to be a how-to guide to mountain biking! I feel that it has revealed the reality of my life as a professional athlete - the successes, the failures, the work that goes on behind the scenes… I’m also aware that I’m not the most expressive rider; I don’t smile all the time! But I hope that those who have watched this web series now have an insight into how I think, how I react and my approach to my sport. In fact, I’ve probably revealed more about myself in this series than I do to most people in real life. The quality of the content has been a big factor in passing on this information. The shooting and editing of the images and the work on the soundtrack really make my “everyday routines” come to life.
Those who follow me on social media have appreciated this high quality content and have been, I think, much more interested in my postings over the last year or so; which is a clear indicator of the success of the series. I hope that viewers have enjoyed finding out about the often tumultuous experiences of a professional athlete. And, thanks to Julbo, people who don’t know my sport or, indeed, me have been able to follow my journey. It almost makes you want to consider doing a sequel! (laughs).
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