Bronze medal for Ariane Lüthi at the European championships

After waiting for several years and a few 4th places, the winner of the Swiss MTB marathon championship 2016 in Evolène finally won a well deserved medal during the European Marathon Championships last Sunday in Italy. Here, she explains how it went, talks about her next goals and how the Raid Evolénard will help her to get ready for the world championships!

Photo Credit : Denis/Alessandro Billiani

You’ve been close to the podium at an international championship a couple of times in the past… How does it feel to finally get this medal?

It’s very special to stand on that podium, I must say. An international championship podium ceremony is incomparable to other prize giving ceremonies. Hearing the national anthem – even though it wasn’t the Swiss anthem – while watching the flags being pulled up, was somehow very emotional. It feels satisfying to be honoured in such a way for an achievement, I’ve worked really hard for. 

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Can you tell us a bit more about how your race went?

The race over 104km and 3250m ascent had one major climb, Monte Pala, which also marked the half way point of the route. The 50km, which we covered before the big ascent, was a mix of fast flat sections, some single track and shorter but steep climbs. With each climb the lead group got smaller. Around the 27km mark, where we hit a very steep part, the front group was down to Gunn Rita Dahle Flesja (NOR), Maja Wloszczowska (POL), defending European champ Christina Kollmann Fostner (AUT), myself and Katarzina Sosna (LTU). Unfortunately Christina, who was riding in front of me, was forced to put the foot down and that’s where Gunn-Rita and Maja managed to pull a gap to the two of us. After the downhill, where Katarzina couldn’t keep up with us, Christina and I had 30 seconds to chase down to the two leaders. But Gunn-Rita and Maja were too strong and their lead increased. When we approached the foothill of Monte Pala, I managed to ride away from Christina and from there on I basically rode in 3rd position. Only in the middle of the long climb I was briefly overtaken by Barbara Benko (HUN), but I managed to flip a switch in my head and claim the podium spot back. Although I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind me over the last 30km, I’m glad that I kept pushing as hard as I could on the remaining medium size climb and the flat 10km to the finish since compatriot Esther Süss crossed the line in 4th place only 44 seconds behind me. 

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The Raid Evolénard will organize the European championship in 2021. With your experience, what do you think could be improved to make such a championship even better?

I would wish for a completely separate women’s race (while keeping it separate for the men as well, of course) without any interference of other categories. On Sunday we had a separate start, but the time gaps between the starts of the different categories weren’t big enough. We then still had blocked trails by amateurs and it was even allowed to draft behind men, which in my opinion, doesn’t allow a fair race. Or would you consider it fair, if the leading man could draft behind a motor bike on a flat section and save his energy while the chasers weren’t that lucky to benefit from the draft of a third party? I don’t. Marathon racing, especially in the women’s category, has evolved over the past 10 years and has become much more competitive so that small things like that can make a difference on the results list. That’s why the organisation of those events needs to adapt to it. I believe and actually experienced it enough in South Africa, that it is possible to organise a marathon in a way so that the categories don’t mix on the route and I would gladly offer my experience to help Raid Evolénard to realise this ideal. 


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You’ve already been racing a lot this year. What will be your program now until the Raid Evolénard on the 10th of June.

I will race the UCI Marathon Roc d’ Ardennes this weekend and the Belgium Mountain Bike Challenge stage race in May before I go back to Stellenbosch for two weeks to attend some events of my equipment sponsor Specialized. In the beginning of June I’ll fly to Switzerland, spend a few days with my family and then come up to beautiful Evolène.

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In September you will back to Italy for the World Championship. Are you already thinking about this race?

Yes, to climb the podium again at the Marathon World Championship on 15 September is my main goal for the season and requires a well thought through plan. My Danish coach Benjamin Justesen and I are therefore busy discussing that preparation already now. We need to decide on when to schedule altitude training camps and have to choose races which will prepare me best for this tough course in the Dolomites. 

The Raid Evolènard with it’s long ascents is basically the first race which should get me used to those never ending climbs again. It also fits perfectly into my calendar because I will then be able to stay in the Valais region for an altitude training camp in Chandolin.  

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