Ariane Lüthi has one of the best track records in marathon mountain biking. However, she had to wait until her tenth attempt to finally win a medal at the World Championships. She looks back with us on a very special season, marked by Covid of course, but also by the emergence of new names in the women’s marathon mountain biking scene!
The Corona pandemic severely affected the MTB season, as many races were cancelled or postponed. How did you experience this situation as an athlete and how did you manage to stay motivated to train for goals that were constantly pushed back?
The cancellation of the Cape Epic not even two days before the start was a big disappointment and was very unexpected for me. I was totally focused on this race and although I followed the news a bit, I didn’t allow the thought that the race could be cancelled because of Corona. My body built up a certain tension and in order to keep it, the possibility of cancellation did not exist for me. When it did happen, suddenly all the tension fell away. That felt very strange.
The cancellation of the other races was not difficult to cope with, as it was rather foreseeable. After the European Championships and SM were canceled in June, I took a break and took it a little easier in terms of training for a few weeks. This gave me time to occupy myself with things other than sports and that was extremely good for me. After that, I was more motivated than I had been in a long time to get the best out of myself. Looking back, I noticed that after ten years of racing a lot, a certain fatigue must have crept into me to give the last percent. Of course, it was a huge advantage that in Switzerland, unlike in other countries, we could always train outdoors and race again as early as July. That, and the fact that my main goal, the marathon world championships in October, never shifted, certainly made it easier for me to stay motivated.
The bronze medal at the World Championships is probably one of your greatest achievements. Can you tell us more about how the race went?
The race consisted of a relatively flat 10 kilometer approach and return to and from a 30km loop, which we completed twice, – so a total of 80km. The course was not really technically challenging. There were only a few bumpy descents on jeep tracks, but there were a few crisp climbs in it, where you had to concentrate not to have to dismount. At the end of the first climb a group of 6 could break away. I just couldn’t keep up, respectively decided to save some energy. Shortly after the second aid station around kilometer 24, I was able to catch up again, as the leading group was tactical on the asphalt sections. On the second lap two riders dropped out of the lead group until finally Ramona, Maja Wloszczowska and Yana Belomonia were able to break away at the front. Robyn de Groot and I fought to catch up in 4th and 5th place. In the last downhill, before the last, rather flat and fast 10 km back to the finish, I could distance Robyn. Going into the flat section I was still in doubt whether I should wait for my South African colleague in order to have a better chance of reaching the top 3 in cooperation with her. Somehow I had a feeling that one of the three top riders would fall back. Shortly after, I saw Yana in front of me. I thought to myself, “it’s now or never” and attacked her so that she couldn’t keep up. But Yana didn’t react much, because she was apparently in too much pain from her fall in the last downhill, which I didn’t know about at the time.
After ten World Championship appearances, this performance is certainly also due to the experience you have gained in your career. What do you think was the decisive factor in you reaching the podium?
There are certainly more talented riders than me, so everything really had to be right for me to achieve this podium finish, including the necessary racing luck. The basis for the result was very good form. My numbers looked better than ever. But then the experience definitely helped me to implement the right tactics. In the race in Sakarya it was crucial that I rode according to my possibilities, let the leaders pull on the climbs and didn’t go with the cross-country riders by hook or by crook. The knowledge I gained from other races gave me confidence in my own abilities and I didn’t lose faith immediately when I was left behind.
Apart from the World Championships, what is your assessment of this season?
Before the Cape Epic I had problems with a viral infection and couldn’t really shine at the preparation races and of course as defending champion I wasn’t happy with second place at the SM, but otherwise it was a very good season for me. It’s not easy to get into the shape I had at the World. Just to get those numbers was a great feeling and of course I was blown away with the result at the World.
You finished second at the Swiss Championships behind Steffi Häberlin and at the World Championships another Swiss woman won, Ramona Forchini. What do you think of these new women who are making their mark on the Swiss mountain bike marathon scene?
The last few years it was always about the same names that fought for the jersey at the marathon championships. This year was definitely different and it is extremely pleasing to finally have young blood in the field. When Irina Lützelschwab distanced herself from the field, we chasers asked each other if she was actually Swiss or not, since we didn’t know her yet. Steffi, Ramona as well as Irina are obviously very talented. I really hope that they will continue to liven up the marathon discipline.
What can we wish you for the upcoming season?
Good health is always good and if I have a second wish free, then gladly the European champion jersey in Evolène. 😉