Fourth place in Rio helps Maxime Marotte push for Olympic medal

Maxime Marotte #6 of Frace competes in the 2015 International Mountain Bike Challenge at the Deodoro Sports Complex in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Maxime Marotte #6 of Frace competes in the 2015 International Mountain Bike Challenge at the Deodoro Sports Complex in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Maxime Marotte will compete in the mountain bike World Championships on 10 October in Austria, where Olympic Champion Nino Schurter will attempt to claim his 9th rainbow jersey. The French MTB rider came 4th in Rio 2016, and believes the disappointment he felt at the time will help push him on to medal at Tokyo 2020.

It’s a luxury that not every Olympic sport has been able to enjoy this year, but the Mountain Bike World Championships will take place from 10 October with cross-country races in Saalfelden Leogang, Austria.

"A relief in the year when the Games were postponed," was how Maxime Marotte described it in an interview with Tokyo 2020.

Strong competition

In the men's race, Maxime Marotte will compete along with five French compatriots, including Victor Koretzky who finished 10th in Rio 2016. All of them are dreaming about taking the world title from Nino Schurter of Switzerland, who has won the last five world championships and is looking for a ninth title in total.

In the women's race, the reigning world champion, France’s Pauline Ferrand-Prevot will attempt top claim her third rainbow jersey. The world No. 1 will have to beat USA’s 2018 world champion Kate Courtney, as well as Anne Terpstra from Netherlands and Rebecca McConnell from Australia. Rio 2016 Olympic champion Jenny Rissveds from Sweden will also be a serious contender.

A more open race than last year

Only two World Cup stages have been held this year due to the cancellation of events following the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the Nove Mesto in Czech Republic (1-4 October), Marotte finished second in the first race, two places ahead of Schurter (fourth) and 11th in the second one, where the Swiss rider finished third.

Those races hint at the fact the World Championship race may be more open than past years, and that would indeed seem to be the case. Every athlete’s preparation has been disrupted, and Schurter hasn't finished first in the various stages.

"This race looks a bit more open that last year’s," said Marotte. "Nino is not as dominant as before and new riders are coming through, too. Everybody was surprised not to see Nino leading the race in Nove Mesto, as it's a position that suits him well.

"It’s up to us to take the opportunities."

Schurter still favourite

MTB Team France will attempt to emulate the victory Julian Alaphilippe achieved in road cycling two weeks ago.

"We all want to perform well," Marotte said. "We enjoyed his victory and it motivates everybody in the team. We have a deep pool of riders and we are all able to reach the podium."

Five French riders are in the world's top 20, including Victor Koretzky (4th), Stéphane Tempier (7th), Jordan Sarrou (8th), Marotte (13th) and Titouan Carod (15th). It is the same number as Team Switzerland, with the two nations making up exactly half of the top 20.

Schurter remains on top, and even though he didn’t win a World Cup stage this year, he will still be the favourite contender according to Marotte.

"He’s won this title eight times and he knows how to win. He remains the favourite. I think his recovery was a bit tight, but those WC stages allowed him to get better. He was better in the second race than the first one."

Recover in order to improve

One reason this race will be exciting is that it will be the last major championship before the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 race on the Izu MTB course, described as a "very nice circuit that should feature a tight race right to the end" by Marotte, who had the chance to take part in the MTB test event on the course in October 2019.

After finishing 10 seconds behind the top three at Rio 2016, Marotte will do everything he can to win a medal in Tokyo, after going through a tough experience in Brazil.

"It was very difficult as I had achieved good results throughout the season and I was ready. I really wanted that medal."

Disappointments are part of an athlete's life. Sometimes I feel that we experience more disappointments than happy days,

but we always recover and improve.

The Games can’t be compared to any other event

In Rio, Marotte was a serious contender, but a problem with his pedal at the beginning of the race meant he had to work extra hard to return to the leading group. It was also his first Olympics - and on the biggest sporting stage, experience matters. Especially when heading into the Olympic race.

“That was my first time and I think it cost me. As soon as you are officially selected for the Games, your phone is constantly ringing and everyone is talking about the Olympics. It’s really cool, but at some point you’d like to talk about something else. The pressure rises for two or three months and it isn’t easy to handle.”

On top of this, everything changes when you arrive at the Athletes’ Village.

"When I arrived in Rio, it was completely different to what I was used to. Even after sharing experiences with other Olympians, it’s difficult to imagine what it will be like. We force ourselves to maintain strong routines all year round and we can’t keep them up during the Games. So we have to adapt. But already having experience of these situations helps me to maintain perspective.”

"In Tokyo, I won't have a choice"

Next year in Tokyo, Schurter should be the favourite as "the course suits him well", Marotte says about the Swiss rider whose consistency at the top of the MTB world has been impressive to watch.

Schurter claimed bronze at Beijing 2008, silver at London 2012 and gold at Rio 2016. In Tokyo, he’ll attempt to win a second title and join French cyclist Julien Absalon as the only man to have won two gold medals in men’s MTB since the sport debuted at Atlanta 1996.

"People like Nino and Julien have something more than the other riders. Of course they have outstanding skill, but they also have the ability to do things in a very clever way, to work hard and be mentally strong. They have accumulated so much experience that when we are battling for the win against them, they have already experienced the situation 40 or 50 times, while we have only faced it a few times. It’s tough to beat them, but not impossible."

Marotte knows that in this type of race anything is possible, including winning a medal. In fact, for him, that won’t be optional.

“I won’t have a choice if I qualify for Tokyo. I’ll have to come back with a medal.”

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