Tuesday, May 05, 2015

IOF Athlete of May: Baptiste Fuchs

From mountain biking via orienteering to mountain bike orienteering – and Baptiste Fuchs, our Athlete of May 2015, had found his sport. “From the beginning I enjoyed the ‘playful’ side of MTB orienteering and I felt I could spend hours and hours in the forest searching for controls without feeling the time passing”, he says. Yesterday, he became together with his team mates winner of the first World Cup Mixed Relay race of this season. And we expect much more success for him in the near future…

Name: Baptiste Fuchs
Country: France
Date of Birth: January 31st 1987
Discipline: MTB orienteering
Career Highlights: World MTB Orienteering Championships – Long Distance 2nd (2014), Middle Distance 10th (2014), Sprint 14th (2014), Relay 3rd (2014).World Cup overall – 8th (2014).
IOF World Ranking: 5th

Baptiste Fuchs was born on the last day of January 1987 at Ambilly, where he lived for the first 20 years of his life deep in the countryside, enjoying the majestic sight of the Northern Alps. Along with his three sisters, he was encouraged very early on by his parents to practise sports of nature. From walking and biking to the more “radical” mountaineering, climbing and paragliding: the Fuchs family did – and still do! – all of them.

In the life of Baptiste, however, there is an event that was crucial in the personal and sporting options taken thereafter. He tells: “When I was 10, I went to the Mediterranean, cycling with my father. We rode an average of 100 km daily, we bought our food along the way and slept in shelters or in the tent that we took. For me it was like doing the Tour de France, and I began to feed the dream of being a cyclist!” Baptiste Fuchs took up cycling as a sport at the age of 12, and seven years later he reached the French Cycling Elite. Divided between Cycling and the need to continue his studies, he chose a Physical Education course and he became a teacher. Based in the Paris region, that’s where he discovered Orienteering: in the Fontainbleau forests.

A beautiful evening …

It all started with an invitation: the challenge to be part of a team in a Foot Orienteering night race. Readers familiar with Orienteering can understand the ingredients assembled that night: the camaraderie, the team element, the competition, the challenge of finding the controls, all in a scenario of shadows and gloom. And when the team leader passed the map into Baptiste’s hands, there was light. “I had stopped Cycling some time back, and felt the need to find a sport that fitted with my taste and interests”. And so Orienteering took over as “the sport”.

For Baptiste, it was a surprise to take note that Orienteering was also practised on wheels. And on all types of terrain. “As I came from Cycling, MTB orienteering was of interest from a personal point of view”, he says about this unexpected discovery. Since the moment he left “his” mountains and moved to Paris, contact with nature had been reduced almost to zero and here was the chance of recovering it. But there was more: “From the beginning I enjoyed the ‘playful’ side of MTB orienteering and I felt I could spend hours and hours in the forest searching for controls without feeling the time passing”. Holding already the physical qualities and the control of the bike needed to perform well, Baptiste was just lacking the technical part. But that one can learn and improve with training and races. Motivated, he has become a habitual presence at all competitions. He loves the healthy atmosphere among runners. Above all, he enjoys this undeniable fact: “The physically stronger is not necessarily the one who wins!”

Started at the age of 24

Baptiste’s first races with map and compass were back in 2011. Baptiste was then 24 years old and the question has to be posed: Wouldn’t it be too late to start? The athlete sees things another way: “In fact, I started doing MTB orienteering at the age of 24 and I didn’t expect to improve so quickly! But I started with a good physical level, although it was a disadvantage in the beginning because the habit to ride too fast was huge and I ended up by getting lost. Looking to make up the time lost, I ride even faster and … get lost again. Actually, my first races weren’t very successful”, he confesses, a smile on his face.

As he improved his orienteering technique, however, Baptiste eventually achieved a balance with his physical qualities, becoming what he is today. And he has the ambition to get further away: “Some argue that it takes 10 years to produce a champion. When I see what Ruslan Gritsan is still able to do at the age of 37, I say to myself that I still have a long time ahead to improve”, he says.

An unexpected medal

From 11th place on 22nd October 2011, in the French Long Distance Championships – his first race counting for the World Rankings – up to his silver medal in the World Championships in Poland on 29th August 2014, goes a whole journey of success. With Baptiste, we dived in on this “silver journey”, the highest point of his career so far.

What memories do you keep from that day?

“It was a very special day. Contrary to what occurred on the previous days with the Sprint and the Middle Distance races, I woke up with a feeling of great confidence, that this was my day. The day before I had already been amazed with the 10th place I achieved in the Middle Distance, especially since I had made too many mistakes. I knew that if I had a clean race there was no reason to fail in my original goal, which was to take a place in the top 10. I started the race wishing to do things well, to complete a course without mistakes according with my plan, and without thinking about the result, just for the pleasure of feeling the moment. And I got what I wished: I grabbed the race with the desire to give of my best, and to have a successful race without thinking about beating anybody. The silver medal is nothing more than a bonus. I prefer to finish a course in 20th place but pleased with my orienteering, rather than reaching the podium without the satisfaction of having had a good race.”

Did you expect to get the silver medal?

“No, not at all. My best result until then had been 7th place in a World Cup stage! I think the difficulty of this Long Distance race in particular was not the choice of routes, but the number of control points (37): It was necessary to look ahead and keep concentration from the beginning to the end. And we can see that easily when we analyse Jiri Hradil’s race, the fastest passing through the spectator control but throwing it all away at the 31st control. I may have managed to make fewer mistakes than my opponents, keeping my concentration and holding to my race plan until the end: choose always the shortest route, think ahead, and keep well fed and hydrated.”

One of the consequences of this medal has to do with your place in the rankings. What does being 5th in the IOF World Ranking mean to you?

“This is also a surprise. But it shows how consistent I was throughout the season, proving that my silver medal didn’t happen by accident. When I entered my first international competitions, I looked to the athletes of the Red Group and they were so strong… I was far from imagining that one day I would join them. Above all, this will allow me to be in contact this year with the best in the world and take the benefits from this additional motivation.”


Baptiste Fuchs has no personal coach and he is the designer of his own training plans. But he admits that having someone who can put in questions about what he does, give some advice and, above all, force him to train when the will is poor, could be important. He confesses his passion about everything that concerns physical preparation, nutrition, recovery and the mental part. His studies at the University of Lyon allowed him to acquire a number of skills that he now seeks to deepen and complement with time and experience. “It is exciting to realise how your body reacts and measure the training effects on it”, he says, while finding the PowerMeter “essential” to his physical preparation process.

Baptiste’s training scheme takes into account the training of another great French athlete, Gaëlle Barlet, and is divided in cycles of four weeks each, with three weeks of progressive physical preparation and a week of recovery. In general, a typical week does not stray far from the following schedule: Monday – recovery, muscle strengthening and race analysis. Tuesday morning – individual training; Tuesday night – training with Gaëlle. Wednesday morning – muscle strengthening; Wednesday afternoon – training with Gaëlle. Thursday morning – individual training; Thursday night – training with Gaëlle. Friday – recovery, muscle strengthening and competition simulation. Saturday and Sunday – competition.

The greatest enemy of the athlete is himself, his mind”

In the training process, the mental part plays a key role and Baptiste can identify perfectly its most important aspects: “It’s not always easy to have the necessary motivation to follow the workout plan, especially when it rains, snows or the conditions are difficult. It is then that we see how important the mental part is”, he says. However, his past in Cycling taught him to “like suffering” when on a bike and it proves to be particularly useful at this point. Directing attention to pleasant moments or seeing images of a competition are strategies that help him to overcome the difficult moments, to which he adds the fact that he knows that his opponents are also training in the same difficult conditions. Result: “My motivation returns quickly”, he notes.

But it’s not just over motivational issues that Baptiste focuses his particular attention in his mental preparation. According to him, his state of mind remarkably affects his performance during the competition: “We all have a similar physical and technical level at the outset of a World Championships. What makes the difference has to do with the ability to stay focused throughout the competition, not to be upset by a mistake or an opponent you meet or some mechanical trouble. The greatest enemy of the athlete is himself, his mind”, he says. It is here that Baptiste sees the reason for his improvement, especially during the last season: “The confidence I gained allowed me to always move forward being sure of the best option, and not come back to lose 15 seconds in analysing the map when I realised that this wasn’t the best way to go”, he concludes.

Man shall not live by MTBO only

In addition to MTB orienteering, Baptiste Fuchs finds some time for other types of physical activity and sport. Cross-country skiing and Ski Orienteering are two of the preferences of this athlete in winter, asserting that “orienteering technique in both skiing and mountain biking is the same; someone exemplifying that is Hans Jørgen Kvåle, a brilliant athlete in both disciplines.” Trail running, ski outings and some raids – “to develop endurance and mental toughness” – in winter, and cycling in spring are complementary activities, and then there are paragliding and climbing, these two limited by the fact that there isn’t enough time for all. Above all, Baptiste Fuchs can’t stand to be at home: “I like any sport, from the moment that I leave home and dive into the nature, preferably without having to take the car”, he concludes.

What do you think of mountain biking “hard and pure”? Do you consider it essential as part of the training of an MTB orienteer with ambitions?

“I don’t go mountain biking. I train myself exclusively on my road bike and I think here’s the example that one can be successful in MTB orienteering without always going mountain biking! I’m aware of my weaknesses in terms of control of the machine: I don’t have the same agility as Kristof Bogar in downhill, for example. But I don’t think this is decisive in MTB orienteering. There are so many aspects that I must work on in order to win a few seconds, so I have no problem in putting this subject to one side.”

MTB and MTB orienteering: Two different realities

In addition to the wish to go further with his studies, the “bad atmosphere sometimes” among the athletes weighed in Baptiste’s decision to leave Cycling. “A certain mentality is maybe a consequence of money and prizes involved in the races”, he suggests, comparing it with what happens in MTB orienteering: “It’s fantastic that a good atmosphere remains preserved in our sport. To win a mug and a lamp when you’re 2nd placed in the World Championships may seem unbelievable to any rider used to receiving prize money, but I think it’s precisely therein that lies one of the charms of MTB orienteering. You can’t live by it, you spend a lot of money travelling to the four corners of the world where the events take place, but people who are willing to make financial sacrifices of this scale, do it through necessity just for the pleasure and for the passion”. And he concludes: “As long as things continue like this and doping and other derivatives remain away from our sport, it’s perfect.”

The topic of conversation remains on MTB, and we can’t avoid talking about the mass phenomenon that MTB is, whilst MTB orienteering continues to attract a much lower number of dedicated practitioners. Baptiste finds the explanation in the fact of MTB being “a very media-conscious discipline which has managed to adapt in order to make the races dynamic and spectacular. The circuits are shorter, allowing live broadcast of the races”. And also, “young people can easily identify with their champions, signing up in clubs and trying to imitate them. On the other hand, MTB orienteering is not easily broadcast as you don’t know the options of each competitor. And we have to admit that putting a camera next to a control to see a regularly repeated sequence is not exactly exciting. I think this is the greatest handicap to its development”, he concludes.

The risk is part of the game

When we see an athlete riding along a single track filmed by his own GoPro, we often feel a bit of vertigo, such is the speed that things happen. Speed is synonymous of risk, and the risk is part of the game, we all know, but is that risk necessary to be a World Champion? Baptiste talks of the last IOF Athlete of the Month, Hanka Doležalová, “the victim of a terrible accident in Portugal”, as an example of the ever-present risk. To him, “to ride a mountain bike is no easy task, but to ride and read a map at the same time makes it even harder. Ask Julien Absalon if is he able to read a newspaper and summarise it at the end of a World Championships race. I’m not sure that he would get to the end and win the race!”

His experience leads, of course, to him taking the risk factor into account. “It’s always with some uneasiness that I leave for a race. But from the moment I first look at the map, I end up forgetting some security rules and I take undue risks. One of the things I try to do is to memorise as much information as possible to avoid being forced to look at the map whilst riding downhill, for example. But unfortunately this is not always enough”, he concludes.

France a strong team

Baptiste’s endurance work in winter was distributed between skiing, running and biking. The athlete sought to participate in as many Foot Orienteering races as possible, especially urban Sprint – races that most resemble MTB orienteering in the taking of options and speed of decision. With the arrival of spring, Baptiste packs up the skis and focuses exclusively on the bike.

Recently he has been in Spain and Portugal together with his MTBO Team Elite colleagues. About the team, he says: “It’s a strong team, full of young people who are progressing very quickly and challenging the oldest. We will certainly have a very homogeneous Relay team this year.” It is clear, however, that what makes this team so special is its self-help capacity. Baptiste confirms: “We have a great atmosphere within the Team and do not hesitate to organise ourselves and move on to a Training Camp as a group, regardless of the meetings organised by our Federation. We also have this habit of meeting together out of competition. The creation of the MTBO Team Elite is a dream that has become true and I just hope that this positive moment will last”, he notes.

I am eager to do my first WRE race”

How is your physical shape?

“I feel quite well. I am lucky that I never get sick and rarely injure myself, so I have so far been able to follow my workout plan strictly. I’m a few pounds less compared to last season at this time, and I dare to believe that my preparation is also earlier compared to last season. I am eager to do my first WRE race to compare myself to the others.”

Judging by results, it seems to be at Long Distance that you feel most comfortable. Is that true?

“Yes, it is true. In terms of results I am better in the Long Distance races. I think when we start Orienteering the most important thing is to simplify things, and the Long Distance races are the ones where you can more easily express your physical potential, rather than the technical side. But as I improve, I take a growing pleasure in an urban Sprint rather than a Long Distance race, for example, because of its ‘playful’ side. I have to say that the route choice options haven’t had a decisive importance in recent years with regard to the big Long Distance races. In Poland, the number of control points and the weak slope meant that the long-leg options didn’t have a decisive character. In this context, it is easier for a “non-orienteer” to be successful. But things will be different in Portugal. I look at Long Distance map samples, quietly sitting in my office, and I find I can’t draw a route to the first control that would clearly be the best one. On the other hand, I think Portugal is a country that is well suited to my skills. When I was into Cycling as a sport, I was a good climber above all. I like it when we are faced with real climbs, when there is enough slope. I live in the Alps and the peaks around me are my ‘beach’.”

Triangle of emotions

In a year when Portugal, Hungary and the Czech Republic form a triangle of high-level competitions, it is time now to address the big goals. As mentioned above, Baptiste nourishes a preference for Portugal and there is a strong emphasis on the European Championships. To the athlete, “there are all the conditions to enjoy the European Championships, but I also have good memories from Hungary where I participated in my first World Championships in 2012. I did the first leg of the Relay and guaranteed the leadership for France’s second team, and then I was second in the qualifying heats of Long Distance, to everyone’s surprise”, he recalls. But despite the many good expectations that Baptiste may have about the Portuguese and Hungarian competitions, it is on the Czech Republic that he focus his greatest attention: “The Czech Republic is the country of MTB orienteering. They are used to organising a large number of high quality events and I’m certain I will not be disappointed by the way the World Championships will be held”, he assures.

“To enjoy myself, especially since the results will be the logical consequence of well achieved races”; this is the way Baptiste Fuchs summarises the goals for the current season. The most difficult part, he keeps for himself: “To confirm that my podium placing at the last World Championships wasn’t an accident”. To do so, Baptiste knows that he cannot overlook the strong competition, admitting that “all the first 20-ranked in the World Rankings are capable of getting on to the Championships podiums”. Once again, “my biggest rival will be myself”. But if Baptiste shows the same state of mind as in 2014, then he knows – we all know! – that a medal is quite possible. And we keep the expression of his greatest wish: “To have a perfect race! But does such a thing exist?”

Athletes’ Questions

Hanka Doležalová, Athlete of the Month in April, put the following questions to Baptiste Fuchs: “Are you planning to participate in the Plzeň 5 Days 2015? What do you enjoy the most in this event?” And the athlete says: “I expect, indeed, to participate in the Plzeň 5 Days 2015, as part of my preparations for the World Championships that will take place in the Czech Republic in August. The first time I participated in this competition was in 2013 and I found a great atmosphere there. Athletes are all hosted in the same place and take meals together, and children from 4 years old participate on small bikes without pedals, among the other competitors. We can clearly see that MTB orienteering is more popular in the Czech Republic than in France. I also liked the “originality” of some of the organisation’s plans, in particular the classification of the best in the arrival corridor, the chasing start on the last day, the Relay triathlon and the semi-free order format, which gave me huge problems.”

Baptiste Fuchs asked Emily Kemp, the next Athlete of the Month: “I know that you have lived in France and you currently live in Finland. The dream of French orienteers is to be able to head for Finland and Sweden to continue improving. Are there many differences in the way that French athletes and Finnish athletes train? Are the training conditions for high-level athletes the same in both countries? What are the positive (or negative) differences between Finland and France in terms of improvement in Orienteering?

[Text and photo: Joaquim Margarido. See the original article at http://orienteering.org/sundays-mixed-relay-winner-iof-athlete-of-may/. Published with permission from the International Orienteering Federation]

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