Friday, December 04, 2015

IOF Athlete of November: Gaëlle Barlet

Massif des Bauges, Chartreuse and La Vanoise are three of the most beautiful natural parks of the Rhône-Alpes region, in eastern central France. Under their shadow lies the small town of La Rochette, where we meet one of the greatest MTB Orienteering world stars who, at the age of 27, has been crowned European and World Champion in Middle Distance. These and other stories are the core of a memorable conversation with Gaëlle Barlet, IOF Athlete of the Month of November.

Name: Gaëlle Barlet
Country: France
Club: SCAPA Nancy
Date of Birth: 5th February 1988
Discipline: MTB Orienteering
Career highlights: World MTB Orienteering Championships – Long Distance 4th (2015), Middle Distance 1st (2015), Sprint 1st (2011), Relay 4th (2015); European MTB Orienteering Championships – Long Distance 2nd (2015), Middle Distance 1st (2015), Sprint 2nd (2011), Relay 2nd (2015). World Cup 2015 overall – 3rd .
IOF World Ranking: 3rd.

Surrounded by impressive countryside of great beauty, working as a wooden house designer, living five minutes by bike from her job and sharing her life and passions with someone who has MTB Orienteering also as his way of life. What more could Gaëlle Barlet wish for?

“I’m a timber construction designer. In brief, my work involves drawing on the computer, in 3D, the wooden structure and the metal assemblies that make up the building. I work full-time, but I have the advantage of working just five minutes by bike from home. Once work is over, I can quickly go and train without wasting time in transport”, starts Gaëlle, in a conversation that will take us from La Rochette, where Gaëlle lives, to the top of the world.

Do you feel the mountains and all this nature around you calling you constantly?

“Yes, the nature and the mountains to do the sports that I love! Mountain biking, road biking, and hiking when I’m tired! I also do cross-country skiing in winter. Right now I’m excited that the snow is coming! The advantage is that I can adapt my work-outs according to my plans, my condition and my mood. Even in winter I can go skiing in the morning and mountain biking on the plain in the afternoon.”

From Gymnastics to Orienteering

Gaëlle Barlet has been a gymnast since she was a little girl. Moves such as the forward roll, backward roll, cartwheel, handstand, bridge and back bend were part of her life for 10 years. And then she encountered Orienteering. It was in the year 2000. “My brother had started orienteering and I followed him two years later”, she remembers.

To add to her great flexibility, agility and strength, Gaëlle was progressively learning some other important skills: improving her navigational ability and tuning her map reading. This background brought her into the French orienteering junior team. So it was natural to see her in Dubbo, Australia (2007), competing for France in her first Junior World Championships and then in Göteborg, Sweden the year after where 5th place in the Relay was her best-ever result. And then she changed to MTBO. The reason was simple: “The choice was hard, but repeated sprains in my ankles made me realise that I couldn’t train and progress in Foot orienteering”, Gaëlle explains.

If not Orienteering, maybe… dance

What do you see in MTB Orienteering that makes it so special?

“Contrary to Foot orienteering, MTB orienteering gives a real feeling of speed”.

Is MTB Orienteering a sport that completely fulfils you? If not MTBO, what would be your sport?

“I think if Orienteering didn’t exist, I would have tried all sorts of sports without restricting myself to a particular one, except maybe dance…”

Have you ever thought of stopping Orienteering?

“I just love running or cycling with a map so much that I don’t think about stopping. It’s amazing when I go Orienteering, I don’t realise the time or distance I am spending in the nature. In every race I just want to find the controls and do my best.”

Queen of Middle Distance

After the gold medals at the European and World Championships this year, Gaëlle Barlet deserves the title “Queen of Middle Distance”. To be in top shape when it counts is not a fluke, and a well prepared season is the key to success. Motivation is all you need: “The beautiful terrain of the upcoming Championships, the course setting, the great atmosphere at the international competitions, that’s what we’re looking for. We also try to vary daily the different types of training. It’s fascinating to experience different things and see the body’s reaction!”

Gaëlle remembers some of the most important moments of the year: “After the World Championships in Poland in 2014, I was very motivated for this season. Portugal and the Czech Republic both promised uneven terrain, which could suit me well. First I did my preparation work with “quiet” long trips on a road bike and some cross-country skiing, trying to vary disciplines in order to lose weight. In March, we had a training camp in Portugal to work on the Orienteering techniques needed on these terrains. Then, the training work was in parcels of three weeks each, with the training load gradually increased and eventually a week to recover. All my workouts were done on a slope, as interval training, in order to be effective on the uphills.”

Gold twice

Would you tell me about these two gold medals?

“During these two races I was in a good frame of mind. I couldn’t complain about the physical training, the nutrition … And I was convinced that I had done my best in terms of preparation for the Championships. D-Days: I have to be concentrated on the present moment, I have to give all physically and I have to stay focused, anticipating constantly. I want to be regretting nothing at the end. And I must, above all, have fun! That’s what I felt during those two races and that’s what I’ll try to do in my next races.”

Which of these two titles is the most significant for you?

“The one from the World Championships, because I really managed to discipline myself. However the race wasn’t won from the start, because I made a mistake at the first control and because of the weather conditions (I’m not comfortable in mud). Yet I managed not to allow myself to be destabilised by the race conditions and I stayed focused until the end.”

Grateful memories

The gold medals, both in European and World Championships, weren’t the only great moments of the season. Gaëlle Barlet remembers another significant one: “Yes, our victory in the Mixed Sprint Relay at the European Championships with Baptiste [Fuchs]. However, he wasn’t sure that we could run the relay together, as only one team per nation is allowed. Yoann Garde, Hana Garde or Cedric Beill could have been perfectly good choices by the coach. It was great to be able to run as a couple, but winning the title together was really a great moment. It will remain as one of my beautiful memories.”

I look now towards Gaëlle and it’s clear in her eyes that she’s eager to say something else, and I’m ready to please her. Veneto, Italy, August 2011. She gets the Sprint world title in an epic race, the six top athletes separated by a tight sixteen seconds. “It’s one of my greatest memories. I didn’t expect such a great performance that year, so early, it was a wonderful surprise. I remember well the waiting for the final result … I didn’t start in the Red Group, so it was a long, long wait”.

Baptiste and Gaëlle, hand in hand

After some great results by the French team the MTBO Elite Team, in which Gaëlle Barlet is one of the top stars, was set up at the end of 2014. “We created this team to be able to pool our skills, to exchange our experiences, and to try to improve and reach the highest level, but especially to work on the development of French MTB Orienteering. It is above all a group of friends where everyone has a role to play, and that certainly had an influence on our results this year”.

Baptist Fuchs – surprising silver medallist in Long Distance at the World MTBO Orienteering Championships 2014 – is one of the members of this special team and plays a special role in Gaëlle Barlet’s life. “I completely trust in Baptiste in terms of physical training. He has experience in this area. Thanks to him I have improved a lot over the past two years”, she says. And there’s something more: “I think Baptiste doesn’t expect results from me, he just wants that I enjoy the courses. That’s why I have to be in the highest physical shape on D-Days, and sometimes he motivates me to go training when the will is no longer there. But he never forces me to go, whatever the situation. Sometimes I think he might be more demanding but the fact that we are together in life prevents him from being more rigorous with me. We talk a lot about MTB Orienteering during the season: We share our opinions on the maps, terrains, how to prepare this or that race …”.

Three questions, three answers

In what sense is being a woman a “disadvantage”, when talking about MTB Orienteering at the highest level?

“Since I’m planning to have children, being a woman can be a disadvantage, actually. I think it’s very difficult to get back on top one year after stopping, even though Hana Garde has managed to do that this year.”

MTB orienteering and Mountain Biking are two distinct realities. Why is it so difficult to call people to experience MTB Orienteering?

“Mountain bikers love speed. When trying MTB Orienteering, the mountain biker is required to stop at every crossroads to study the map and take options. Most of them feel frustrated in a sport that isn’t 100% physical action”.

Is MTB Orienteering on the right track?

“Yes, MTB Orienteering is on the right track. To be known, we need spectators. For spectators we need to be seen even in the forest. I think we should plan (in addition to tracking with GPS), a ‘show crossing’ in each race. A screen in the arena with GPS track and map background with shots from cameras in the forest. I think it has been done in the Czech Republic – in the Sprint it is a very good model for future competitions”.

Portugal is just what I like!”

The World MTB Orienteering Championships 2016 in Portugal are the biggest goal for the next season. Gaëlle Barlet knows this western part of the European continent well, and to talk about Portugal is to talk of “beautiful terrain, great courses, top organization… the sun, the heat, hilly places, beautiful landscapes… Portugal is just what I like!”, she says.

The winter is about to come and the plan is set: “Cross-country skiing when there is snow, and some weight training, running and biking before getting back to the road bike when temperatures allow me to do it.”

And for how long will we see you doing MTB Orienteering?

“Probably another year”, Gaëlle ends.

[Text and photo: Joaquim Margarido. See the original article at Published with permission from the International Orienteering Federation]

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