Lou Denaix is one of the most promising athletes of the current MTBO panorama. On the edge of a new season of competition, she takes a little break in her training to introduce herself to the Portuguese Orienteering Blog's readers.
The first question is always the easiest. Would you like to introduce yourself?
Lou Denaix (L. D.) - Hi, my name is Lou Denaix, I’m 22 years old and I was born in Chamonix, Mont Blanc. I live in Grenoble currently, where I'm studying Physics. I’m in the third year and next year I plan to do a masters degree in Fundamental Physics, maybe in the area of particle physics or nanophysics, trying to become a researcher in 5 or 6 years. I don’t really have free time to do others things than MTBO and studying, but when I find a little time, I love to play the piano and the guitar, draw or write some fantasy stories, and I also love practising every outdoors sports, like skiing, walking, alpinism, climbing, trail…
How were you introduced to Orienteering?
L. D. - I was born in a really sporty family and my father introduced me to the Orienteering world when I was taking my first steps. I can’t really remember, it has always been a part of my life.
What do you see in this sport that makes it so special?
L. D. - There is an infinity of reasons which make this sport special, the three most important being, firstly, the fact that every event, every competition is different, there are new maps, new arenas, a totally new layout… You never do the same thing twice, you never get bored. Secondly, you're the master of your race all the time, you choose your route as you wish, you handle your effort, you control everything, there is no one to tell you what to do, how to ride… Finally, this sport is about friendship. I just feel so lucky because MTBO is a big family, not just in France, but also in international competitions, I met some people without whom I can’t imagine my life now.
Why such a passion for MTB Orienteering?
L. D. - I don’t really know, Step by step, MTBO has become my sport for life. I always did a lot of different sports and, at the beginning, it was just one of many. When I was aged 12, I had a really bad knee injury because of Athletics and Handball, and I had to stop doing sports for an whole year. After this year, I wasn't allowed to do anything but biking and swimming, so I spent a lot of hours riding and I really discovered this sport. After a few months, I started doing foot orienteering again, and the next year I got a slot in the French Youth FootO Team. At the same time, I also had my first adventure with the French MTBO Team and I discovered the “high level side” of orienteering. I joined the orienteering Elite Academy (“Pôle Espoir”) of Fontainebleau in my first year of high school, and I had to choose between FootO and MTBO. I don’t know where it came from, but my answer was naturally MTBO. At that moment, I chose this sport to become the one for life.
You started competing at the highest level in 2012 in the Junior World MTB Orienteering, in Veszprém, Hungary, achieving an impressive gold medal in the Sprint. How important was it in your career?
L. D. - Those Championships were really important for me. I didn’t expect the gold medal at all, it was my first race of my first Junior World Championships and I was a rookie, but I will remember the joy I felt that day all my life. My sister and my father were at the finish, and we all cried. It was really motivating during my Junior years to remember those World Championships, which helped me to endure the hard trainings, like interval trainings, surpassing myself and making projects for the future.
Would you like to tell me about other important moments so far?
L. D. - There were two Championships in 2015 which particularly make me smile when I think about them, the first one being, of course, the Junior World Championships, in the Czech Republic. That whole week was really incredible and there were the most beautiful arenas in which I had ever competed, especially the Long Distance and Relay arena. I had an incredible week there, socially and sportively.
Individually, I didn’t succeed to win a race, I was very stressed and wasn’t able to handle all of it, but I was quite happy with my races, anyway. But the memory I want to tell you is the Relay. My partners Lou Garcin and Constance Devillers were really young and even if we wanted to do our best, we never expected what happened. It was a really intense race, I took the start like I always do, and then Constance achieved an amazing performance as she knows how to (this girl never ceases to impress me, by the way). And then, Lou did the last leg because she is clearly the best finisher out of all of us. It seemed like a really long wait for her, but she also did her race in the best possible way. And the result was there, we won. When you hear the French anthem in the podium with your team, there are no words to describe it, it’s perfect. I still smile every time I think about it.
The second event I want to tell you about is the European Championships, in Portugal, that same year. This event was awesome, the organization and the map were perfect. I really loved this week because it was, for the time, the best achievement in an international competition for me. During this week, every training I did during the years before, physically, technically and mentally, were perfectly in place and I felt really great. The moment I prefer is the Long Distance. I was leading the race and I just had to wait for Veronika Kubinova (not the least of the competitors!) to know if I could win or not. And I had this really cool picture when she arrived, she showed me her time and then I knew that I had won, and she clapped my hand. It was a great moment. I also love these Championships because all the French team had great results and there was a crazy atmosphere between us.
Last season, you joined the Elite class. How big can the gap between the Junior and the Elite be?
L. D. - The gap is huge. When you arrived to the Elite, you meet people with such experience that it’s difficult to make your marks. Also the stress is really different, and the races are longer and more complicated. But I'm, really, not telling you something new (laughs).
How do you assess the 2016 MTBO season?
L. D. - I would say it was a mixed-feeling season. I’m not completely satisfied about my performances in the international competitions and I had major difficulties handling my stress, but there were great moments. I achieved good results in the French competitions and took a lot of pleasure in the different events, especially in the World Cup, in Lithuania, and the MTBO camp, in Portugal, which were encouraging for the next seasons.
You started the new season in Sochi, but not doing MTBO. How was the CISM Military World Games' experience?
L. D. - I'm missing the words to describe it. I joined the Military Ski Orienteering Team this year to complete my MTBO winter training, with two other members of French MTBO team: Gaelle Barlet and Baptiste Fuchs. It was a really great opportunity for me and I think it made me progress in orienteering and in my head. It also allowed me to do training stages with the team during winter and not just training alone, which is truly a plus compared to the previous years.
The World Games were just amazing. The start, finish and spectators control of each race were on the biathlon shooting range of last Winter Olympic Games and it was like a dream to be there, sharing those moments with my usual MTBO partners, and also with all the French SkiO Team. It was a wonderful event in a wonderful place, with a wonderful team, and all the Russian people were really friendly. What else can I say?
How similar are MTBO and SkiO? What's the most interesting part of each?
L. D. - The biggest similarity between them it’s the way you read the map and make your choices. You have different kinds of tracks, possibilities to shortening legs, but the mental approach is the same. The most interesting part in SkiO is when you're skiing off the tracks or on scooter tracks, the ski technique is really different than cross country skiing and you develop your own way to ski. It’s really fun and it’s also the moment when reading map become challenging and you have to anticipate and memorize a lot. In MTBO, I guess, you find the same kind of difficulties in Sprint distance, when you have to be as fast as you can, both in your head and in your legs, but what I find really interesting are the big route choices in the Long Distance. I think you don’t really have that difficulty in SkiO or even in FootO in terms of choice. What is really great is that the best choice could be really different according to the rider, and you have to know yourself very well.
Is there an athlete that you see as an idol, a source of inspiration? What does he/she has that you don’t?
L. D. - The first source of inspiration was always my father. He gave me the fabulous gift which is sport in general, and I couldn’t be here without him. But since I do MTBO, I have to admit that I always admired Svetlana Poverina. During the years we were both Juniors, she won almost every race, with sometimes so much advance! I remember a race in Estonia where we were talking with other competitors and asked ourselves how was it possible to do the time she did. And when she reached the Elite, she immediately got to the top 10, she didn’t really had difficulties to go through the gap between junior and elite.
I’m also the first fan of Gaelle Barlet, I really admire the progress she made during the last few years, becoming one of the best athletes in this sport. She is in the top 6 in international competitions almost all the time; she has an impressive regularity and mental strength under pressure. She's been one of my role models ever since I began MTBO. I’m really impressed when I see how calm she is before the competitions.
The season is already running and one of its highest points will be the European MTBO Championships, in your home country. What do you expect from the event?
L. D. - I hope that the organization is at the same level as what we had for past years in other countries. I’m really happy that a big event is taking place here. Last year, I did my first World Cup in France and I really enjoyed it, so I hope to feel the same way. And I expect many podiums for the French team. It’s our country and many people will be there to support us so I want to do it well. And I want all riders to leave the Championships with great memories of it.
What are the next steps in your preparation before the big events, the European Championships and, of course, the World Championships?
L. D. - I started to do bike a little later than other years because of SkiO so, for now, I still do long and technical trainings, working my strength and speed. I don’t really plan to be at my best at the World Cup in Austria. Soon, I will start to do intensity trainings, threshold, split sessions and all the usual stuff to prepare for competitions. I will try to work more on my orienteering, doing all the competitions I can and trying to do a lot of simulations too. To prepare the European and World Championships, we will do a training camp in Lithuania, in May, and, during July, I will do the 5 days in Plzen and the competitions in Austria. These events will be amazing and I’m looking forward to be there.
Are we going to see you reaching the World podium this year? Will it be in the Sprint or in the Long Distance?
L. D. - I don’t know if it’s really possible but that’s the goal when you train hard every day, so I hope so. I think the best chances of a medal could be in the Relay, in EMTBOC and WMTBOC. Individually, if I can take something, I guess it’s in the Sprint distance, or Mass Start. I’m better when you have to think quickly and be fast without thinking to preserve myself.
Would you like to share your biggest wish?
L. D. - I will say become World Champion in elite, individually and with my team. I also made this deal with a friend, that we will win the World Cup together one year. It would be great.
Is there anything that you'd like to add?
L. D. - I think that I’ve already said enough for now. Thank you for this interview.