Meet & greet Alexandra Marchal
Leading lady of the Belgian enduro scene
It must have been about five years ago that I saw Alexandra for the first time in Bouillon. I was a rookie at the BK marathon, she was the Belgian champion enduro. Enduro... I had never heard of it. Today I know much better.
Alexandra, what is enduro and how did you get started?
“Enduro is a very complete discipline in which connecting sections have to be completed in a certain time frame or at a free pace (depending on the organisation) and specials with a technical profile are timed. You must have an outstanding physical condition, because you spend long days on the bike. But also the necessary technical skills to make the descents fast and fluent.
I started in 2014 after a few seasons in XC. I was a bit tired of doing laps on a fixed course, always so short and explosive, I lost my motivation. I needed something new and the format of enduro suited me perfectly: the love for the bike, the long days, discovering new trails, the technical aspect and last but not least, the excellent atmosphere! In short, nothing but positive!”
How many national titles have you won?
“Meanwhile, there are 4, from 2015 to 2018. A mechanical defect kept me from the title in 2019. Then came Covid... but I hope to regain the title soon.”
What is your favorite region for biking in Belgium and why?
“Bouillon is a really magnificent region with very varied and technical trails. Amblève has similar tracks. I really like the technical, extreme work with switch backs. I also like fast, flowy trails, although that is not what I am best at.”
And then of course we would like to know where your all time favorite trails are?
“There are still so many beautiful spots to discover, but I really like riding around Millau. The variety of trails is incredible. Oh, and then there is Beaufortain, Queyras,... France has so many beautiful tracks!”
Which race do you have the sweetest memory of?
“I have fond memories of the EWS in Millau in 2017, as I got my best result there, especially as the weather conditions were anything but good. I would also say the EWS in Petzen/Jamnica, where I really liked the specials. If I have to choose based on the atmosphere, I would go for the Grand Rallye Transverdon and Biivouac. Vive la France!”
Versatility is a must
How do you train for that spirited mix of endurance & technical ability?
“Versatility is a must as a rider. A good physical endurance ensures that you can digest the connecting sections well and arrive at the start of each special as sharp as possible. It also enables you to complete the descents as efficiently as possible and then to push yourself in the uphill sections. So the basic condition is one thing, but you also have to work on your intensity and the intervals to recharge during a special.
And then of course there is the technical side of things, which is extremely important, as is speed. Besides all these aspects, specific strength training also comes in handy to sit firmly on the bike and reduce the risk of injuries. A good coach who makes a proper planning is no luxury, because it requires discipline.”
In the meantime, you traded Belgium for the French Ardèche. What about the trails in your new heimat?
“It must be about 3 years ago now that I moved to the Ardèche. A brilliant region for cycling, I consider myself lucky to have such trails around the house! We are fortunate to have so much potential in the valley and we even maintain and develop the spot. Don't hesitate to come and discover it for yourself!”
Combining passion & job
This year you were part of the staff of the Specialized Enduro Team at the EWS. What was your job?
“Yes, I indeed got the great opportunity to join the Specialized Enduro Team as a physiotherapist. I assisted the riders in recuperating as much as possible the weeks before the race, between training sessions and the days of the race. In case of crashes or injuries, they could also rely on me. During these weeks I also tried to make myself useful in other tasks, such as preparing meals. A few times I was lucky enough to be able to ride along with them.”
Can we expect a continuation?
“Yes, I will be there next season and I hope to do some training camps as well, so I can assist them even better. For example by working collectively & individually on mobility and strength. It is a great experience to combine my passion with my job. The fact that I have been competing myself makes me understand their needs like no other.”
We got to know each other as Specialized ambassadors. How did you become a Specialized ambassador and how do you fulfill that role?
“It started with a partnership through Mountainbiker Paris, a nice team that helped me a lot in the beginning. However, the distance did not make things easy. Then Evobikes from Ciney came on my path, with whom I still have a good relationship. Many thanks for that! With my move to France and the Specialized agency nearby, I became an ambassador, in direct contact with them. My role is to promote their equipment as much as possible to the sportsmen and women, by talking about it and sharing my experiences. This can be done through social media, but also directly at events, training sessions or competitions. It is a unique opportunity to be part of this team and I am happy to be on standby for photo shoots and videos. The aim is also to encourage people to take up the sport, especially women.”
Which bicycles play a role in Alexandra's life today?
“There are quite a few of them, a Stumpjumper EVO and a Diverge, also a Levo and a Levo SL. A great luxury to be able to vary in training, but above all the ideal way to advise people from my own experiences with the bikes I ride every day.”
What does your future hold?
“Bright prospects, I hope! Currently with a small change on the professional side, I'll be available for the Specialized Enduro Team more often, but also for other MTB projects that are close to my partner Greg's and my heart. Next year I also want to start racing more, because I really missed it last year!”
Thank you, Alexandra! Are we off for a ride then?
Photos: Seb Schieck