Like most of her rivals, it was all dressed up and nowhere to go for Ariane Luthi when the Cape Epic became the first high-profile casualty of the 2020 season.
“The Epic was cancelled two days before it was supposed to start, which was a big blow,” said the Swiss cross-country marathon specialist who is a five-time champion across two categories in the eight-day race.
“It’s the most important race in terms of media coverage and being able to give back to sponsors,” explained the rider who has gone on to win the women’s section three times after having captured the mixed title twice earlier in her career.
Luthi, whom locals have all but adopted as their own due to her South Africa ties, said she and her teammate Alice Pirard had been “ready to ride their hearts out” and the repercussions of the coronavirus was no doubt a downer.
With the early part of the season in ruins, the 36-year-old is now homing in on her other objectives, which include tilts at the Swiss, European and world championships as well as the Swiss Epic.
“It looks like the Swiss champs will happen in September,” said Luthi, who had turned over a new leaf in her career when she partnered with Canyon Bicycles earlier this year.
“I haven’t heard about the European champs or Swiss Epic yet, but they said they would postpone the former. The world champs were always set for the end of October.”
Personally, she did not believe that there was any prospect of racing until the end of August.
“Maybe in Switzerland in August, but it looks like it will only open up from September.
Luthi – who has been training in Gunten, Switzerland – said it was the longest racing hiatus she had experienced since becoming a pro.
“Initially, I thought maybe in June there would be some racing, so I still worked towards that, but now I’ve taken a bit of a break knowing that it won’t happen that early.” Her goal is to peak in September.
“Things are very different now. Normally we’d go from one race to the next and continue with what we’ve done the last 10 years.”
The four-time Swiss marathon champ has kept herself busy by launching fundraisers and working for The Cyclists’ Alliance, an organisation which looks after the interests of women with an elite UCI licence.
“Once I realised what this pandemic was and what an effect it can have, I started thinking what will happen when it hits South Africa and the townships.
“When the lockdown came in place I knew it was going to have huge economic consequences for people in the townships. I was thinking what I could do to help in some way.”
With her sponsors, Andermatt Swiss Alps, she developed a Strava challenge.
“Participants had to cycle 647km, which was the distance of the Epic, in one month. People who wanted to take part needed to pay an entry fee, which was donated to songo.info.” More than R100 000 was raised.
Luthi said she missed the kids of the social development programme in Kayamandi, Stellenbosch, when she was not in the country.
“They’re close to my heart and I just want them to be safe and not have to starve. It gets worse before it gets better, so I’m already thinking of ways to continue to raise funds for them.”
While laying low, Luthi has been able to work on aspects of her cycling that have been on the back burner.
“The great part of having a little bit more time to train and not rushing from one race to the next is that it gives you time to work on things that you normally don’t have time for.
“I’ve been working on my hand-eye coordination as I found out that this is a little bit of a weakness for me. I’ve done some balancing exercises on the bike; wherever I see a pavement with a narrow stripe, I ride on that.”
And “a fair amount of strength training” helps with her posture.
“I also do some cross-country racing simulation, so I look for a loop in the forest where I can do that. That’s good for the high-intensity stuff, which is a bit of a weakness for me.
“I’m more of a diesel engine and it helps me to be more precise technically.”
In addition, she has been working on her mental strength by immersing herself in meditation.
“It’s kind of like a toolbox you develop to calm yourself down, shut your mind a bit at night and to focus more on the here and now.”