This weekend, August 20-21, XTERRA Germany welcomes some of the most talented off-road racers in the world to Zittau for a shoulder-to-shoulder showdown over both the fast-paced Short Track event on Friday and the Full Distance XTERRA European Championship on Saturday.
Last we week published the start lists and general preview (read it here), and this week we caught up with two of the contenders, Jens Emil Sloth Nielsen from Denmark and Solenne Billouin of France, who have proven they are a force to be reckoned with this season.
Nielsen has four top four finishes this year, including a career-best second place showing at XTERRA France where he posted the fastest bike split of the day. On the women’s side, Billouin won her first XTERRA major at XTERRA France on July 4, then took home the title at XTERRA Belgium the next week.
QnA with Jens and Solenne to find out their thoughts ahead of XTERRA Germany, including what they plan to eat and their mantra for when things get tough…
What is your goal for XTERRA Zittau?
Solenne: Winning two races has given me more confidence but has also added to the pressure for upcoming races. My goal for XTERRA Zittau is to make the podium. I am not feeling in the best shape, and I have been trying to recover well as I want to give my best this weekend.
Jens: It is my first time racing in Zittau, so I am looking forward to it. It is always nice to visit new XTERRA venues, but this weekend will be all about racing. I am ready to go full throttle on Friday for the Short Track, and I am eager to do some fast racing. The championship is going to be a blast as well with a really strong field. From the previous races, I know what I’m capable of, and I’m willing to be even better than that.
What have you learned so far this season?
Jens: A lot, but the most important thing is not to stress out before the race. I just try and concentrate on the important things to do a good race, while taking in the amazing XTERRA vibe. That is a good mental state to be in!
Solenne: That I can win an XTERRA!
When things get tough in a race or training, do you have a mantra or think about something to help you dig in?
Solenne: This is something that I’m working on. I try to stay focused on myself and keep pushing because I know that I will regret it if I give up and a race is never over until the finish line!
Jens: My mantra is “the juice is worth the squeeze.” It speaks for itself!
What is your favorite pre-race meal? Morning of, and night before?
Solenne: Nothing original for me, it is usually just rice before the race. No gluten, no fiber and no meat to help make sure I’m good on the run without any stomach problems. I am not very hungry before the race, I guess because the stress, so my favorite meal is definitely post-race.
Jens: Oh yea! The fruit-salad with chocolate is the holy supper the night before race - it's mandatory!
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Solenne: One day I was a bit angry with myself because I considered myself too slow on the downhill. I found myself trying to analyze each technical part when riding fast to avoid crashing but a friend told me to make sure my gaze is further ahead, and I can confirm it works! I also like advice I’ve received to ‘focus on yourself, on your effort’ and ‘do the race for yourself and don’t compare yourself to anyone else.’
Jens: The best advice I received comes from my mountain bike background, and it is that the uphill stops only 50-meters after the top. Basically, keep pedaling going over the hills when racing.
What has been the key to your success this year? What did you do differently than last year?
Jens: Well, I started to believe in my capabilities and that I could fight for the podium spots. When I believe, it started to become real. My learning curve regarding triathlon and especially swimming is still steep, because of my late entry in the sport but I believe in the process and trying to get as much good experience as possible. I love the grind and look forward to continuing to step up my game!
Solenne: I guess I improved because I have more time to train and recover more. I am training approximately five hours more each week than last year and I also started to train in the mountains properly. Last year I used to live in a very flat area that didn’t have any technical elements so for mountain bike training and trail running this is a real difference. I think I still have room for improvement because I don’t have a coach and I don’t have a physio or a medical team to help. But because of my way of life, I have space to train more next year and want to take it slowly but with confidence and certainty.
Show your support for Jens and Solenne and see how they race this weekend by watching the LIVE feed on Facebook.com/xterraeurope.