Alizée Paties (FRA) claimed the first victory of the XTERRA World Cup at the APAC Championship and now leads the series at the top of the women’s leaderboard. “It was a surprise but not a surprise,” Paties said. In a perfectly executed performance she passed current world #1 Solenne Billouin on the run to take the tape by a convincing gap of over 2 minutes. Her choice to wear a CamelBak under the hot and humid conditions in Taiwan might have been the key to her victory but, perhaps, we are now seeing a new side to Paties.
The 2022 season was a breakthrough for Paties. She finished on the podium in 9 out of the 10 races she started, taking the win at no less than four. Her success prompted a lot of changes during the off-season including equipment upgrades, focused strength work in the gym, and, most significantly, quitting her job to focus on racing full time.
Paties has been sponsored by Liv bikes for over four years. For the 2023 season, she will be riding the Liv Pique Advanced Pro with a Ceramic Speed oversized pulley and a Gemini Pröpus handlebar. “We are working for the best bike, the best equipment,” she says, noting she has also upgraded the wheels with the help of a local sponsor. Her set up last year weighed almost 11 kg. Now, her set up is around 10.2 kg. “My bike was quite heavy so, I said to Liv, this year let’s improve the bike. It’s a big change for me,” she says.
During winter, Paties also put in more effort at the gym. Under the guidance of her physiotherapist, she worked to improve weaknesses and found new strength. “We are trying to understand my body, how I can be in shape, what we can do, and what I need. So, we are trying to find the best way. Sometimes we try some exercises but it doesn’t work and sometimes we try and it rocks.” Her strength on the brutally tough run that broke so many others on the day was proof enough that her training in the gym has been beneficial.
Of course, the biggest change for Paties was quitting her marketing job. “It was very complicated to do both. If I wanted to go for one week for a race, after that I needed to work a lot. So it was impossible to do things well in XTERRA and at the job,” she explains, noting she has been able to secure financial sponsors for additional support. It isn’t the first time Paties has tried to be a full-time athlete. Two years ago she made the decision to try but struggled. Not only did she overtrain, but she had a hard time coping mentally. “It was difficult for others to understand what I was doing. I know now that my reflection is the most important, but I would like to change this mindset in France and Europe, [that sport is a full-time job]. It’s very hard to be an athlete. It’s not only sport, you need to manage everything, all the days, seven days out of seven days.”
"Even if I win, it’s the team that wins."
Unable to find the right balance the first time, she decided it wasn’t the right time in her life to be only focused on sport and went back working. “I wanted to have another job, not just sport. It was nice for my mind and balance,” she recalls. “But now, I’m feeling good and I said, maybe it’s time to try again.”
“At this moment, I’m feeling very happy in my life because I’m training well, I have my family around me, my sponsors are very happy with me and we are close. I love to have this kind of sponsor relationship; I think it’s very important for the long term. I also have my coach—actually two coaches. They are proud of me and I am proud of what we can do together. It’s very nice to share the spot. Even if I win, it’s the team that wins. It’s very cool.”
By taking the win at the World Cup opener in Taiwan, Paties proved to herself, her team, and the world that, this time, her decision to be a full-time athlete was the right one. After coming out of the water in the main pack, Paties and Billouin pulled clear from everyone early on the bike course, leveraging their exceptional technical handling skills. The two came out of T2 together with Billouin in front setting the pace. It was on the final climb that Paties, noticing Billouin was struggling, that she made her move to take the lead and earn the victory.
“It’s very nice to win and start the season this way. It was a surprise but not a surprise. I worked very hard in the winter but I didn’t know how the other girls would be. It’s complicated to know but I was in shape and I had a lot of improvement this winter. I’m very happy to see this. It rocks!”
Paties earned herself 110 World Cup points, the maximum available. Points are awarded from 1st to 25th position and can be earned in both the long course and short track World Cup races. The XTERRA World Championship race offers the most points with the winner taking 120 points; Continental Championships, including Taiwan, (APAC, Europe, USA) offer the next highest with 110 points for first place; Gold Level tour races give 100 for the top spot; and, finally the short track races earn their winner 20 points. The highest total score at the end of 7 stops takes the XTERRA World Cup title and a share of the €100,000 bonus. What makes the circuit even more exciting is that an athlete’s season total only includes their top 4 highest full-distance races, their best 3 short track finishes, and their World Championship result. Since it’s only the top races that count, athletes can pick and choose which races give them the best opportunity to perform. How an athlete structures their season will be a key component to their success in the World Cup.
“It’s very nice to win and start the season this way. It was a surprise but not a surprise."
Paties says she has committed to performing in the World Cup but, for the first part of the season, she isn’t going to stress about the points or standings. “For the first part of the season, I will just be focused on the races. If in the middle of the season [the points] are complicated, I will see what the points are and see what I can do to be at the top.” Primarily, Paties is referencing August where there are 3 World Cup events, two offering both long and short track opportunities for points. “It’s difficult to do three races, especially with the different local times,” she explains, noting one race is in the USA while the other two are in Europe. “It’s difficult for the body and, in September, I would like to be in very good shape for the World Championship.”
Only time will tell which events Paties will choose to race but, regardless, she says is excited and supportive of the new XTERRA World Cup. “It’s a good opportunity for the athletes. It’s very important if you want to do XTERRA as a real job or to progress. I’m very happy with this improvement and I think it will be very good for the future.”
On paper, Paties has made steady progress in her results to reach the top of the sport but it’s been the development of so much more than the numbers on the results sheet that have made her truly world-class. Being ready to be a full-time athlete—to have the support, structures, and the mindset—is something Paties matured into over time. Looking back, Paties said in particular it was the struggle, the really difficult races and her failures, that helped her grow the most. “It’s important to have bad days so you can be stronger,” she explains. “For your mindset, bad days are like preparation because progress is not linear all the time. You have the ups and downs and you need to prepare your mind for that.”
“For your mindset, bad days are like preparation because progress it’s not linear all the time."
In particular, Paties notes her performance at the 2022 World Triathlon cross-triathlon world championship in Romania. “It was a very bad day for me. I was very stressed and it was the first time I was like that and I didn’t know why. It was very difficult to breathe on the bike and I was not focused on my race. I just wanted to put my bike on the ground and stop. It was very difficult but I tried to continue because it was the world championship. I was happy to finish and it will be something that I will remember—it was important for my mind that I never gave up.”
“I learned last year to be focused, even if you have a bad day,” she says. Although she admits she can be hard on herself and isn’t naturally patient, she has learned to accept the messy process of improvement and that simple fact that she is only human. “I have a friend who said to me, you know Alizee, the best is the enemy of the good. So, it’s very important to do your best but not too much because you are human. You are not a machine or something like that so take care of yourself and stay patient.”
“If you want to be the best, you have to improve all the time,” Paties says but, as she has shown the world, that improvement might not always be in the water, on the bike, or on the feet. Her matured mindset might just be revealing a new side of Paties and, if her performance in Taiwan is any indication, she is going to have a lot to show in the World Cup series.
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