An incredible season's end for Maximilien Drion!

MADONNA DI CAMPIGLIO WORLD CUP (MARCH 25-28, ITA)

Not everything was going smoothly before I went to Italy and before the last competitions of the winter. Indeed, very painful stomach cramps have spiced up my days before the start of the race, to the point that I even started questioning my participation. Finally, I decided to make the trip and hoped that my stomach cramps would go away as quickly as possible.

It was in front of the majestic Dolomites, in Madonna-di-Campiglio, that the final of the World Cup was going to take place. With 3 races in 4 days, the program was going to be tiring, but also exciting! Even if before I started these competitions, I considered my season to be successful, I wanted to come and lay a nice icing on the cake that was this winter 2020/2021.

The sprint (25.03)

We started with the sprint on Thursday. Luckily my stomach pains were gone when I woke up. So I was fully focused on the race of the day. This winter, I had twice managed to reach the final 1/2 so I was starting with the ambition to do at least as well.

I achieved a good qualifying round (6th time) and thus easily qualified for the quarterfinals, which divides the 30 best times into 5 quarterfinals with 6 racers. In the quarter, I made a correct round and finish 3rd, but I am not sure to go to the semifinals. The first two of each quarter qualify directly for the semi-finals. The two racers who achieved the best times in the quarterfinals among those who did not finish in the top two of the series are also qualified, they are called “lucky losers”. Since I finished 3rd in my series, my position was in suspense. I had to wait until the five quarterfinals have taken place to find out if I will be drafted thanks to my time. To my satisfaction, I am one of the two lucky losers! It means I am in the semi-finals. My goal is achieved but you are getting to know me… Deep down, I don’t want to stop there! To reach the final, I must finish in the top 3. Again, I made a very nice race and finished 3rd! Head to the final!

In the final, we are therefore 6 athletes, so I am guaranteed to finish in the top 6. Even a 6th place would mean my best career performance in this discipline. On the starting line I was standing alongside some of the big names in the discipline: Arno Lietha, Robert Antonioli, Thibault Anselmet, Nicolò Canclini and Nadir Maguet. I am not intimidated and I am ready to show them what the little Belgian is capable of. The start of the final is given, it goes fast, very fast, I found myself in 5th position at the bottom of the foot part. At the top of the foot part, I am 4th. I manage to close the gap with the podium. The legs are burning but that is the case for everyone. I came in 4th position at the top, which will also be my position at the bottom of the descent.

4th in sprint! The best result of my career in any discipline! I am extremely pleased with this result. But I will have to wait before celebrating this result, another race awaits me the next day…

Vertical (26.03)

The vertical race was held on Friday afternoon, it was quite hot and the snow was very wet. There were approximatively 600m of elevation between the start line and the finish line. I felt very good during the warm-up before the start and so I had planned to opt for a pretty offensive strategy.

I started in the 4th row, but I quickly came to place myself in the top 10 and then the top 5. I finished 5th at the world championships a few weeks ago so I thought it was a calculated risk to come and put myself at the forefront so quickly. The first part of the course was quite flat. My skins were gliding extremely well on that wet snow. I did not feel that despite my quick start I was putting myself in the “red” zone. I was feeling good and I did not want to let go the firsts. As the slope starts to rise, I pass in 3rd position! I don’t understand what’s going on but I feel great, I don’t care and keep the same pace. In front of me, Davide Magnini leads the race, but I do not want to let him create a too large gap. So I move to second position and I am now 10m behind Davide.

Then comes a flatter part, again I feel like I am gliding great. I manage to catch up with Davide without creating any extra effort. A little further I even take the lead! But I don’t want to take the lead too early, the race is still long. At that time, there must be about 250m of vertical drop. Surprisingly, despite the fact that I am doing the race of my life, I manage to remain extremely calm.

So here I am in first position, but it is not the right strategy. I am very lucid, I analyze everything. I slow down a little bit to let Davide and also Werner Marti, who managed to join us, overtake me. We are all three skis in skis. Davide-Werner-me. As from the start, Davide sets the pace. Little by little, I see that Werner loses a little distance from Davide. So I pass Werner and places myself between him and Davide. Werner is losing some ground. The race will be between Davide and me. I still feel great. Sometimes, instead of staying behind Davide, I come to stand next to him. I want to show him that I’m here and that I’m ready to respond to all his accelerations.

There is only 100m of the vertical drop left. In my head, I feel unbeatable. I feel ready to attack. I remember my end of the race at the world championships in Andorra where I passed 3 competitors in the last meters of the race. If I attack now, and I start running with my skis on my feet, I have to maintain that intensity until the finish. On paper, I’m more explosive than Davide and in training I proved several times that I was able to make long efforts at very high intensities. I will attack.

Here we go! I’m going! Nothing can stop me. My only thoughts at the time were “Keep running”, “Don’t look back” and “No one will catch you.” Even when the slope rises, I kept running, I promised myself that I would run till the finish. There are two arches to cross. The first one is red but it’s not the finish. A few meters after this arch is a second, which marks the finish. As I cross the first arch, I briefly turn around to see where Davide is. I managed to create a nice gap! At that moment, I savor, I put my two poles in one hand and when crossing the finish line, I raise my fist and shout with rage!

I JUST WON A WORLD CUP !!

No one believes what just happened… and me neither! I am shocked, moved, happy, proud, grateful. In my head and in my body it’s a fireworks display. What makes me even more moved is to see all my competitors and friends come to congratulate me and share my joy. This moment is etched in me forever.

I’ll let you relive my description of the race through this video (men’s race from 00:45).

The individual (28.03)

After a day’s rest was what was going to be my last competition of the season. I will admit to you that it was slightly difficult to fall asleep after experiencing such emotions during the vertical… Another event disrupted the atmosphere at the hotel. The evening before the individual, the Swiss team was notified of the fact that all Swiss athletes were not going to be allowed to start the individual race due to an error made by the swiss team staff in connection with a non-compliance with the covid protocol. And since I stay with the Swiss team, I had to wait a few hours before knowing if I would be able to start the next morning. Finally, I am allowed to start (it has advantages to race for Belgium) and tries to focus on the race to come.

After my 4th place in the sprint and my victory on the vertical, I told myself that I also had a nice card to play on the individual. So I plan to try my luck thoroughly. The course consisted of 3 climbs and descents for a total of 1700m of positive vertical drop. In the first climb, I’m in contact with the first ones. At the bottom of the first downhill, I’m in 8th position. My best result on an individual is a 10th place (this winter at the beginning of February in Flaine). Unfortunately, things started to get complicated for me shortly before the top of the second climb. I lost a few places but thanks to a good descent I managed to stay in the top 10 at the foot of the last climb.

I’m “empty”, the last climb is going to be difficult. The racers I had overtaken in the descent quickly caught up with me and were followed by others. At that moment, I see two options: give everything to the end and finish in a bad state to get a 15th or 16thplace or slow down a little and enjoy my last climb of my last race of an incredible winter. I chose the second option. I chose to have fun, to enjoy and to finish that last climb with a smile. At the finish, I am 18th, which is still a good result but is a bit far from my exploits of the two previous races. That’s it, it’s over, it was my last race of the winter! And what a winter!

Thanks to my great results during the last stage of the world cup, I managed to climb up to the 8th position on the overall ranking! And that even though I missed the first world cup stage of the season because of Covid! All the Swiss had already returned to Switzerland as they were not able to start the race. Only a coach could stay for me to bring me back to Switzerland. Although I would have liked to enjoy a little more of the atmosphere of Madonna-di-Campiglio, we decided to return quickly after the race.

On the way back to Switzerland, my father called me to tell me that he was planning to climb to the top of the Bishorn (4150m) the next morning. I say “why not” … And so, the next day, after having done 3 races in 4 days in Italy, I’m going to do my “recovery” training on a summit of more than 4000m. I also had a little surprise in the bag… Since I hadn’t really been able to celebrate my results in Italy the day before, I took a Belgian beer with me to the top of the Bishorn and enjoyed it up there!

TOUR OF THE VAL D'ANNIVIERS (03.04)

The fact that the competitions are over does not mean that there is no more snow in the mountains. A project was close to my heart and I had been thinking about it for several weeks and I promised myself to carry it out if the conditions allowed it.

This project is the Tour du Val d’Anniviers in ski mountaineering: connecting Vercorin to Chandolin via Zinal on a route I imagined. To my knowledge, I was the first to realize it.

According to my calculations, there was about 5000m of vertical drop and 60 kilometers of distance. I had estimated to 8 hours the time to complete the route. My forecasts were not too bad as there were 5200m of vertical drop and it took me 7h44 to reach Chandolin from Vercorin. It was a great experience, and I had a lot of fun during this long effort.