Rider Interview - Luisa

Luisa, standing behind her packed bike against a blue wall.

An Interview with Luisa Werner

We had a chat with Luisa, about life in general, her passion for riding bikes and talked about her season. 

If a stranger would ask you to describe yourself in one sentence, what would you say?

I am Luisa Werner, I am 27 years old and originally from Wuerzburg in Germany. However, for the last 2 years I have been living in Grenoble, France. I am doing my doctorate in computer science there.

I got into cycling through the rowing, because we use cycling as an alternitive sport. I quickly found the joy in this sport and at some point I gave up rowing completely and focused on cycling. Short rides got longer and day trips turned into bikepacking trips. I am often on the road with my bike in the mountains and enjoy the landscape and nature from my bike. Since last year I compete in bikepacking races.

What does bikepacking mean to you?

Bikepacking is definitely more than just a hobby for me. It is the perfect opportunity to combine travel and sport. It gives me a feeling of freedom and independence to be on the road with my bike and to have everything I need on the bike. This minimalism always shows me how little it takes to be happy.

What type of bikepacking to you like the most?

Bikepacking races such as the Italy Divide have a completely different spirit than self-organized bikepacking tours, if you approach the races competitively. In races, I'm primarily attracted to testing my own limits. I also like the atmosphere that is created when you face the same challenge with many other cyclists.

But I also like to ride with friends or on my own. That has the advantage that you can take more time for some things like eating, watching the sunset, setting up the tent etc.

How do you train for races and events?

In the past, I rowed competitively, building a solid fitness base that I still benefit from. Since I regularly go bikepacking anyway and include long bike rides with lots of elevation gain, I can usually rely on my endurance. However, in order to avoid injuries and overloading, I already try to specifically accustom my musculoskeletal system to the demands of long-distance races. To do this, I ride long, altitude-intensive sessions and simulate the long, hard days of a race.
I'm a particularly big fan of multisport training. In addition to cycling, I run and swim regularly in the summer. I also like to incorporate intense sessions into my running and swimming workouts, while cycling is more about endurance for me. In winter, I benefit from my location in the Alps and can be found mainly on skis (ski touring and cross-country skiing). From experience, both sports are extremely helpful for building up form in winter.

How do you handle your time management? 

I am a PhD student in France working in the field of computer science. Fortunately, I am very flexible (home office, free time management), so I can adjust my working hours a bit according to the weather and daylight. For example, I often take a long lunch break to go cycling and work in the evening when it's dark again. However, I often go on long bike rides at the weekend or when I'm on vacation.

How do you plan your races?

Usually I study calendars online (e.g. on bikepacking.com), I also have events in mind that I have heard about in the past. Then I kind of make a priority list and go through how many vacation days I need to plan for the race. I don't usually plan through the entire summer, though, because I also want to sprinkle in spontaneous tips based on weather and mood, or opportunities often arise during the season.

This is how I plan my events in detail: First, I take a close look at the route and try to align my equipment with it. I consider the temperatures and altitude at which I will be on the road. I also study where I would sleep to estimate how much sleeping equipment I would need. For races without a track, there is of course a lot of planning involved in creating the route. I usually test the suggestions of various applications and also ask friends for advice who have an unbiased perspective and perhaps see one or the other faster alternatives.

How do you prepare for these races?

I don't have a coach, but I have a lot of experience in training from my rowing/racing days. Currently, I don't feel like training according to a rigid plan and keep my training flexible. I prefer to do interval sessions in running or swimming (or winter sports). On the bike I do my long endurance units.

I don't do any explicit mental training, but I try to prepare myself for difficult situations by doing long and hard bike rides beforehand, so that it's nothing new for me then.

How did your 2022 season go?

My season was super intense and diverse. After a ski dominated winter, I competed in Italy Divide in April, riding a gravel bike. The race was harder than I expected due to the weather conditions and I sometimes wished I had a MTB. However, I was able to gain very helpful experience there, e.g. regarding sleep equipment, sleep management and so on. 

After that I rode the Race Across France 500 as preparation for the Three Peaks Race. Here I chose the road bike and covered a distance of 530 km and almost 9000 hm without sleep, trying to take as few breaks as possible. Although I had some problems with the heat at the end, the race gave me a lot of confidence for the Three Peaks Bike Race.

I then entered the Three Peaks Bike Race in July. This was also originally my main goal for the season. Because of my enthusiasm for the Alps I was looking forward to the checkpoints and deliberately included 2 hikes in my freely planned route. Many mistakes I made at Italy Divide did not happen again at the Three Peaks Race. I would say my sleep management was optimal, as was my food and route planning. I had a lot of fun at the race and was able to surprise myself with the final result!

In September I competed Badlands. Badlands is a well-known gravel race in southern Spain, where the track is predetermined. Here, one of the main challenges was hydration and food along the way. So I had planned for significantly more water capacity and less sleeping gear.

Apart from the races, there were other highlights in my bikepacking summer: for example, the Torino Nice Rally, which I rode with my friend Carla in August.

What have you learned from the last season?

Besides races, I also want to tackle some personal challenges: for example the 7 Majeurs in the French Alps (a demanding course over 7 passes between Italy and France with 310 km and 11,000 m+). I'd also like to cut down on the travel stress a bit and pick races that are logistically easy for me to get to (less flying). Eventually I would also like to dare to do a MTB race. In general, however, a varied mixture of road bike and gravel or long and short distance is again on my mind.

Apart from that I learned a lot about my pacing and my approach to races. From every single race there were again new experiences. I especially noticed that it is important to stay with myself and not to be distracted by tracking or other riders. Also regarding sleep and equipment I learned a lot about what I really need and what I don't need. But that always depends on the requirements of the race.

What are your plans for this year?

  • Atlas Mountain Race in spring (note: Luisa has already finished this race as first woman and on the 22nd position in the overall ranking)
  • Middle Mountain Classique
  • Dead Ends & Dolci 
  • The Bright Midnight
  • Next October I would like to do Rhino Run. (This October unfortunately too spontaneous)

What is your superpower?

Hard to say. I would say an extraordinary characteristic of mine is that I don't find hike-a-bike sections so bad if they go through beautiful landscapes. When I travel alone through the Alps, I sometimes plan them consciously to get to places that are otherwise inaccessible. That's why I also take it more lightly in races when the bike has to be pushed.

Thank you for your time Luisa and all the best for the 2023 season. 

To be always up to date, follow Luisa on Instagram

Photo Credits: Nils Laengner, Cinelli & Patrick Delorenzi