The preparations are going according to plan: on September 18-19, the long-distance Duathlon World Championships will take place in Zofingen Switzerland. Belgian Diego van Looy counts the “brutal” Powerman Zofingen among the “epic races”. After difficult months, the defending champion of the long-distance duathlon world championship hopes his health allows a start in September.
Slowly, competition in the professional field is picking up again. Who of the athletes will be at the Powerman Zofingen in September? Some of them are already delivering top times again. But there are others as well: For these athletes, the start line seems far away at the moment.
“The forced break caused a mental low”
One of them is Diego van Looy. The Belgian won the duathlon long-distance world championship race in the fall of 2019. “I hope I can start in September and I do a lot for it, but it remains questionable for me,” says the 30-year-old athlete. On the one hand, there is an Achilles tendon injury that slows down the triathlete and forces him to use alternative training methods.
And also on the mental level Diego van Looy is currently trying everything to get on the right track. Last season, as is well known, hardly any triathlon races came to fruition because of the Corona pandemic. “That was extremely difficult for me. Triathlon gives me my income, I live off prize money and sponsorship money,” van Looy explains. “The forced break caused a mental low for me and I’m not quite out of it yet.” Last weekend, he missed the Ironman in Lanzarote, his second home. “I hope my joy for the sport will return.”
Perhaps memories of his big coup in 2019 can help, the thought of the emotions when he was allowed to enter the arena in Zofingen as world champion? “Yes, that was a nice day,” says Diego van Looy, “and of course I haven’t forgotten the pain and suffering on the way to the finish, and the pride that I was the first to finish.” And then suddenly it’s there again, the fire. Zofingen, he says, is a race he would love to do every year, “Because in the end it’s more brutal than any triathlon in the world, especially the second run leg is so hard with all the climbs that kill the legs.”
No chance to fulfill Olympic dream
Diego van Looy competed in his last event on August 30, 2020, when he won the inaugural Vercors Man Triathlon in France. Since last spring, he had to take a three-month break from swimming twice because the indoor and outdoor pools were closed. When it became apparent that the 2020 triathlon season might fall through due to a pandemic, Diego van Looy focused primarily on running. He flirted with qualifying for the Olympics in the marathon. As a triathlete, he managed a marathon time of 2:24 in 30-degree weather without any special preparation, and he might have been able to break the Olympic limit of 2:11:30, van Looy says. “But none of the race organizers let me try, they all already required a 2:14 result for eligibility.” That, he says, was a damper. It was only after a seven-week break that Diego van Looy started training again.
No desire for virtual races
He also refrained from virtual formats, saying that wasn’t his thing. “I want to be able to stand on the starting line together with my competitors, and do it for real, physically,” he says, hoping to tackle more “epic races” like the Powerman again in the future. Until then, the duathlon world champion is also using the night to prepare. At home in Belgium, he has mounted an “altitude tent” on his bed. This simulates air conditions like in the mountains and has a similar effect to altitude training. But he prefers to be directly in the mountains. In the summer, he usually plans a training camp of about one month in the Engadine, also in view of the Powerman Zofingen.
Homestay family Pfäffli again in Brittnau
All in all, would Diego van Looy hardly be the favorite for World Championship gold this year? “No, I wouldn’t be the man to beat, but I would be extremely happy if I could just complete the race, see familiar faces and my homestay family Pfäffli in Brittnau, Neighboring village of Zofingen.” It would be van Looy’s third Powerman Zofingen participation after 2019 and 2015, when he was there “for fun” and finished ninth. Everyone would like him to have both in Zofingen this year: Fun and success.
Text: Melanie Gamma