Interview: Marion Wasilewski, winner of the Florac 160km 2021

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Interview : A look back at the winner’s magnificent run in the legendary 160km Florac race, 2021 edition.

Intro: On September 18th, Marion Wasilewski won the first place at the CEI3* in Florac, equipped with a Florac 2.0 by Gaston Mercier, she competed with her incredible mare Taiga d’Argane! From the first kilometre to the last, they had a remarkable course, it is a well deserved victory.

[Interview between Clémence (C.) and Marion (M.)]

C. Can you briefly tell us about yourself and your professional background?

M.First of all, I am not a professional rider even if my activity is 100% turned towards the world of endurance, whether it is through the management of my stable in Meynes in the Gard (30), or through my role as manager for the Royal Endurance Team of Barhain in France. I discovered endurance during my high school years in the 2000’s, then as opportunities arose, I left my job as a bank advisor for various experiences in France and abroad. For the last 3 years, I have rarely ridden, only for pleasure.

C. What does Florac mean to you, did you plan any specific training for yourself or the mare?

M. The 160 km race of Florac has always represented for me Endurance with a big E… what I have always dreamed of since my first races with the horses of the breeding of Cade (E. Peyron). I dreamt of this race for years after following the race the year Cécile Miletto won with Falène de la Drôme… And each time I took part, including three times with Taiga d’Argane, I always said to myself “One day I will win it !!!!”.

For the preparation of the mare, I have entrusted her since 2019 to the JPF stable of Sabrina and Jean Philippe FRANCES. We have a very good relationship of trust on the quality of preparation of all their horses, up to the highest level. For Taïga, they were able to find the right balance in the preparation for this mare who is very generous in her efforts but also very sensitive. After a great performance in Florac in 2019 (4th after only a few months of training), a blank year in 2020 due to the maternity of the rider…, the mare resumed work at the beginning of the year in the footsteps of the leading horses of the JPF stable for the much hoped-for result! For me, after the birth of our daughter and a rather dense professional activity, the preparation was not obvious and irregular, but once in race, the mare showed such a potential that I could only surpass myself to put myself at her level until the end…

C. Do you think that to run a 160km race in Florac, you need to adopt a specific race strategy ? Did you have one ?

M. There are no two similar editions in Florac, so I don’t think there’s any miracle recipe. The race is long, technical, full of hazards and pitfalls; you have to stay clear-headed and keep a cool head as long as possible (laughs), not observe too much what the other riders are doing. You have to stay focused on your horse. It’s a race against yourself above all I think. For this edition, everything went perfectly as much on the track as in the intermediate vets; the whole team of marshals, grooms, friends and family was perfect, before, during and after the race. The trip to the Col de Montmirat hostel in pursuit of Juma was crazy. I received bottles and encouragement from so many people that I started the descent with tears in my eyes.

C. How did you feel once you crossed the finish line and after the last vet check was validated for your first place?

M. I had a really hard time realizing just after I crossed the finish line; I even caught myself asking Jean Phi if I had actually finished first !!!! Probably fatigue and adrenaline. After the final control, it was a torrent of emotions even if for me the contract was fulfilled given the happiness that the mare had given me throughout the day, especially with this last descent of Montmirat. For the anecdote, Taiga, equal to herself, almost knocked me out while trying to kiss her in the coat, I came out half knocked out with a nice cut…

C. During this race, you were equipped with the Gaston Mercier saddle from Jean Philippe Frances, the Florac 2.0, can you share with us your opinion on this saddle? 

M. It was on the advice of Jean Philippe that we chose this saddle for training and racing. The saddle is perfectly adapted to the mare, its action is better with the Florac 2.0. I had no problems with the saddle movement during the whole event, at the gaits and in the gradient; and this was felt the next day for the best condition where the mare had a perfect back. It was a first for me with a Gaston Mercier saddle on a French race with a difference in altitude, and I also felt very well, quickly at ease. I also found the solution of the weighted mat with its side pockets very satisfactory despite more than 16 kg of equipment and ballast. There were no problems with warming up either.

C. Do you have any plans or even desires for your future carrer as a rider ? 

M. Winning Florac with my favourite mare Taiga d’Argane was the ultimate dream for me! We will continue to try to enjoy ourselves in 2022 on other historical races after a well-deserved rest. And if not, I hope to be able to race the products of my Al Montasir breeding farm next year.

Thank you to Marion for taking the time to answer our questions.