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Zurich athlete gears up for Solar adventure

Sandra Stierli is heading into the unknown

Sandra Stierli, a Zurich office worker, is preparing for a gruelling ride into the Australian desert during the World Solar Challenge.

Stierli, one of ten athletes providing muscle for the Swiss bike in the Solar Challenge, will be camping, along with the rest of the team, in the desert every night during the race.

Stierli, one of five women taking part in the race, hadn’t thought putting herself forward for the team. It was her boss who suggested she submit her name to Spirit of Bike’s promoters. “He said you go cycling, why don’t you join the team,” the 28-year-old told swissinfo.

“I thought ‘Why not?’ When he said he could spare me for three weeks, I went ahead and sent in my name.”

Stierli works as a public relations assistant for Siemens Switzerland, one of the Swiss team’s sponsors.

Biking in Zurich

She had not planned on taking part in the race, before signing on with Spirit of Bike. Stierli preferred until then to go jogging to keep fit.

Sport has always been an important of her life, albeit as a hobby. She began athletics at the age of five, and when she 16, she started cycling. For the last year, Stierli has been a member of a Zurich bike club.

She hasn’t trained specially for the Australian trek. “I get out on my bike maybe two or three times a week, when I have time,” she said, “but I feel well prepared for the race.”

Stierli met the nine other cyclists when they were tested, and at a press conference.

Stierli knows the Solar Challenge isn’t just about a group of fit athletes, but is also a technological challenge. “We’re test riders, who have an opportunity to get on this bike,” she said.

“I got to try it out for the first time in the wind tunnel, and you feel really comfortable on it,” Stierli told swissinfo. “It really feels like a high tech bike so it should be easy to ride.”

No picnic

The young woman expects a hard slog through the Australian desert. “I don’t know much about Australia, just that it will be very hot there,” she said. “I hope everything will go well, but I’m a little worried about everything that crawls, walks or slides across the road.”

The Spirit of Bike team hopes to take only six days to travel from Darwin to Adelaide, or, circumstances permitting, even less. The solar bicycle won’t be aiming for victory though, competing as it is against sun-powered cars.

Stierli and the other team members will spend altogether three weeks Down Under, but nobody is expecting it to be a picnic. “There are 30 of us making the trip, but I don’t expect to have any spare time with all the work there is to be done,” she told swissinfo.

Still, she is looking forward to the race. “I don’t know the country, I don’t really know the bike and I don’t what will happen on the road. But I’m sure we’ll overcome any problems we encounter.”

by Jean-Michel Berthoud

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR