What the Women of World Cup Mountain Biking Have Taught Me

6:38 PM

It has been an incredible year for watching women’s cross country mountain biking.  Thanks to Red Bull TV I’ve been able to watch every moment of the women’s races (one complaint: commentators Rob and Bart need to be reminded that they are watching “women” not “girls”).  While the men’s races have been predictable, the women leaders have shifted constantly as different riders shine on different terrain. 

And what have the women taught me this year?

Be Patient – Katerina Nash is an excellent mountain biker and cyclocross rider with palmares anyone would envy.  What she didn’t have was a mountain bike World Cup win.  This season she continued to chip away at the top riders and inched closer to the podium.  She came close at Val Di Sole and Vallnord with two consecutive second places, but at Mont Sainte Anne there was no stopping her.  In Canada she put together a beautiful race – working her way up through the field and taking the top spot on the podium with a well-timed attack.  Nash has been competing since 1994 (in skiing), and knows a thing or two about patience.  Achieving your goals is often more about consistency and persistence over the long-term.

Don’t Be Intimidated – It was hard to miss Swiss rider Jolanda Neff this season.  In the first World Cup in Albstadt she jumped out with the leaders right from the start with her puff of bouncing white-blond hair tailing her up the first climb.  At 20 years old she could choose to continue to race U23 at the World Cup races, but the 2012 U23 World Champion lined up with the big girls and became a stronger rider because of it.  Sure, she was a better starter than finisher and often faded after the first couple of laps, but Jolanda Neff is sure to win her share of World Cup races in her career.  And she also knows that you often get better not by winning, but by seeking out the best competition. 

Age is Just a Number – I will admit I blanched a bit when I looked up Jolanda Neff’s birthdate (in the 90s?  The 90s?!), but there were plenty of riders out there this summer who are closer to my own age (some are even older, yeah!).  Gunn-Rita Dahle (40), Esther Suss (39) and Sabine Spitz (41) demonstrated that cross-country mountain biking is an endurance sport as they pushed their professional careers into a new decade.

Roll With the Punches – Georgia Gould is still the best person in the whole wide world.  Not many people get to have the year she had in 2012, with bronze medals in both the World Championships and the Olympics.  Her 2012 season didn’t really end until 2013 with the World Cyclocross Championships in Louisville and her mountain bike season was probably not what she probably wanted.  Always finishing between 15th and 25th, it looked like she struggled to find her rhythm.

But remember, Georgia is Georgia, and her mid-season race recap reminds us that uncertainty and doubt can surface in all of us: “You start to question everything.  And even though you’ve weathered rough patches in the past, you think that maybe this time it’s different.”  Trust in the process, she says, but she also admits to thinking that “maybe this time it’s different.” 

I don’t think it’s different – Georgia will come back next year just as strong, just as focused, and just as balanced.  It’s next year that will be different.  I know it.

The Eliminator is Stupid – And this is the final lesson of the 2013 season.  I gave it a shot, I watched the short races on various courses and wanted to like this new discipline.  But I don’t.  It seems the UCI is looking to cash in on the ADD generation…not my thing. 

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