Courtesy of Red Bull Media Service Team
Kate Courtney reflects on a thrilling first UCI Mountain Bike XCO world title.
The 22-year-old human biology graduate dug deep over the final lap to reel in the formidable Dane and bank America’s only gold medal in the Swiss Alps.
The San Francisco native sat down the next day to look back at her triumph:
What were your expectations going into the XCO race?
The special thing for me about this particular win is that I didn’t have high expectations. This season I have learned lessons at every race and I have been close to the podium, but I have always had something go wrong or not quite have all the pieces come together. For this one, I just tried to be relaxed and ride to the best of my ability but didn’t actually think about placing as much as I would in a race for the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup overall.
Talk us through the race from the start to the finish…
Lenzerheide is a super physical course. There is that huge start climb and you don’t notice all those roots and rocks that require pedalling so, for me, it was about being really consistent and really staying within myself. I trained specifically for this race and I knew what power I could hold for that two-minute climb and what lines I needed to take to be smooth and safe. It was about riding my own race, so I had a little left at the end of that last lap.
What did you think when you saw Annika in your sights?
I honestly went completely blank. I just went from root section to root section. What was key to that race was that, at any given moment, I was just focused on executing my plan for what was right in front of me. I did not believe it until I crossed the finish line. I was like, ‘Are we sure we don’t have another lap?’ Just to make sure I asked a spectator on the last lap, ‘We’re done after this, right?’ I looked up and was shocked at what happened, but it took a lot of little tiny steps and focus along the way. It was pretty crazy to catch Annika and pass her. On that long climb, she had certainly showed her strength and I was really hurting at that point. I settled into my own pace and I found after that descent I had really recovered. I thought, ‘Just ride consistently. A silver medal would be awesome,’ then all of a sudden the opportunity was right in front of me and I just had to run with it. I put in one of my best performances ever. I had a really magical ride and to do it in front of one of the craziest crowds I have ever seen was really special and also to cross the finish line and go straight to my parents – who actually haven’t made it to a lot of races this year – was an incredible feeling and there was not a dry eye in my village at the finish line.
How important are your family and the people behind the scenes?
I think mountain biking is a team sport, 100 per cent. There is so much that goes into getting an athlete ready for race day. It starts with my coach, whose birthday it was yesterday. I forgot to wish him Happy Birthday, but I did win some rainbow stripes for him so I have my present picked out. My coach Jim Miller and the USA cycling team were a really huge support. Every time I race, being on the Specialized team means I can focus on racing my bike as fast as I can. I think it is really easy to underestimate how big of a role that plays. It is not just me, it is my mechanics, soigneurs, parents in a huge huge way, coach, strength coach, sports psychologist. It is a huge team and to have them here was really special. Annika and I have raced together a lot this year and have a lot of respect for each other. She is a very formidable opponent in any event, but the cards fell in my favour yesterday so for the team to go 1-2 is really special.
What does the future hold now for you?
To start next season in the rainbow jersey is a huge honour. I am thinking that it is something that gives me inspiration and motivation, and not something that adds pressure. At the end of the day, earning the stripes shows that when I work really really hard and it all comes together on the right day that I can be the best. It is a belief that I can take forward and something that I am going to work even harder next year to try and make possible at the World Cup races.