As our sport of Mountain Biking continues to grow, the different sectors and sub sectors continue to split. No longer just ‘DH’ or ‘XC’ – infact that has been the case since before Cannondale tried to trademark the term ‘Freeride’. Cross country racing has made obvious splits, with Short Track, Marathons, Stage Races (both XC and XCM style), Enduro’s, 24 hour events… and of course Olympic Distance XC. It is pursued by few, because it is painful, fairly rule heavy, and often costly to pursue to a high level.
Jodie Willett is one of Australia’s leading womens Olympic Distance XC racers. She has enjoyed great success in Stage Races and Marathons in the past – but it is an Olympic year. London 2012 is on the horizon and cross country racers around the globe are analyzing their national selection policies, tweaking training and racing programmes, and hoping that they can wear their national colours in London.
For 2012, Willett has a new sponsor, new bike – and a strong focus. MarathonMTB.com spoke with her before she set off south to Mt Buller for Round Two of the Australian National Series. We asked about her new ride.
“There was no bust up, we left on good terms. They (Flight Centre) have their goals, and this year I needed to focus on cross country. That tends to be less glamourous and get less attention than Marathons and 24 hour races.”
This is something many top level cross country racers have commented on. As they travel the breadth of their country, or even the globe, they often receive minimal recognition from potential sponsors, or mainstream media. Riding your bike for under two hours, what’s hard about that? Thankfully, Willett has great support from her long time bike shop, For The Riders.
“FTR have supported me for years. They have always serviced my bikes, so it’s great to have a personal sponsorship from them, with support from Santa Cruz bikes. It is really useful to have sponsors that I have a personal connection with.” This is often overlooked. Any cyclist will reap huge rewards from being loyal to their local bikeshop. Commuters to Elite racers rely on the support that a good local bikeshop can offer.
Olympic years create shifts in sporting calendars across many sports. Cycling is no different. Subsequently, Olympic aspirants will need to make their programme is tailored around qualification – but also being fresh and prepared for the Games if they qualify.
“My season really kicks off in February with the National XC Champs as a big target. I aim to have a National jersey one day. The Oceania’s in Rotorua are two weeks later. These are important for us, so Australia can cement an Olympic berth. Then it is straight to Pietermaritzberg for the World Cup, and off to Houfalize after that.”
Far from being ultra smooth circuits, World Cup courses are hard. They may look easy on a small screen, but the reality is you are watching very talented bike handlers at their peak. Willett is not complacent about being prepared.
“I hear the courses are brutal. Very steep, and very technical. These are things I have to work on. I have been riding very conservatively in the past. This happens when you end up training on your own. If you stuff something up, who is there to help you out? So I’m riding with others who are helping push my limits. It’s good to have someone around to call 000 if it’s needed!”